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

1 Peter 1:3

Praise be to the God and
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 

In his great mercy he has given us new birth
into a living hope through the resurrection of
Jesus Christ from the dead.”

 

1 Peter  1:3 (NIV)

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.

On Wilderness: Testing or Temptation?

Sharing a reflection from Selah’s friend and former board treasurer, Lisa Veitenhans:

Eugene Peterson wrote, “… we see Jesus as the way we come to God. Jesus is also the way God comes to us.”

He also threw out a couple more zingers in this particular sermon (see below), comparing being in the wilderness for 40 days as being more like time in Eden and the nuance of the original language offering a coin flip definition of “Testing-Temptation,” with testing being something you do to confirm that something works and temptation being something that wants failure.

Imagine that our loving Lord comes to you and says, “Come with me to the quiet places where we can be totally together, free from distraction. You’ll leave all your regular duties, and comforts, behind, but don’t worry, you’ll be completely cared for, even by Wilderness itself. What will happen? Intense learning? Yes! Beauty? Beyond what you can imagine! Clarity? When distraction is gone, purpose will become clear. When we are done you’ll be ready to take the test.”

I would say, “Test? What test? Can’t we just go along together forever as we are?” Isn’t that how we want things to be? Sun shining, hearts smiling, comfort abounding places are so lovely! But that isn’t the way life actually happens (at least not yet). Sometimes we must have challenges. New challenges focus my attention, whether I want it to or not.

The first time I looked at the wilderness as more of an invitation to Eden than a pass/fail walk into some punishment, I felt my shoulders drop. My anxiety about failing God and not being able to resist temptation had always felt overwhelming. “Will I remember all the scriptures I need? Will I fail in the final second?” But this other way of looking at Testing-Temptation… I thought of a favorite teacher, who handed out the year end test, winking at me. He knew I would pass with flying colors in spite of my nerves because he knew me well enough to know I was ready. God knows our readiness much better than we do. So maybe the Testing- Temptation is more for us to know we are ready.

Peterson also says, “However necessary the wilderness is, it is temporary, an in-between time, and a place not intended to characterize an entire life. Wilderness life is a strenuous life. It cannot be endured indefinitely.”

But it can be endured for 40 days. Welcome to Lent. May each of us Christians all over this globe with all our forms and ways enter our little wildernesses where God meets us, prepares us and blesses us with his presence and love.

— As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God by Eugene H. Peterson
https://a.co/iyEAzA7

Keeping a Holy Lent

Create in me a beautiful heart, O God,
and put a new and faithful spirit within me

 

Joel 2:12-14

12 But there’s also this, it’s not too late—

God’s personal Message!—

“Come back to me and really mean it!

Come fasting and weeping, sorry for your sins!”

13-14 Change your life, not just your clothes.

Come back to God, your God.

And here’s why: God is kind and merciful.

He takes a deep breath, puts up with a lot,

This most patient God, extravagant in love,

always ready to cancel catastrophe.

Who knows? Maybe he’ll do it now,

maybe he’ll turn around and show pity.

Maybe, when all’s said and done,

there’ll be blessings full and robust for your God!

The Message Bible


Ashes

 

Take all of who I am,

the me-ness of me,

what makes me who I am,

the special, the unique,

the brilliant and the unpardonable,

all I’m so proud of, and so ashamed,

that I’ve worked so hard to fashion,

that I’m still working on,

what I can’t part with

because there wouldn’t be

anything left of me—

take it.

Take it.

I lay it in your hands.

Gather it into yourself,

into your dark, generous mystery,

and in the flame of your creating heart

burn it.

Then into the dust and ashes

breathe your breath,

and with gratitude

I will receive

who rises

when in your grace

you give me anew.

Steve Garnass-Holmes

 

Steve Garnaas-Holmes,
www.unfoldinglight.net
Used with permission.

In Solidarity

My plan for today is to share about the first of three temptations that Jesus experiences in the wilderness. But after receiving a note from one of our Selah companions, Zoe Pearson, I realize something else is needed. Here’s my wondering.

Before the temptations, Jesus has to choose to walk into the wilderness, a place of unknown outcomes and presumed scarcity. When Jesus enters the wilderness, he had no idea what will happen. In previous wilderness experiences for the Hebrew people, they fail to trust for their provisions. They are afraid and hide in their fear. What is different about Jesus?  What does he practice that gives him strength to face the temptations?

He prays.

What strikes me by Zoe’s note, and now I share with you, is that we’re in a similar place of wilderness, a place of unknown outcomes and presumed scarcity where we are we cry out to God for the people of Ukraine. What can we offer in this place of wilderness?

One of the gifts of Lent is the call to prayer. It is a time to intentionally seek to listen and cry out to God. In times such as these while our world watches those in the throes of war and displacement, it can be difficult to know how to pray or wonder if prayer does anything at all. In her note, Zoe sent me a NY Times article by Tish Harrison Warren (see below). The article speaks of the many ways people are praying for and praying by Ukrainians.

