Living in the Paschal Mystery: Leading to Ascension

[This message was given at Kairos: Friday Morning Contemplative Gathering on April 29, 2022]

From Mary Pandiani, Selah Executive Director

Easter has come and gone for many. And yet, looking at the church liturgical calendar, we’re still in Eastertide, namely the 40-days before the Ascension of Christ Jesus takes place. These 40-days and Ascension are part of the story called the Paschal Mystery – a living remembrance of Christ Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, the Ascension (the rising from earth to be with God), that culminates with Pentecost (the unleashing of the Holy Spirit). The connection to the celebration of the Old Testament Passover reminds us of the lamb whose blood protects the Israelites who finally leave Egypt, leading them to freedom from slavery.

We’re called into this Paschal Mystery where we’re connected to the story as well. Our lives operate out of a Paschal Mystery – a life, death, and new life rhythm in the everyday and final death of our lives. That means we’re participating, in intentional and unintentional ways, with the 40-days and Ascension. We, like the disciples and followers of Christ Jesus, don’t quite understand the resurrection, yet want to believe in hope, that it brings changes in us and our relationship with God. The stories include walking the road to Emmaus, eating breakfast with the disciples, doubting and believing with Thomas who wants to see the wounds of Jesus. Confusion, joy, despondency, loss of faith, gaining faith, amazed, hope, and deep longing. These are the mundane and miraculous ways Christ Jesus enters into our world, different but the same, as a result of the resurrection. All of these emotions and new realities occur within the 40-days, inviting us to consider the change that has taken place.

Is that not like how change impacts us, especially the one where there is resurrection – a new power of and in life? We are grateful, excited, yet confused and dazed by the reality before us. We hold hope while wondering what’s next. When my youngest daughter left home for the first time at 13 years old (she decided she wanted to go to a boarding school – ask me about that story sometime), I held promise for her in the new experience, yet deep loss in no longer having her around. I was both faith-filled and faith-less. The liminal space of the unknown, yet newness, felt both awkward and comforting. How was I to enter into this change?

It’s in these places that lead to the Ascension where we ask the question of transformation: what do I need to let go of in order to experience new life to its fullest? Jesus tells the disciples that he must leave; he even goes on to say it will be better that he leaves. In his leaving, he offers something more. Or as Ronald Rolheiser suggests, “Ascension is to refuse to cling to what once was, let it go, and let it bless you, so that you can recognize the new life you already have with and within you and receive its spirit.”[1] There is new life in leaving, as counter-intuitive as that may sound, for that’s where new life begins.

As we live in this season of the Paschal Mystery, let us ask ourselves, what do we need to let go of in order that new life may arise? If we desire change and transformation, how we can move towards it, rather than cower away? Can we receive the spirit of life, revealed in these changes, that brings deeper and more meaningful encounters with God, with others, and with ourselves? Let us consider the invitation that the Ascension is asking of us.

The ascension deepens intimacy by giving us precisely a new presence, a deeper, richer one,
but one which can only come about if our former way of being present is taken away.
Ronald Rolheiser[2]

[1] https://ronrolheiser.com/managing-an-ascension/#.Ymh3hy-B23U

[2] https://ronrolheiser.com/a-spirituality-of-the-ascension/#.YmnKUy-B23

On Wonder & Wisdom

“Wonder is the precondition for all wisdom.” 

Christian Wiman,
My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

Christian Wiman

Eight years ago, Christian Wiman, a well-known poet and the editor of Poetry magazine wrote a now-famous essay about having faith in the face of death.

My Bright Abyss, composed in the challenging years since and completed in the wake of a bone marrow transplant, is a moving meditation on what a viable contemporary faith―responsive to modern thought and science and religious tradition―might look like.

Joyful, sorrowful, and beautifully written, My Bright Abyss is destined to become a spiritual classic, applicable not only to believers but to anyone whose experience of life and art seems at times to overbrim its boundaries.

How do we answer this “burn of being?” Wiman asks. What might it mean for our lives and deaths if we acknowledge the “insistent, persistent ghost” that some call God?

