Friday, April 27, 2012

Perseverance, suffering, a word from a Desert Father, a commentary, and a commentary on the commentary

During Lent I read excerpts from a book by David G.R. Keller (an Episcopal priest and scholar)  Desert Banquet: A Year of Wisdom from the Desert Mothers and Fathers (Liturgical Press 2011).

It is now the season of Easter (which lasts for 50 days, remember and celebrate!) but I picked up the book again yesterday. It has a meditation for each day and this was yesterday's. Each meditation is composed of a short saying by a Desert Father or Mother and a paragraph-long commentary by Keller.
Abba John continued, "Do your work in peace. Persevere in keeping vigil, in hunger and third, in cold and nakedness, and in sufferings."
Abba John knew the path to transformation must be single-minded but is not easy. The "work" is not an end in itself and we will have difficulty letting go of control of life and our false self. A decision to commit our lives to God does not automatically mean freedom from temptations or anxieties. We will be distracted from God's voice. The desert elders valued stillness because it helped them do their "work in peace." Their peace was not the absence of inner conflict. It was resting in an openness to God's grace. One example is "keeping vigil," a period, usually at night, where various postures of openness, combined with chanting psalms or expressions of a desire for God's presence, open the heart for God's presence. Fasts from food and water helped keep their focus on God rather than physical satisfaction. The desert nights were cold and their clothes were simple. The self-imposed hardships brought a variety of "sufferings" that would refine the soul's quest. (Meditation for April 26, Keller, p. 78.)
To which I add:
For us and for many around us, the desert is the daily reality: because of poverty, oppression, sorrow, alienating work, the demands of family and other relationships. 
 The question then becomes not so much choosing those sufferings and fasts in the night (and the day) but how to live in a holy manner with the desert fasts and hardships that are imposed on us. The same discipline applies. 
Amid the sufferings that we did not seek, can we keep our focus on God? Can we open our hearts? Can we somehow seek and find stillness and rest in God's grace? Can we decolonize our souls? Can we live in our bodies with hope in the Presence? Can we too, like the desert mothers and fathers, keep vigil?
Cross-posted in slightly different form on Facebook on April 26. 

William Henry Jackson (1843-1942), Granite Rocks Base of Laramie Peak, 1870.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Joseph of Arimathea Speaks: A Meditation on the Fourteenth Station of the Cross

Joseph of Arimathea Speaks

a meditation on the fourteenth station of the cross
"Jesus is laid in the tomb."
St. Mary's House, Greensboro
Good Friday, 2012

I am Joseph. I asked for the body.

I could not let it lie and be desecrated.

Not on the Sabbath.

Not anytime.

I asked for the body.

I asked for it
from the Romans who occupy our land,
the torturers,
who rule us
and tax us
and make sure
that we are afraid,
even the rich citizens
like me.

I asked for it
from Pilate,
the governor,
who would rather see Jesus,
like the other crucified ones,
rot in the sun,
a reminder to all who pass by
–Sabbath or no Sabbath—
that this is what happens
to insurrectionists: to those who revolt.

I asked.
I, a member of the Council,
I asked for the body.

We know.
We all know.
After the stripping,
the shame,
the beating,
the pain,
the thirst,
the agony,
this is what happens:
the body rots in the sun;
the birds come;
and then, after a while,
sometimes a long while
the soldiers
or their slaves
throw the body in a common grave.

I could not let that happen.

I asked for the body.
I am a Jew.
To us death is the great equalizer.
So burial must happen to all
with equal respect
and to none
with more respect than others.
But there must be respect.

I acted fast.
I know why,
But I am not sure how.
I was in shock.
I did not witness the worst,
not like the women.
I still had a voice in my throat.
I asked for the body.

Often it is the women
who wash a body for burial,
in running water if there is any,
and if not, with water poured
from a jug,
making the body clean
after the often messy struggle toward death,
the last struggle.
But I did the washing. 
I did it fast.
I had help, of course.
I could never have done it alone.

I asked for the body.
I was the one who bought the linen,
the same garment I will wear,
the one my sons will buy for me,
later, if God grants me more years.
I bought it for this man younger than I.
I bought it
as I did years ago for my little girl
when she died of a fever,
long before her mother and I
had met Jesus.
I asked for the body
and I washed it
and I wrapped it.

I buried the body.
I buried his body
in my own tomb,
the tomb waiting for me.
It was the least I could do.

Now I am walking home,
I am not even sure how I got this far on the road.
I had my wits about me, enough of them
to act, but I was acting
as if in a dream
or walking through water.
I only know
he is dead and I had to
I had to ask for the body.

The road is ahead of me
and I am walking.

About the rest of life
I do not know.
I do not know.

Though all four gospels record the presence and actions of Joseph of Arimathea, the Gospel according to Mark is the one on which I focused my meditation during the writing and research for this spoken-word piece.

(c) Jane Redmont 2012 

Last year's Good Friday meditation (also from Stations of the Cross at St. Mary's House [Episcopal], Greensboro) is here.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A fragment for Maundy Thursday (from a piece of last year's sermon)

How does Jesus love us?

He doesn’t, at this supper, say “worship me.”

How does Jesus show his love?

Remember, he says.

The meal, the washing of the feet, the commandment to love
are not separate from each other.

What will we remember about Jesus?

Who will help us to remember?

Who will urge us to remember
those with no names in the text
no names on immigration papers
no names and no faces
like so many of the people Jesus fed on the hillside?

What will those whom we leave behind when we die remember about us?

Our friends, our children and descendants if we have any, our co-workers, our communities:
what will the world remember about us?

And while we are still alive
in this brief, precious, and sometimes dangerous life,
what will friends and strangers know about us?

Will they know that we are friends of Jesus?

How will they know?

Illustration: Sadao Watanabe, The Last Supper