What compels me and Zoe is a video created by the Bible Society that shows Ukrainians, some in basements and bomb shelters, who pray Psalm 31:

“In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame;

Deliver me in your righteousness. Turn your ear to me, come quickly

To my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.

Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name

Lead and guide me. Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, for

You are my refuge. Into your hands I commit my spirit;

Deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.”

The Prayers of the People

 

For Lent, let us pray together with them, in solidarity. For all the world that is broken, hurting, and torn apart, we remember that God is our rock of refuge, even in the place of wilderness.

 

“How readers around the world are praying for Ukraine”, by Tish Harrison Warren, The New York Times

God of Love and Life

God of love and life

the pattern of your presence among us is clear enough:
You give and we receive.
You give with overwhelming generosity,
and we receive with our customary casualness.
You give more than we can ask or imagine,
and we receive, sometimes in wonder.

You give us life and breath, and we receive.
You give miracles of newness, and we receive.
You give rain and sunshine and food, and we receive.
You give yourself in prophetic voice,
and in the most unexpected holy people, and we receive.
You take and bless and break and give, and we receive.

But sometimes you challenge us in overwhelming mystery
and awesome destruction.
The world shakes on its foundations and we are terrified.
The waters move beyond their bounds and we feel engulfed.
The mountains crush the valleys
and we cry from the buried depths.

Do not, we pray, allow our hearts to go numb
when this happens.
Do not, we beg, allow us to give in to a tempting paralysis.
Move us, in those times of dread,
to take our turn as the givers,
so that all may find food and shelter and care and nourishment.
Open our heart to hear the cries of those who weep,
so that what we have received from you in abundance,
may be passed on to all.
Help us, O God who is love,
and O Love who is God,
to love even in our own faltering way.

God of Life and Love,
the pattern of your presence among us is clear:
You give and we receive;
You challenge and we are afraid.
Be with us as we learn again to see you
in the giving and the receiving,
the generosity and the fear,
the alarm and the hope.
And let us learn to repeat with the psalmist:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
(Psalm 46:1)

-Mary Taylor, modified from Julian of Norwich

 

 

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

Blessings for the Wilderness

Matthew 4: 1 – 11

Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.


Footnotes

  1. Matthew 4:1 The Greek for tempted can also mean tested.
  2. Matthew 4:4 Deut. 8:3
  3. Matthew 4:6 Psalm 91:11,12
  4. Matthew 4:7 Deut. 6:16
  5. Matthew 4:10 Deut. 6:13

By Jan Richardson
Painted Prayer Book

 

http://paintedprayerbook.com

The first time they met, they were in the waters of their mothers’ wombs. On that day, John had leaped with joy at the presence of his cousin Jesus. Now the kinsmen stand together by other waters. On this day that they meet at the Jordan, they see each other with different eyes. There is a deeper knowing in their gaze, and in their recognition of each other a joy perhaps no less keen than at the first but with a wiser edge. Here at the river, John and Jesus have lived out nearly their entire lives. Yet there is still much to do; everything to do.

And so, grudgingly at first, but then with understanding, John the Baptist plunges Jesus beneath the surface. This, at least, he can do for his cousin, can help prepare him for the way that lies ahead of him. John speaks the words of blessing and initiation, raises Jesus dripping from the depths, hears the voice that proclaims from heaven, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

And then the kinsmen go their separate ways. Where we might expect the freshly baptized Jesus to begin his public ministry, there is instead a curious sort of inversion that takes place: Jesus goes into the wilderness, the landscape that had long been home to his locust-and-honey-eating cousin. There is something he needs there, a way that yet must be prepared within him.

Here at the outset of Lent, what can you see of the landscape that lies ahead of you? Might there be another place you need to go, physically or in your soul, before you are ready to enter the landscape that calls you? Is there a space—a season, a terrain, a ritual—of preparation that you need; a place where you can find clarity, and perhaps a ministering angel or two? What might this look like?

Wilderness Blessing

Let us say
this blessing began
whole and complete
upon the page.

And then let us say
that one word loosed itself
and another followed it
in turn.

Let us say
this blessing started
to shed all
it did not need,

that line by line
it returned
to the ground
from which it came.

Let us say
this blessing is not
leaving you,
is not abandoning you
to the wild
that lies ahead,

but that it is loathe
to load you down
on this road where
you will need
to travel light.

Let us say
perhaps this blessing
became the path
beneath your feet,
the desert
that stretched before you,
the clear sight
that finally came.

Let us say
that when this blessing
at last came to its end,
all it left behind
was bread,
wine,
a fleeting flash
of wing.

—Jan Richardson

Wilderness Blessing,”  Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons by Jan Richardson
© Jan Richardson. Used with permission.
Image: “Wildnerness and Wings” © Jan Richardson
http://paintedprayerbook.com