Saturday, May 14, 2011

What Do You Want?

It is Maddie’s birthday on Monday. Sixteen. I know, I’m pretty amazed too and I live with her. It can’t be possible that my baby girl is going to be sixteen years old. Especially since I’m not sixteen years older than the day she arrived. Am I? Don’t answer that.

OK, this wasn’t really supposed to be about aging, mine or hers, or yours for that matter. This is about wanting. We are in the midst of the what do we get for Maddie’s birthday debate. I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Didn’t he say her birthday is Monday? And they are still debating what they are going to get her for her birthday? What is wrong with these people??”

Good question. Her list has been up for a couple of weeks. Her conversation has been going on for a lot longer than that. And her wanting has been almost non-stop. She is a product of her environment. The world we live in is a wanting world. We are told in subtle and not so subtle ways that the wanting and the having is what it is all about. We’re even told what to want. It is a shouting at the tide kind of situation. A no win scenario.

At least that is the opinion of some of us in my house. Others have a different opinion. Wants can be managed, or redirected, or simply not met. (OK, go ahead and guess. I’ll wait. ... Right the first time!) See, if it were up to me, I’d give her what she wants. Here’s the list, go fill it. But someone (who shall remain nameless - mostly for my protection) wants to ask a bunch of questions. Like “Is that practical?” Well, no. “Does she need it?” Of course not. “Is it worth it?” Probably not. “Then why should we get it?” Well, ... because she wants it.

Not good enough. For some people in the house anyway. And maybe not good enough for David. You know David, Old Testament guy, King of Israel, war hero, builder of palaces, writer of Psalms. A lot of Psalms get attributed to David. The truth is we don’t really know how many or which ones were actually written by David and which ones were just attributed to him - meaning someone else put his name on them to get them published!

But I like to think that this one, our text for this week was one that David wrote. Something he plucked out on a lazy afternoon looking after the sheep. Just a little ditty that he couldn’t even get his brothers to listen to when he got back to the homestead that evening. “Hey, guys, I wrote a new Psalm. Listen to this.” Moans and hand gestures abound and the brothers scatter to the four winds. Even old Jesse wouldn’t listen. “It’s real short, Dad,” David whines, “it’ll just take a sec.” “Maybe later, Davey, I still got work to do and you know how your mother gets when we are late for supper.” And he scoots out the back door, making sure the screen door doesn’t slam behind him, cause he gets heck for that every single time.

With a sigh, and a glance at the old sheepdog curled up in front of the fire, who doesn’t lift his head but does manage a wag that thumps against the floor. That’s all the encouragement David needs and he pulls his lyre off his back and says to the dog, “It’s my best so far. It’s gonna be a big hit, I just feel it in my bones.” And he starts to sing.

Psalm 23:1-6 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

The final note seems to hang in the air like a spark ascending from a warming fire. David senses that he isn’t as alone as he thought when he began to sing. He sees his mom come in from the kitchen, wiping her eyes on that calico apron she’s worn to prepare more meals than anyone can remember. She flashes him a proud smile before she scoots back to her stirring and baking. The brothers, who sought an escape from yet another psalm of David, now seem mesmerized, caught up to another place as they bump into each other as they drift out of the room. Even Jesse seems at a loss for words, he opens and closes his big farmer hands as though grasping for words that are out of reach. “Davey,” he croaks with a voice filled with an unusual emotion. But still at a loss for a way to name the moment, he instead clears his throat and heads out to wash up for supper, the pump handle creaking in the silence made by the new song.

David turns back to the only one unaffected by the event. The old dog, tail stilled, basking in the warms, tilts his eyes toward David and seems to say, “It’s better in the King James version.”

Well, that’s how I imagine it anyway. How could he know those six verses would become the single most remembered part of scripture around the world? But maybe he sensed it even as he wrote it. Or as it came to him in that curious process called inspiration. In-spirit-ed. A human/divine encounter that left us with six verses that speak to deep places in our soul. A Psalm about wanting. Or wanting and having. Or having so much, being so filled, that wanting doesn’t even enter the picture any more.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Not because wanting is bad, but because there is nothing to want any more. The Twenty-third Psalm speaks of a someday when the deepest longings, the strongest wantings are satisfied by a relationship with the divine, with something bigger than anything our minds can comprehend, and yet we call Father because we want it to be as real as those strong arms that wrap around us when the storm begins to rage around us. We want it to be like that guiding hand that helps us see the world right in front of our face, but because of our fear or our ignorance or our selfishness we can’t see it. Until those strong and patient and infinitely loving hands take pains to point it out to us.

In the meantime, we want. And because we live in a world of amazing resources, we can be convinced that this thing or that can fill that aching need. And if we just had one of those, if we just looked like her, or drove a car like him, or dressed like those folks, then our wanting would be done. Except it isn’t. The fixes that the world offer are always short term. They might last a while, but then we need to upgrade. Then we need the next new thing. Or then we discover that the features of our current thing don’t include satisfaction or contentment despite the advertizing telling us otherwise.

