A meditation for Beloved Community
(Part 1 of 4 in a 4 Part series of seasonal reflections based upon the life of Jesus)
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “What concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
In some way or another, we all use metaphors to understand our movement through life. Some of these metaphors are better than others.
“Life is like a game of chance – some win, some lose.”
“Life is like an elevator: on your way up, sometimes you have to stop and let some people off.”
“Life is like a walk in the rain… you can shelter or you can just get wet.”
“Life is like a box of chocolates… you never know what you’re going to get.”
“Life is like a battlefield – you get the enemy or the enemy gets you.”
“Life is like a garden… your thoughts are the seeds. You can grow flowers, or you can grow weeds.”
“Life is like Twitter. You can’t control what people say and do. You can just follow or unfollow them.”
Clearly, some are better than others. I prefer the metaphor of “Seasons.” As Parker Palmer articulates, “Seasons is a wise metaphor for the movement of life.” Palmer writes, “The notion that our lives are like the eternal cycle of the seasons does not deny the struggle or the joy, the loss or the gain, the darkness or the light, but encourages us to embrace it all – and to find in all of it opportunities for growth.”
Our lives are constantly changing, and progressing, and so is the world around us. The seasonal metaphor makes space for us to understand this change and growth. As the world around us turns from summer, to fall, to winter, to spring, and back to summer we begin to intuit, and absorb the cycles of life and loss, and change and growth… we begin to intuit, and absorb the ebb and flow of the natural world. The question is, if this is going on in the outer world… what is going on in our inner life?
A number of years ago, I became passionate about a shift back towards the land and embraced a local foods movement that was offering an alternative to the government subsidized industrial agriculture industry that fills our grocery store shelves with food. In a book entitled, “Grow,” Denver author, Stephen Grace, points out the strange reality that our nation’s urban centers are always “one interruption in the oil supply away from hunger.” The food we eat is transported to us by ship, train, truck, and plane. What if the oil supply suddenly went away?
The local foods shift suggested that we ease a bit of our reliance upon the oil supply for our food… that we subsidize, the government subsidy a bit by growing food right here in our cities… in our empty lots, in our gardens, on our rooftops, in our lawns. As this began to be put into practice another aspect emerged – local farmers would grow, and subsequently eat, what the local land would produce… and when the local land would produce it.
At some point in time, an acronym came along, S-L-O-W, SLOW Food. The antithesis to fast food. SLOW Food was food that was Seasonal, Local, Organic, and Whole. The SLOW Food movement suggested that we begin to think about producing and consuming food in this way. In other words, we’re not going to buy tomatoes in January, because nowhere in this hemisphere, let alone USDA agriculture zone 5, are tomatoes available in January. In January, we’re going to eat vegetables with a long shelf life, and we’re going to rely more on fats and proteins. But in the summertime, we will feast on the abundance of the harvest that is available – often right off the vine.
The outer world is shifting and changing through cycles of life and loss, growth and decay. What is going on in our inner lives? How do these outer cycles inform our understanding, our experience, of our souls?
Our inner lives may not always match up with the outer season as it emerges on the land… but maybe that outer season, and our attentiveness to it teaches us something, or informs in some way, our understanding of the movement of our own life.
So let’s attend to this season for a moment. Let’s ask ourselves what is emerging in the world around us, in hopes that it might help us understand ourselves. What is summertime? How do we describe this season?
Summer is the season when it’s easy to get out of bed in the morning, but hard to wake up before the sun.
Summer is the season of… Sitting on a patio around an outdoor dinner table, and looking down at your watch to realize that it’s already 9pm.
Summer is the season of… Late night walks through the neighborhood.
Summer is the season when it’s too hot to go outside, but too hot to be inside. It’s the season of laying in bed on top of the covers waiting for morning to come.
Summer is the season of… Home repair projects that begin at 5pm once the workday ends.
Summer is the season of… Child-like energy… so long as the sun is not beating directly down on you.
