Practicing Resurrection

A Meditation for Beloved Community from John 20:26-28.

Focus on Practice, Rather than Mastery

I was flipping back through some of the older meditations from the life of our community this week—there are eight whole months of those, you know? Here, in the spring of 2016, we enter into our ninth month of life as a worshipping community. That feels significant to me… There are other things in life that sort of “spring” forth after nine months of waiting. Nine months from our beginning we find ourselves in the second week of the season of Easter… and it just so happens to be the very beginning of spring. That’s strong… and sweet.

In the fall, Vern did a three-part series on “Insights from Courage and Renewal.” This is part four, “Insights from Courage and Renewal,” from the other side of winter, the side of winter where the things that once were letting go and dying are now re-emerging and being reborn.

Tonight, we will explore the touchstone articulated in the Courage and Renewal tradition as, “Focus on practice, rather than mastery.”

Focus on practice, rather than mastery.

Let’s explore that touchstone a bit. Let’s sit inside of it, walk around in it, feel it out a bit.

Focus on practice, rather than mastery.

There is a lot of freedom in this touchstone for me. As a recovering perfectionist, wrestling with an addiction to being good and right—there is a lot of freedom within the idea that I can simply focus on practice, rather than mastery.

Practice is playful. It’s poetry. It’s ten-year-old kids on a hot summer afternoon kicking the soccer ball around amidst the sound of laughter and the fragrance of freshly cut grass. It’s a bluesy harmonica rift whose author doesn’t know where he is going when he begins, and in some ways is just as much a witness to the beauty and soulfulness as the rest of us. It’s an artist slowly tracing the lines of a bird’s feather and noticing how similar they are to the strokes she makes when she paints a flower petal. It’s a quilter who leaves a bit of mismatched fabric or a misplaced seam in her artwork because of the possibility that it adds to the work more than it distracts. It’s a young pastor standing up and speaking on topics that he is no expert on, because of the sense that grappling towards some deep mystery feels more wholehearted than being able to systematically explain the lesser mysteries he can comprehend.

Practice is playful. It’s joyful. It’s invigorating.

Mastery, on the other hand, is so stale. It’s flash cards. Long-division. Spreadsheets. Balancing a checkbook. Systematic theology. The need to have everything figured out, tidied up, in perfect order before we share it with one another.

Mastery is draining.

Focus on practice recognizes that the process is just as beautiful, if not more so, than the result. The unfolding of spring, is just as beautiful as the fullness of summer.

We don’t have to have it all figured out. We don’t have to have all the answers—and there is still room to laugh—maybe more so. Probably much more so.

Focus on practice, rather than mastery.

It seems like it would be a misrepresentation of the Courage and Renewal tradition if I were merely to report to you what I know about this touchstone. You see it from another side. What can you see from your angle that I can’t see from mine? What do you know about this touchstone?

Focus on practice, rather than mastery.

 

Thomas, the Practitioner

Thomas.

Thomas has born the burden of a bad reputation for two thousand years. You think it’s tough to be misunderstood by someone? Try two thousand years of it.

Thomas was not his formal name—it was not a formal name in those days. Thomas, is his nickname, which translates, “twin,” in Aramaic.

Whose “twin” is he?

Many commentators would like to suggest that he is our twin. Distant readers of the text, who might come to faith over time. That seems like a likely proposal, albeit a fairly uninteresting one. It seems stale safe. It feels like mastery. It feels like a nice, orderly, response that has been tidied up over time.

Another proposal seems more interesting. It feels more like it is leaning towards practice, and unknowingly grappling towards some deep mystery. The gnostic gospel of Thomas, would appear to suggest that Thomas is being identified as Jesus’ twin. In the text, Jesus says to Thomas, “Whoever drinks from my mouth will become as I am, and I myself will become that person, and the mysteries shall be revealed to him.” Theologian Elaine Pagels is convinced that the force of the Gospel of Thomas reading intends to suggest that, “Encountering the living Jesus means recognizing oneself and Jesus, as so to speak, identical twins.”

Now that is interesting—and might explain our unfortunate misunderstanding of Thomas, “the doubting one.”

Caravaggio’s famous depiction of the incredulous saint offers unique insight as well. There is plenty to comment on from this painting, including the skin tones, and the all male cast of characters in it. But obvious critiques aside, let’s just comment on the story being told by this painting, because it illuminates the text completely.

Jesus takes Thomas’ hand and places his index finger right into the wound in his side. You can literally see the flesh around the wound rising. You can almost hear it being pulled back. You can imagine what it would feel like to have your finger between two ribs. Jesus’ face is calm, but Thomas’ face says it all. It is a look of complete disbelief.

Now there is a word, disbelief.

