Church Stuff-More or less

Does the church make sense or do we make it too hard for people to come in? I think yes and yes and the task then is to make it easier. Maybe for someone out there, this will be the case. I write as a Lutheran (or, perhaps a Lutherpalian) although I might seem out of the mainstream from time to time. That's okay, isn't it? Let's blog on.

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Location: Northport, Long Island, United States

Contrary to what Google will tell you, I have been blogging for several year, right here. Look for Churchstuff-moreorless. life was a hell of a lot easier when you could talk to someone to get help. Now, you can't do it on the telephone, you can't do it on the internet. Life was easier and made more sense because people actually cared. Now they will screw you as quickly as they will help you. Unfuck the world.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Away to a deserted place...

A central theme of yesterday's Gospel reading (RCL) was finding some peace and quiet in our often hectic lives. Jesus' disciples, having been out beating the bushes in the countryside had come home to share with Jesus all that they had experienced. Because there had been a single focus to their activity, they were quite exhausted. So, Jesus invites them to get away for awhile in a what they hoped would be a quiet, deserted place. But, this was not to be.
If we, Jesus's 21st century disciples, do not have an opportunity for R and R regularly, we will be of no use to him, to ourselves, or to those who love us and whom we love. I know from firsthand experience that this is the case. I was never good at getting away. When I did, I spent so much time in preparation that when I did get away, all that I could do was worry about what was going on while I was away. Something was wrong. As I look back, I wasn't even taking some short time, every now and then, to take a break.
A few years ago, thanks to a friend named Bettye, I discovered the labyrinth. The labyrinth is an age old meditation tool, dating back to before the Common Era. Around the year 1200, labyrinths began to take on a Chrisitian purpose. Things were bad in the Middle East, just like they are now, and the faithful were not able to safely make their pilgrimages to the Holy Land. So, they began to walk the labyrinth.
A labyrinth looks, at first glance like a maze. But there is a distinct difference-a maze has several dead-ends which can confuse you and cause a feeling of desperation to come over you. A layrinth, on the other hand, has but one circuitous path. There is a beginning and an end. This labyrinth (my personal favorite style because there are at least a half dozen varieties) image is (like) the one found on the floor of the cathedral in Chartres, France.
While early Christian pilgrims would often walk the path on their knees (ouch!), I would recommend just taking your shoes off and walking barefooted. I do this regardless of the time of year.
I soon came to realize that the labyrinth was the only place where I could totally block out the world. Even though I often have music playing in the background (Taize, Gregorian Chant, Oriental flute music, etc), it is mainly to drown out other noise. So, I walk in peace, often praying, sometimes talking to God although I am not sure that there is a difference. When I have gotten to the center, I pause for a while and then follow the path back out. I am usually totally refreshed. If you have never walked a labyrinth, I would encourage you to click on the Labyrinth Society button on this page and learn more.
I didn't walk a labyrinth in preparation for my sermon but I did find another quiet place recently as you can see from the final words of that sermon:
A week ago last night, I dropped my daughter off at a friend’s house for a few hours. I hoped to run a few errands but quickly found stores closed, friends not at home. I wondered what to do for the next few hours. I headed towards Catonsville until I came to the Episcopal Convent and Retreat Center. It was quiet there; the sun would soon be setting. Driving up the main entrance, I paused to watch two young deer in the field. I noticed a nun, asleep in a chair beneath some trees. Parking the car, I found a place to sit, read and meditate. I got up and walked through some of their gardens. Time passed and I heard the chapel bells tolling to call the order to the Service of Compline. I decided to wander over to the chapel and sat in the back as the nuns sang their worship. It was a peaceful time, if brief, and when it was over, I walked to the car and slowly drove out, back into the world.
Jesus wants us to be out there in ministry and he wants us to be out there in the deserted place where we can rest. Neither is easy. In fact, both are hard. But he has also promised to go with us. He will go with us and help us and uphold us as we seek to be in a place where we give the gift of our time to others and minister to their needs. He will also be with us when we “come away to a deserted place all by ourselves and rest a while.” Neither place is lonely. Both are places where God is. Amen


Blogger Neil Ellis Orts said...

