Dust you are: living the mystery together

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There are three ministers sitting at the front behind the communion table. I’ve come full today, full of the sadness and fear and anger I’d tried to leave behind but couldn’t. And I’ve come empty, hungry for Jesus. I’m so grateful He calls me to come as I am.

The senior minister, Darrell, is in the middle with Andrea on his right and Abe on his left. Darrell stands, welcoming us all to the table and speaking the words of institution as he lifts the loaf and breaks it. I watch as Abe and Andrea pass the trays of bread to the servers to share with us. Darrell asks that we hold the bread until all have received and can partake “because we’re all in this together.”

Then, to his right, Andrea stands and lifts the cup. Her clear voice rings out, “And then He took the cup. . .” I was raised in a church where women couldn’t speak the words of institution or distribute the elements. My heart is in my throat. Something is happening and Jesus is in this place and we are on holy ground.

I expect her to suggest that we take the cup when we receive it as a sign that even though we are brought into the body we each come to Jesus individually. She asks instead that we wait once again and drink together. That breaks me right open and tears run down my cheeks because don’t we all have times we need to be reminded that this is the ultimate truth, that we really are part of Jesus’ body, all in this together, with each other and for each other and that’s how it’s meant to be?

We’re singing “Let the weak say I am strong” and part of that strength comes from sensing your fellow cells squished up against you in this living, breathing, growing body. There are moments Jesus’ life flows through you to feed them and warm them and hold them up and there are moments the flow is reversed. And often those moments aren’t very far apart.

I watch as the mystery unfolding in front of me deepens. Andrea returns from passing the trays of tiny cups to the servers. Darrell has stepped out from behind the table. He speaks to her a few words I can’t hear and she smiles and steps in behind the table, into the middle, into his place, and sits in his seat. Darrell sits in hers, then stands again to collect the emptied trays as the servers return.

This is the Lord’s table and I’ve just watched Him step out of His place and put me—a straggler and a struggler and a woman1 —in it, right in the middle of the Trinity where I can sit, surrounded and honored and safe and then where I can stand again—Jesus now wearing my flesh—and offer His blood and His body, His life and His strength, to my fellow ministers and to the world.

There are no words Darrell could have spoken which would have carried that message to my heart the way his action did.

There is truth that has to be embodied and joy that has to be laughed and grief that has to come out in wet and salty tears. There is love that has to be knelt and danced and lived and longing that can only be expressed as you lie clinging to the feet of Jesus.

Our body is not an accessory to our souls. It’s not a mere house for the more precious and lasting part of us. Rather, as Old Testament scholar Johannes Pedersen says, ‘The body is the soul in its outward form.”2

 

Taking it further:

Speaking of Genesis 2:7, Celeste Snowber Schroeder says,

“The Hebrew literally tells us that ‘God breathed in the nostrils the breath of life and the human became a nephesh,’ most often translated as soul. The passage does not say that the human was supplied with a soul as some other attachment to the body, but by the breath of God the human became a living body-soul, a living human being. So man and woman in their total essence are souls. As articulated by Old Testament scholar Johannes Pedersen, ‘Soul and body are so intimately united that a distinction cannot be made between them. They are more than ‘united,’: the body is the soul in its outward form.’ In the beginning of creation we were designed as one: body-soul.”3

What questions does this raise for you? What difference might this understanding of soul and body as two facets of the same whole make in your life (in your work, your decisions, your relationships, the daily practice of your faith and the way you read Scripture)?

 

Notes:

This is not to imply either that Andrea is a straggler or a struggler, or that women are in general any more so than men. We’re all dust, and the great mystery of grace is that Jesus puts any of us in this place where He wears our flesh and loves others through us. But since I’m a woman and have the church background that I do, the grace of Andrea being placed in that seat enabled me to glimpse and receive the grace more deeply.

Johannes Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture (London: Oxford University Press, 1959), 171.

3 Celeste Snowber Schroeder, Embodied Prayer (Liguiori, Missouri: Triumph Books, 1995), 22.

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This is the fourth in a series of Lenten posts exploring what it might look like to live fully alive to God with our bodies as well as our souls. Click on the links to read the first three:

Dust you are: an invitation

Dust you are: a call to pay attention

Dust you are: love in the desert

When you’re facing a too-busy week

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I never thought it could happen.

I looked last night at my calendar for the week. I’d felt each item was right when I took it on, and there was nothing I felt I was being asked to let go. But it all added up to a week busy enough that I usually would have looked at it and swallowed hard. The strange thing was that last night I looked at the calendar and I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t overwhelmed. I was excited.

It took me a while to figure out what had made the difference. Why could I look at the week and instead of panicking, look forward to seeing how God would work?

Then I realized. I’d spent the week remembering:

It was April 2004. I’d just lived my first two days in Kabul. I was supposed to be flying in to see for the first time the little village where I was going to work. But it had been raining, and when someone drove a truck onto the runway it sank ten centimeters into the mud; the flight was postponed. So I waited. And when the call came the next night that I should be at the airport at 5am, a kaleidoscope of butterflies took flight in my stomach. Would we make it this time? What would I find? Could I cope in this place to which I was going?  I wasn’t sure I’d sleep at all, but I went to bed anyway, and picked up my copy of Daily Light before turning out the light. “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.” (SS 2:10)

I went to sleep with the words in my head. They called to me when my alarm clock rang at 03:45. I heard them again as I shivered at the airport, watching the sun turn the fresh snow on the mountains pink as the pilot made the final adjustments to the four-seater plane.

“Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.” Love is calling me to come with Him into this week too.