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Common Believer is available on Amazon and through other retailers.

Hosanna

 

I will wave palm branches today.
Yes, I know they will be burned tomorrow;
I know my praise will turn to betrayal.
My hope will vanish into terror.
I know my passion for justice will be swallowed
by my lust for safety.
I know.
But I dare to trust my fickleness will be redeemed,
and is already.
I dare to believe now because I can,
even if later I will recant.
I dare to call for justice
though I myself will delay it.
I dare to have joy, even before the disaster,
because I know I will have joy again.
God has already blessed my brokenness,
transformed my evil, conquered my death.
This is my faith: that in the face of my sin
I rejoice.
In the face of evil I have hope,
in the face of failure I am confident,
in the face of death I live life.
How revolutionary, to rejoice in the face of despair!
Mortal, flawed, inadequate and doomed,
I wave my palm for the Beloved.
And the Beloved smiles.
Hosanna in the highest. 

Steve Garnaas-Holmes,
Unfolding Light
unfoldinglight.net

Combinatory Play

While doing research for my doctoral dissertation awhile back, one nugget I continue to use is the gift of creative genius that by putting two-three ideas together, named by Einstein as “combinatory play,”[1] you create a new idea. Similar to cooking or baking, adding two or more different ingredients than required, you create your own new recipe. My friend, Lisa, makes new dishes nearly every night with her creativity by combining different ingredients for a mouth-watering experience. We all have this gift of creative genius by simply attending to what has been given to us in each day, combining that which seems unconnected, then somehow together creates a new idea, or at the very least a fresh idea.

I had a “combinatory play” experience today while listening to the story of Jacob, the son of Isaac, brother to Esau, in the Old Testament. It goes like this: Jacob steals the birthright of his older brother, causes a great rift in the family, leaves with nothing other than the promise that comes with a birthright. He goes to Bethel where he spends the night on the first night of his journey. He takes a stone as a pillow, and after falling asleep, he dreams of a ladder (some may recall the childhood song, “We are climbing Jacob’s Ladder”). It’s a place where heaven and earth touch. In the dream, God offers this promise:

14 Your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth and shall extend to the west and the east, the north and the south. All the nations of the earth shall be blessed through you and through your descendants.
15I am with you and I will protect you wherever you go. I will make you return to this country,
for I will not abandon you without having done all that I have promised you.” 
Genesis 28

This is where the connection between two different stories – two different ideas – begin to merge. 

The other story is Jesus in the wilderness, in a place of temptation, solitude, and questions by the devil who wants to distract, lead astray, cause Jesus to betray the Father, Creator God. In particular with the second question, the proposal is this:

Then the devil took Jesus to the holy city, Jerusalem, 
and he had Jesus stand at the very highest point in the holy temple.
Devil: If You are the Son of God, jump! 
And then we will see if You fulfill the Scripture that says,
“He will command His heavenly messengers concerning You,
and the messengers will buoy You in their hands so that 

You will not crash, or fall, or even graze Your foot on a stone.”
Jesus: That is not the only thing Scripture says.
It also says, “Do not put the Eternal One, your God, to the test.” 
Matt 4

According to Henri Nouwen, this temptation addresses the “desire to be spectacular” when the devil invites Jesus “jump,” to stand out among everyone else.[2] In fact, scripture is used to back up the suggestion to prove himself, surely there is nothing wrong to see if God will bring to pass what God promises. Indeed Jesus does stand out, but it’s not because he is seeking to stand out. He seeks something else.

That’s when the two ideas emerge. Placing Jacob’s experience alongside Jesus’ temptation, both stories are about encounter and seeking, granted of different kinds, that occur in isolation, only rocks for pillows, and discovering that God is present. And it’s about promises. It’s about what God will do, not what we set out to do. The discernment in these stories is not about jumping, becoming spectacular, or all the grains of sand as the number of descendants. It’s about meeting God in the places we find ourselves. 

