Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13
We are all so easily hooked. We’re hooked all the time.
Someone says something critical, about the president, or the church, or about us or our families, and instantly we’re mad, we’re upset, without even thinking about it really.
And we don’t walk away, as Jesus tells us to. When we’re rejected, Jesus says, we should shake the dust off our feet. But we don’t. We hold on to the dust, we carry it everywhere, until finally it gets into our clothes and under our skin, and it changes us, over time. It makes us small and bitter, more prone to act out.
Because that’s the other problem, not just the harm we do ourselves but the harm we do others. Jesus says to walk away, to leave that house for someone else, but we turn around and try to knock down the door. We try to blow the house up. We post a picture of it on Facebook and say bad things about it, in our anger and our hurt, and so the cycle continues.
It’s like poison oak, Pema Chodron says in Taking the Leap, a wonderful book I’ve been reading, recommended by a friend. The worse thing we can do with an itch is to scratch it, because that only spreads the poison.
So here are three simple things that Chodron recommends we do instead.
First, simply acknowledge when we’re hooked. Admit it. Learn to recognize the signs: the tightening in the neck, the balling of the fists.
Second, pause, take three conscious breaths, and simply “abide” with the feeling, as Chodron puts it. Just stay with it. Don’t act on it, but don’t judge it either. Don’t try to repress it. Just let it happen.
And third, relax and move on. The feeling will pass, if we let it. It will always pass.
Not that this is easy to practice, of course. We’re hooked so often and at such deep levels we’re lucky if we can become aware of it once or twice a day, after the fact. But even that awareness would make an enormous difference, not just in our own lives but in the lives of others. It would change the world.
What we’re really afraid of is how chaotic and out of control life seems, how hard it is to pin anything down. We don’t want to admit that. We don’t want to live in the present moment, to really face reality, because reality is sometimes difficult and always shifting, always changing. So we numb ourselves. We drug ourselves. We eat too much. We live in fantasies of power.
Chodron talks about going on a retreat when she had all the time in the world, but even then, when she sat down to pray, feeling this uneasiness, this sense that she should be doing something else. I feel this, too, all the time. For me this is what prayer often is. It’s me trying to admit how agitated and uneasy I am, and often I can’t. I try to escape again. Into busyness. Into daydreams.
No, Jesus says. We shouldn’t take any food when we go—the things that temporarily satisfy our appetites, our supposed needs. We shouldn’t take any money—any possessions, any power. We shouldn’t take a second tunic—anything to cover up who we really are, any role, any part. We should just go the way we are, and without planning, without knowing where we’re going. We should just try to be present in the moment and take what comes, with all its uncertainty and struggle and ordinariness. Uncertainty won’t really kill us after all. It’s OK. The discomfort isn’t really that bad, and it passes anyway, and often, when we really are this free and unencumbered, often wonderful things happen, too, and we’re available to them, we can feel them. We can heal, we can cure. A power flows into us.
Or as Ephesians puts it in the reading for today, from a much grander perspective, there is a plan, a plan established from the beginning of time, and we all have a part to play in it, we have all been called “before the foundation of the world”—and that plan is finally not a cause for sadness or fear, however small our role, however hard things may be at times. That plan is a cause for great and abiding joy, because the love of God and the creativity of God continue into the present moment and they continue into the future, a future beyond all our imaginings.
This is the theme of a another book I’ve been reading this summer, also recommended by a friend, The Emergent Christ, by Ilia Delio, a Franciscan nun who applies quantum physics and evolutionary biology to our understanding of Jesus.
At one point in The Emergent Christ, for example, Delio quotes Pope Benedict, in his 2006 Easter Vigil Homily, describing Jesus as “a qualitative leap in the history of evolution and of life in general toward a new future life, toward a new world which, starting from Christ, already continuously permeates this world of ours, transforms it and draws it to itself.” This is just terrific stuff. Fantastic. Creation is evolving, the Pope says, and it reaches its fulfillment in Christ. Christ is “the leading edge of evolution,” as Delio puts it, first in his person, in the way he rises above violence and rises above division, and then in his rising from the dead, his conquering of death, and through him and in him we are called to carry on this work of healing and unifying.
God didn’t just create the world in the past. He is creating it in the future, and he is drawing us toward him, towards ever higher levels of life and consciousness.
This is the teaching of the Church. It’s not at odds with quantum physics. It’s not at odds with evolution. It proclaims them both as what they are, a new way of understanding the saving action of Christ in time and in the universe. “In all wisdom and insight,” Ephesians says, God “has made known to us the mystery of his will,” “a plan” to be accomplished in “the fullness of time,” to “sum up all things in Christ.”
There is a plan, in other words. It’s just not our plan.
It’s much, much bigger. It’s much, much gentler. More joyous. More beautiful.
All we can do is commit ourselves to our own small mission, our own small task, taking whatever comes. All we can do is try to imitate Jesus, try to practice nonviolence and practice humility and practice peace, and so to keep advancing the ongoing work of the Spirit, confident in the end, wildly confident, that everything adds up somehow, that everything contributes to the glory of God, in ways we can never understand and never need to, only embrace, only celebrate, only hope for, only believe.