Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Beauty We Love

The beauty of Kent in spring is now on full display, especially on Friday.  How does this happen every year?  Spring seems like miracle.  Should we be burning incense to Persephone?  Should there be a sacrifice to perform to receive the grace and beauty of spring?  I remember winter.  Nature all around us is both obvious and mysterious, as we ponder the source of life in the midst of blessing.   

            The obvious and the mysterious are also here in Henry’s baptism.  Henry Copland Sullivan.  The love of the parents for the child is obvious; it is overflowing; it moves powerfully like the tide.  Parental love is one of the most powerful forces of love we ever encounter.  When my children were born, I felt enormous love being pulled out of me, naturally, spiritually, emotionally, and it hasn’t stopped.  Not ever.  But in the life of Henry…there is mystery, in the twists and turns to come, in the decisions and choices of his life, in the ups and downs.  His life will include religious faith by the events we perform together on this day.

The gospel this morning from Luke is the road to Emmaus.  The road to Emmaus is a beloved story among the resurrection appearances, and it too is both obvious and mysterious.  These are not the main disciples of Jesus in the story, and only one of them is even named as Cleopas.  But the story strikes an important chord in the Easter imagination.  The stranger who joins them is the risen Jesus, but they fail to recognize him in their grief.  Jesus walks with them; he teaches them about the Scriptures.  They talk to him about the crucifixion and about the wild news of the empty tomb.  Jesus opens their eyes to the resurrection of their leader, but they still fail to see that is Jesus himself walking with them on the road to Emmaus. 

            The search for new life is not an easy one, as seen in this gospel story of non-recognition.  It can be hard it is to see what’s right in front of you.  The theme of non-recognition is the major one for Luke on the road to Emmaus.  What does it mean to be with Jesus and not recognize him?  Does this still happen with religious experiences of God and Jesus?  I think it happens all the time.  Non-recognition is the story of my life, maybe yours too.  I often don’t recognize people.  Sure, I may know their names, but that doesn’t mean I really see them.  And that doesn’t mean they really see me.  Sometimes weeks can go by without feeling really seen for who you are.  We walk around each other, we talk to each other, but that doesn’t mean we know each other.  This should be true in September, but not in May with five weeks left of school.  You could be Jesus—I could be Jesus, but something holds us back from really seeing each other.  The quick labels that we have don’t actually help us in the area of recognition; we put people into our categories and imprison them there. 

The mysteriously hidden Jesus teaches about the Bible and makes the purpose of his life and death obvious to his listeners.  I can read pages of a text without actually understanding or remembering a thing.  I’m sure this has happened to you.  Maybe it happens to you every night when you study.  We don’t read the world very well, and this keeps us in the dark when it comes to Jesus and the love of God.  Resurrection is about waking up, seeing the big picture, but something is always holding us back.  Something is causing the non-recognition.  Cleopas and the unnamed disciple have absorbed the events that led to the crucifixion of Jesus, but they are unready for the good news of his resurrection.  They cannot recognize Easter joy.  They don’t even see Jesus with them until they break bread at the end of the day.  Then their eyes are opened.  Then the risen Jesus is known.  The broken has become whole, the grief has become ecstatic.    

What does it mean to celebrate new life—to even talk about resurrection—when so many people in our world are suffering?  Suffering and pain can cause the non-recognition of God.  We prefer to stay in our pain or fondle our grievances then to wander into the new.  But Easter hope brings suffering and joy into a new mixture—a Loving God holds it all together for us, the tradition says.  Even when the disciples experience the Risen Jesus, it is clear that that the wounds of Jesus are real.  He really did suffer; it was no illusion, which was a source of debate in the early church.  So today, we celebrate new life on this third Sunday of Easter, not by isolating ourselves in joy from a suffering world, but by opening our hearts wider than they have ever been opened before. 

As I reflected on the paradox of new life and resurrection combined with the broken images of the world, I thought of the mystical poet Rumi, who is beloved by those of different faiths.  Rumi was a Muslim who lived in the thirteenth century, in what is now Afghanistan.  His poetry deeply investigates the paradox and mystery of God, especially the love of God that is found, surprisingly, in human suffering. 

Here are some samples of the spiritual wisdom of Rumi.  

“Let the beauty we love be what we do.

                        There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”

                        “Chase a deer and end up everywhere!” 

That sounds like my Native American Literature class.

                        “Mystics are experts in laziness.”


                        “What have I ever lost by dying?”

Because I love this, I am never bored.

Beauty constantly wells up, a noise of spring water

In my ear an inner being.”

“Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.”


Even in the midst of suffering, there is treasure to be found.  As a Christian reading the mystical poet from Afghanistan, I can’t but help but be moved by his poetry about, and for, Jesus Christ; the way he comes to Jesus so personally, with fresh expression, and even with love.  Rumi was fascinated by Jesus, as many mystics from other religious traditions have been.  I have a brother who is a scientist, but he is keenly interested in theology and likes to ask me questions.  The hardest question that he once asked me: how come non-Christians often see Jesus more clearly than the Christians do?  I still don’t have an answer, but there is enormous reverence for Jesus in Islam.  The mystical experiences of God often obliterate, wonderfully, the boundaries that human beings hold most sacred, the ones that divide us; strangers and even former enemies can become friends and brothers.  When the Kingdom of God comes near, a full recognition can occur, a wonderful chaos can break out in human society.  The last become first, the first last, the poor hold spiritual riches, and the rich walk away empty-handed.  Rumi sensed the transformation and full recognition at the heart of Jesus’ life before God. 

This Jesus poem by Rumi is called “There’s Nothing Ahead.”

“Lovers think they’re looking for each other,

                        but there’s only one search: wandering

                        this world is wandering that, both inside one

                        transparent sky.  In here

                        there is no dogma and no heresy.

                        The miracle of Jesus is himself, not what he said or did

                        About the future.  Forget the future.

                        I’d worship someone who could do that.

                        On the way you may want to look back, or not,

                        but if you can say There’s nothing ahead

                        there will be nothing there.

                        Stretch your arms and take hold of the cloth of your clothes

                        with both hands.  The cure for the pain is in the pain.

                        Good and bad are mixed.  If you don’t have both,

                        you don’t belong with us.

                        When one of us gets lost, is not here, he must be inside us.

                        There’s no place like that anywhere in the world.”

Jesus lived fully, completely, into both the beauty and the peril of creation, seeking out his neighbor in the least among us.  In him was the delighted mystic who lived each moment in the divine dance of creation.  God was so near to him that he called the ultimate reality Father or even Papa—his Beloved.  The Kingdom of God could be seen by Jesus in every human face.  That’s what it means to really see.  There is you full recognition.  Jesus chose as his discipline the Way of Transformation, the way of the heart in deep thanksgiving for every breath we take.  Sometimes a broken heart is the strongest thing there is. What is the new life, the great beauty, in front of you right now?  Go out and find it today; claim it for yourself.  Let the beauty we love be what we do.  There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

No comments:

Post a Comment