These encounters in both Jacob’s seeking and Jesus’ experience reflect the real promise. God doesn’t promise that life will happen as we want or expect. In fact, it usually doesn’t. Rather, as we witness the discovery of Jacob and the response of Jesus to the devil, there is a promise of presence, one that Jacob recognizes as more valuable than all the eventual descendants.

16 The dream ended, and Jacob woke up from his sleep.
Jacob (to himself): There is no doubt in my mind that the Eternal One is in this place—
and I didn’t even know it!
17 But even as he said this, a bit of fear came over him.
Jacob: This place is absolutely awesome! It can be none other than 
the house of God and the gateway into heaven!
Genesis 28

Jacob finds God where God finds Jacob, in his solitude and questions, in the life he has been given, not the one that he thinks he wants. Jesus also meets God as he understands the “Eternal one in this place” as the one to whom he trusts, not in the proving of who is he. Jacob begins to recognize the sacred moment and place where God meets him. For Jesus, he lives out of God’s presence, in the solitude and questions, an ongoing filling by the One who loves him.

And for us, combinatory play – the creative genius given to us by the Creator – means we get to join in this reality that God invites us to also be present in God’s presence. 

  • Mary Pandiani, Executive Director, Selah Center

[1] https://www.themarginalian.org/2013/08/14/how-einstein-thought-combinatorial-creativity/

[2] Nouwen, Henri, In the Name of Love.

St. John of the Cross

One who does not seek
the cross of Jesus
isn’t seeking the
glory of Christ.

St. John of the Cross

Frank D. Getty

The message of Easter cannot be written past tense.

It is a message for today and the days to come.

It is God’s message which must re-echo through your lives.

 

Frank D. Getty

The Way of the Wilderness

By Mary Pandiani
Executive Director
Selah Center

For this Lenten season, I wonder about and wander into the wilderness. If Jesus willingly went into the desert, aka wilderness, there is value in exploring the way in which Jesus encountered his surroundings, himself, evil, and the presence of God. In these forty days of Lent, I ask God to awaken us to what might be revealed as we consider our world, our community, and ourselves. To approach Easter with a hope-filled heart, no matter what we encounter this season, God meets us as we face the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. This encounter with God moves in, through, and beyond the wilderness into places that extend the hope of God’s abiding presence.

What does wilderness have to do with contemplation? If Selah, as a welcoming contemplative community, is about pausing, encountering, and growing, then what does that look like in the wilderness? The wilderness provides certain elemental factors that offer space and time to reflect upon the inner workings of the heart. In this uncluttered and quieter place, we journey along, asking for pauses, encounters, and growth to open us to listen more deeply, both in the wilderness and beyond.

For the Mondays through Lent, I will explore the three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness as they relate to us. Through the lens of Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus, these temptations speak to the questions, triggers, and pulls in our own lives. Nouwen first explores the desire to be relevant, to be in touch with all that’s going on in the world, and to be in the center of it all, with the innocent-sounding yet provocative statement to “turn these stones into bread.” Then he explores Jesus’ response to Satan’s “throw yourself down” where Jesus confronts the desire to be spectacular, to stand out among everyone else. Finally, the third temptation of worship – the act of acknowledging who is at the center of our lives – Jesus reveals our desire to be powerful. Over the course of the season, each Monday, I will post another pondering about these temptations and the invitation that God offers to us in the life of Jesus.

– Mary

Below poem is by Steve Garnaas-Holmes – you can use this for this day or at another time.

Prepare the way of the Holy One,
make straight paths for God.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth.

—Luke 3.4-5

“The driveway into my heart is an obstacle course.
My trust of God goes up and down like a mountain range.
The words I say twist and turn around
what ought to be clear and true.
My thoughts are rough, rumpled and pitted and marred.
Roots of the trees of all my desires
have heaved up the sidewalk.

The wilderness where you, O Mystery, prepare a way
is my own troubled mind.
Simplify my trust. Undistort my eyes.
Still me.
Smooth my heart, Love, till you can roller skate there
with your eyes closed.”

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
unfoldinglight.net