Our solution, we think, is to settle. Settle for less. Be satisfied being half empty. Be content with a vacancy in significant places. Learn to live with what is. Good enough is good enough. But that’s not what the Twenty-third Psalm says either. It talks of banquet tables, it talks of overflowing cups, it talks of peace and of being pursued by goodness and mercy. It talks about not wanting, not because you’ve trained yourself not to want, but because you are filled up. To the top, and spilling over.

Yes, some of it is learning to want properly. But mostly it is being so filled up with love and support and care that you can’t imagine what could possibly be better than that.

So, excuse me, I have to go prepare to be a birthday gift.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Hiding Out in Emmaus

It is the weekend of Mother’s Day. I know that. Hi mom! And I should do something in this space to acknowledge that, shouldn’t I? But I’m not. Too complicated, really. Too messy, in some ways. Sure I had a great mother and I love her dearly, she made me what I am and who I am. But what about those whose experience of mother was more painful? What about those who long to be a mother and aren’t able to? What about ... Well, you get the picture. It is a complicated celebration, as much as we try to pretend it isn’t. So, I’m just avoiding the issue.

An appropriate thing to do on this weekend. At least if you look at the scripture for this Third Sunday of Easter. Which I’ll get to in a minute. But first I want to draw your attention to the preposition in a previous sentence: Third Sunday of Easter. Did you see that? Probably didn’t even register, did it? Only two letters, no big deal. Right? Right. Well, probably right anyway.

We just went through the season of Lent. And each Sunday was counted as “the ___th Sunday in Lent.” Now, we are facing the Third Sunday of Easter. See the difference? We were in and now we’re of. Get it?

Uh. No. Not really. OK, never mind. We’ll come back to that.

Let’s look at the bible passage for this week. Maybe it can get us out of this blind alley we’ve wandered down here somehow. It’s a familiar story. The post-Easter one we turn to after we take care of Thomas. You remember.

Luke 24:13-35 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" 19 He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." 25 Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Whew. A long story, and yet a familiar one and a favorite of many. A chance encounter, a mysterious stranger and curious conversation, a polite invitation and a surprising revelation, burning hearts and a footrace to tell the news. Yep, it’s an Easter story.

But have you ever wondered where they were going? You know, Cleopas and that other one, what was the name? Where were they going? Heading off to Emmaus. But why? What was in Emmaus? Was that home? Did they have a relative there? A restaurant they knew and always wanted to try, and why not now? Or was it just not Jerusalem? Maybe they weren’t really going to Emmaus, just away. Anywhere but here, they said to each other. Just go, hit the road.

One of my favorite writers, Frederick Buechner, says that Emmaus was:
the place we go to in order to escape – a bar, a movie, wherever it is throw up our hands and say, “Let the whole damned thing go hand. It makes no difference anyway.” ... Emmaus may be buying a new suit or a new car or smoking more cigarettes than you really want, or reading a second-rate novel or even writing one. Emmaus may be going to church on Sunday. Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred: that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die; that even the noblest ideas that men have had – ideas about love and freedom and justice – have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish men for selfish ends. (F. Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat)

Now you recognize the place, don’t you? You’ve been there. You’ve headed there when the world pressed in on you. Emmaus was under the blanket you pulled over your head when the night terrors threatened to spirit you away while you slept. It was the garden you fled to with tear filled eyes when your heart was first broken. You’ve been there. Maybe you are there now. The dark corner of the house where you hope no one comes to ask what you’re doing, or when you are going to get back to work - for them. The aloneness of the commute that you’ve made a million times and know exactly how long before you have to wipe the tears and compose yourself so no one asks what’s wrong. Emmaus. You’ve been there. Maybe you are there now.

That’s why the story speaks so profoundly to us. Jesus comes to us, even in our Emmaus. In the ordinary moments of our lives, in the breaking of bread, and sweeping of floors, and the changing of diapers and mowing of grass, in the washing of dishes and the writing of essays, in the filling out of forms and answering the same questions thousands of times. Jesus is known to us. For a moment, and a fleeting glimpse and then he is gone again. And we are left just the same.

Except the same isn’t the same any more. The dishes seem to sparkle just a little bit, the forms seem just a hair less tedious, the questions - while the same as before - are suddenly being asked by a child of wonder standing on the threshold of new possibilities. The world - same old world - looks different somehow.

Of Easter. We are of Easter. We choose to go through Lent, we find ourselves in Lent. But Easter finds us, it becomes us. We are only Lenten people for a short time and from a distance- at arms length, but we are Easter people for all time. Because he is known to us in the breaking of the bread.