Hi John.

I led the adult Sunday school class this past Sunday on this text and I'm a bit troubled by the text because I *want* it to say what you're saying, and I agree it tells us that's what Jesus *said* to his disciples, but in the end Jesus didn't model his own advice very well.

Because when they got to where they were going, a crowd had heard they were coming and bombarded Jesus with cries for help. And Jesus had compassion on them and began to teach them many things.

This led me to jot this sardonic note: "no rest for the compassionate."

I really wonder what Mark was getting at here. I agree we need to take our rest (i'm speaking as one who is not doing that lately) and that to do otherwise becomes counter-productive.

But as followers of Jesus, are we to model him, go to the lonely, deserted place, only to find more need, more work to be done?

I'm troubled by this. Well, not deeply, but somewhat all the same.

9:59 PM  
Blogger JD said...

I think that if you look closely, you will see that Jesus does get away but it is never qiet around him. He sleeps in the boat and the storm rages, he goes up the mountain and has to deal with Moses and Elijah, not to mention Abba. He goes off in the garden to pray and everyone falls asleep on him. I don't think that we can ever get totally away from things but when we do, we need to be recharged even if we are thinking about other thngs. I think it keeps us honest. I don't think that the quiet places are to be so quiet as to prevent us from getting back to the task if we are to take our calling seriously.

12:30 AM  
Blogger hipastorzwife2B said...

Had the opportunity to walk a portable labyrinth last winter. You even got a copy of prayers to read as you walked, if you wanted. Very soothing

4:43 PM  
Blogger Songbird said...

I also think it's important to remember that we are not Jesus. *HE* had compassion on the crowd, but he also had compassion on his disciples. And of course this is not the only example of seeking rest and peace in Mark's gospel. Yes, the demands are still there...

8:24 PM  
Blogger RuthRE said...

Lutherpalian....I like it.
Welcome to RevGals :o)

11:03 PM  
Blogger JD said...

When I was the chaplain of a large unnamed Baltimore hospital, I was in charge of group labyrinth walks. I would begin with a brief worship and then had bible verses printed on cards for anyone who wiushed to use one as a prayer/mantra. I also had a supply of hospital slipper socks to encourage folks to remove their shoes.
I think I'll explain my use of Lutherpalian more fully in a blog.

11:48 PM  
Blogger Debbie said...

Neil, I had the same problem with this text but realized that God gives us time to rest, even if only a very short time. While we benefit from that time ourselves, it really is time to rest up for God's business (which is NEVER done).

I first experienced a labrynth at Camp Calumet in NH. I tried it out even though I thought it kind of dumb at the time... and boy was I glad I did.

I found my mind focusing on the trip to the center where I pictured God's presence. I would seem to be making my way there when the path took me way outside of the circle and away... did that ever feel like my life sometimes. But just as suddenly, the path turned back and before I knew it, I was the center.

My journey reminded me that sometimes I cannot see God's presence in my life, but like the labrynth, God is there and draws me into God's very presence.

What a wonderful revelation for me!

7:42 AM  
Blogger Neil Ellis Orts said...

Hello all.

I get most of what everyone is saying. I especially like John's notion that Jesus goes to rest but it is never quiet around him.

I'm becoming a contrarian in my middle age and have an antenna out for eisegesis. I'm not convinced that's what's going on with this Mark text, but I think it's very tempting to say, "see? Jesus calls us to retreat" without seeing that when Jesus got there, he found more work. And if my exegesis leads me to conclude that there is, indeed, no rest for the compassionate, then I feel free enough to argue with the text. :)

See? Cake, and eating it too!

I would also bring up another small notion: it seems that a part of what Mark is getting at is the notion of kenosis, the pouring out of self, the sacrificial love. That's mixing Pauline and Markan texts, and I'm not all about harmonizing texts, but I do think Jesus is modeling that emptying here.

I don't really have a conclusion. I'm just thinking out loud. Or at the keyboard, as the case may be.

3:15 PM  
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11:32 AM  

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