When it’s Thanksgiving and you want to feel it

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So there it was—Thanksgiving Sunday—and I was doing my best to get into it. I want thanksgiving to characterize my life every day of the year, so it felt especially sad that on this weekend that our Canadian forefathers and mothers set apart to give special thanks, I was full of self-pity. Yuck.

I know sometimes thanksgiving is a sacrifice; we’re to give thanks anyway, even when it feels hard. Often that choice—to give thanks anyway—opens my eyes so I can see again how good God is, and joy creeps in and my thankfulness switches from something I’m doing out of sheer obedience to something I’m doing because God is so big and so good and loves me so much that what’s not to give thanks for?

But there are days—like yesterday—when I want to feel thankful, I try to give thanks anyway, and my eyes stay glued shut and my self curved in and my thanks stays tasting like cardboard. I wondered why.

So I asked.

“God, You are so good—there’s enough in Your character to keep me giving thanks forever. And on top of that you’ve poured out so many other blessings. Why don’t I feel thankful even when I want to, even when I’m trying to give thanks?”

“It’s hard to give thanks for a gift you’ve just pushed away.”

Huh.

I think we’ve been here before, He and I.

I can feel deeply thankful in the middle of illness, in the middle of grief, in the middle of just about anything—as long as I feel loved. And since God’s love for me never changes, when I’m not feeling loved, it’s because I’m pulling away, or pushing him away.

So I ask another question, one that I plan to keep handy for every time thanksgiving fails to open my eyes, “Jesus, where am I pushing away your love?”

A string of questions follows:

  • Am I insisting on carrying burdens that God wants to carry for me?
  • Am I berating myself (perhaps for not feeling thankful enough?) while God is whispering that he loves me and just wants me back in His arms?
  • Am I refusing to receive His love through the hands of a friend? Failing to rest when He invites me to? Prioritizing the do-list over the moment of celebration He has invited me into?

He brings me back once more to a prayer that helps me stop pushing Him away:

“Blessed Trinity,

I receive your love,

your presence

and this day as a gift from you.

I open my heart to you.

Please lead me deeper

into your transforming love

as we live these next hours together.

Amen.”

And as I give thanks for Grace that always welcomes me home and Love that wants me to know I’m loved and parents who listen and a friend who drives, my cardboard thanksgiving catches fire and I wonder if the world will end before I run out of things to give thanks for. And this—this Love in which we find ourselves—is the flame that turns thanksgiving to thanksliving and moves us out to change the world.

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When you don’t have much to offer

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I ran along the garden path, wishing I’d brought my camera. The grasses bowed, shimmered, almost glowed in the early morning light.

I moved slowly, my run half walk, each step dragging the weight of my heart. There are times it’s tempting to pull the covers over your head and skip the day.

I stopped to stretch and a tear slipped from my eye. I gave it to Jesus. It was all I had to give.

As I walked back past the grasses, almost other-worldly in their silvery shimmer, I sensed His nudge. “Look closer.”

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Sometimes you have strength to give, and sometimes willing weakness. And when your threadbare weakness has worn right through and all you have left is emptiness and tears, just bring Him those. But be warned: you might have to go for your camera. It’s nothing for this one who spoke the Milky Way out of empty space to string worlds of beauty from tears bent to his light.

When you struggle to settle yourself

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I’d been desperate to escape the night-and-day noise of the city outside my window, the pain of metal-on-metal of nearby construction, so I ran last week on wooded trails where I met only spiders who’d slung their silk across the path while the world slept, heard only songbirds celebrating the new day and a woodpecker tapping for breakfast. Then I wrapped myself in a huge soft blanket and sat with my Bible in the leather chair in the pale yellow and blue bedroom in the basement of the big house where all was still.

A day or two in, as I became able to sleep again and began to awaken to stillness, I came up hard against the lack of stillness within me. I could, for a few days, escape the noise around me. I couldn’t so easily turn off the noise within. I wanted to settle, to rest, to burrow deep into the peace of God’s love. I felt more like an overtired eighteen-month-old child, distracted and overstimulated and unable to figure how to settle myself.

“Oh, Jesus, I don’t like this in me. I’d rather be peaceful and joyful. . . . BUT I love it that you love me here, and rather than commanding me to fix it, You bring me close and settle me on Your knee—me with head still turning frantically this way and that, restless and wiggly—and hold me close and speak softly, ‘This is where I want to love you.’ Oh, thank you! I don’t know how to settle myself in Your presence today, but I come running to You anyway, bringing my whole self, eager to be with You and discover myself loved once again with the love that never lets go. Oh, Jesus, meet me here today and make my heart even more deeply Yours!”

And I find marvelous lines in Brueggemann’s book of prayers that always gives words to my tongue-tied heart:

“. . . We trust the great truth of your wondrous love

but we will not sit still for it,

UNTIL you hear us.

Our truth—heard by you—will make us free. . .”1

“Oh! I see! This is part of why I can’t settle myself in your love. I want to race past the stuff wrestling inside of me, and what I need first is not to try to pile more of your truth in but to let some of my truth—my secrets that I’m carrying and barely know how to put into words—out into the truth of Your love that enfolds all.

My heart feels quieter already, resting in the relief that I don’t have to fix the restless parts of my heart, finding again that every part of me is welcome in Your arms that never let go. Thank you, Jesus. I don’t yet know how to name what is restless within me, but I come, all of me, and sit on your knee, feeling your strong arms around me, waiting for you to show me what you want to bring into your light today to be welcomed and loved into wholeness, knowing that while I wait I am loved. All of me.”

The spiderwebs glisten in the rising sun and the branches hung with old man’s beard glow like they’re set on fire and the rising sun makes all in its path glorious and how can I see anything but beauty here? For this is grace, always entering the dark and the messy and restless and loving it into life.

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1Walter Brueggemann, “A people with many secrets,” in Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, p. 25