You can imagine the guttural responses that might have come out of the twins’ mouth just after this snap shot was taken. “NUH UH! OOOEEEAAHH!! Oh my God! I can’t believe it!”

We say those kinds of things. After a completely shocking, surprising experience, we find ourselves saying, “I cannot believe that just happened!” or “I can’t believe she said that!”

Really? Can you NOT believe it? Or can you not comprehend it? Have you not mastered the idea of it?

What is important to note, is that in those moments, we have already fully experienced whatever it is that we “cannot believe.” We have practiced it already.

Thomas may not have mastered the doctrine of the resurrection, but he has his finger between Jesus’ ribs, at the least, we can say he has practiced it. He is practicing resurrection. And so maybe, just maybe, he has become Jesus’ identical twin?

Why not? He’s right there in the middle of Jesus’ resurrection practice anyway. I propose we call him “Thomas, the practitioner,” and lose the doubter moniker. Thomas, the “resurrection practitioner.”

 

Practice Resurrection

Wendell Berry has a famous poem that was originally published in his 1973 collection, “The Country of Marriage.”

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,

vacation with pay. Want more

of everything ready-made. Be afraid

to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.

Not even your future will be a mystery

any more. Your mind will be punched in a card

and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something

they will call you. When they want you

to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something

that won’t compute. Love the Lord.

Love the world. Work for nothing.

Take all that you have and be poor.

Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace

the flag. Hope to live in that free

republic for which it stands.

Give your approval to all you cannot

understand. Praise ignorance, for what man

has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.

Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.

Say that your main crop is the forest

that you did not plant,

that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested

when they have rotted into the mold.

Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus

that will build under the trees

every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear

close, and hear the faint chattering

of the songs that are to come.

Expect the end of the world. Laugh.

Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful

though you have considered all the facts.

So long as women do not go cheap

for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy

a woman satisfied to bear a child?

Will this disturb the sleep

of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.

Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head

in her lap. Swear allegiance

to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos

can predict the motions of your mind,

lose it. Leave it as a sign

to mark the false trail, the way

you didn’t go. Be like the fox

who makes more tracks than necessary,

some in the wrong direction.

Practice resurrection.

 

In circuitous fashion, Berry points to the deep mystery that I’m grappling with here. There is simply so much more to this life than mastering it. There is so much to be done that does not compute. There is so much freedom. There is so much laughter. There is so much wandering in the wrong direction, not simply to be endured, but to be enjoyed.

 

There is so much beauty to be enjoyed.

So much love.

So much goodness to taste and experience.

There is so much resurrection to be practiced.

 

And I think that’s where we find ourselves as a community. Right there in the midst of the embrace of the beauty, joy, love, goodness, resurrection that does not compute.

 

Beloved Community’s Resurrection Practice

I caught a glimpse of it last Sunday. I had dreamt of it before then. I had two dreams in the last nine months, where I experienced myself sitting in this room as it swelled full of diverse people. In one of the dreams, like Vern in one of his dreams, I even found myself speaking Spanish.

I felt like last Sunday was a third rendition of that dream. This room swelled full of all different kinds of people, from all different backgrounds, making tracks in all different directions.

 

As morning broke on the harp,

as we attuned our hearts to the silence and the alpine glow of the mountains,

as we danced down the aisle to share the feast of love,

and as we marched out of this sanctuary with all the saints into a sky as open to possibility as is the resurrection—there was a glimpse of who we are.

 

Beloved Community. We are a voice of love and joyful justice and there is room for everyone within that voice. Thanks be to God.

 

And so let us remember the first words spoken in this space nearly nine months ago:

“Beloved Community

And so it begins

like a small stream slipping

from source to destination

 

Beloved community

a new congregation on the face of the earth,

in this place,

may it be a blessing to many,

a place of encouragement.

 

I hope we’ll have lots of fun

and increase the possibility

for people to live with each other

and care for each other

 

I hope we’ll pay attention to the Holy Spirit

sweeping with love and affection

in the midst of all that we do and say.

 

I hope that the infinite beauty

poured out into our lives each hour,

each minute,

will encourage us to more profound

and strong and sweet living.

 

It is always time right now for good community.

And everybody needs it,

even if we’re too wounded or distracted to know it.

 

So here it is, a place that will hold community

with great attention and joy.” –vkr

 

Would you believe it?

Only nine months later, and here we are…

We are holding community with great attention and joy.

We are offering sacred space in our personal and corporate lives to encounter love.

We are welcoming immigrants.

We are housing the homeless.

We are sharing our lives with one another in deep friendship.

 

Would you believe it?

 

Here we are. Right here.

We haven’t mastered it yet,

but we’re certainly grappling towards some deep mystery.

We’ve got a finger, right there in the side,

lifting the skin, feeling between the ribs.

We may not be able to believe it yet,

but we’re practicing resurrection.

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