Summer is the season of… Loading all three kids and the dog into the station wagon, and heading southwest to see the Grand Canyon, or North to explore Yellowstone… or both for that matter, in the same trip, because the kids are out of school, and you’ve got the PTO saved up to do it.
Summer is the season of… Biking to the pool with a towel over your shoulder.
Summer is the season of… Popsicles dripping down your face and ice cream cones melting in your hand.
Summer is the season of… Sprinklers and slip’n slides… of kayak trips down snow melt rivers, and timberline hikes to turquoise alpine lakes.
Summer is the season of… Naps in the hammock.
Summer is the season of… Tank tops and tans.
Summer is the season of… Risk… of exploration… of moving on… or moving in.
Summer is the season when zucchini swells like water balloons… when corn tassels out ten feet high… when cucumbers climb sunflower stalks you did not plant.
Summer is the season of… A billion leaves, and knee high weeds spreading their seeds in every direction.
Summer is the season of… Abundance… of fullness… of wholeness on display… when the entire northern hemisphere sings in four-part harmony.
And, “Here is a summertime truth,” Parker Palmer says, “Abundance is a communal act.”
Jesus and the Feast
Well, here is this familiar story from the second chapter of John’s version of the gospel. The story of Jesus’ first miracle, when he turned the water into wine.
I’ve been thinking for a while that it would be kind of fun to take the seasonal metaphor of the movement of life and to consider Jesus’ life in light of the metaphor.
A couple of the seasons are obvious. Winter would be his death. Spring, his resurrection. Fall, I think would be his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he prayed, “Lord, if it’s possible, take this cup from me, but not my will be done but yours.” There’s an image of letting go, of relinquishing in that scene that seems emblematic of Fall.
When do the themes of summer manifest themselves in Jesus’ life? When is the truth of abundance on full display?
That would be in the part of Jesus’ life that many theologians like to skip over, that the early church creeds all but failed to mention – Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry. The three years from Cana to the Crucifixion, from which most of the stories in the gospels are comprised.
In this beloved story from the book of John, Mary, Jesus, and all of Jesus’ friends have gathered together for a wedding, when the unimaginable occurs – the wine runs out. Talk about shame, this is the sort of thing that would be the talk of town for days. “Did you hear what happened at the Jones’ wedding?” The women at the country club would be heard saying, “You’ll never believe it… the wine ran out?!” “OMG!!”
The celebration had run its course. The band was closing out their set. The waiters were collecting the dirty plates, and empty wine glasses. It was time for the feast to end.
But, Mary had other ideas.
She turned to her son. The one whom she knew better than anyone else on earth – maybe even himself. “Jesus, the wine is gone,” She said.
And Jesus gives the first century equivalent of, “So what?” He says, “That’s not my responsibility. It’s not yet my time. It’s not my season.” But in the back of his mind, you can see the wheels spinning… you can sort of see him wondering, “What if it is my time? What if it’s time to step out… step up… do something new… take a risk… and fully embrace who I am?”
Mary can certainly see the wheels spinning, so she turns to his friends and says, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Well, the next thing you know, there is Jesus, with a dozen of his friends, holding six 20-30 gallon water jars, standing beside the river. “Fill them up,” Jesus says, “Fill them all the way up to the brim.” And then, two by two, they begin to haul the 200lb jugs back towards the party.
They take the wine to the wedding planner, and when she tastes it, she says, “Everyone always serves the good wine first, but you have saved the best for last.”
So the band strikes up once more, and the waiters bring out the dessert entrée, and the wine glasses… and the dancing really gets going now, because there are 180 more gallons of wine to enjoy.
This is a beautiful story that contains all of the summertime themes… like the heat that surrounds us, we have a problem, there is no wine – the party must come to an end… like that theme of risk and exploration, we have a protagonist deciding to try something new and become a better version of himself… like the lengthened days, we have a lengthened party… like the childlike energy and fun we often experience during this season, we have a celebration scene unfolding and deepening… like the abundance on display across the land, we have an overwhelming abundance of wine. All the themes of summer are here, especially that plain and simple summertime truth that abundance is a communal act.
Just like a stalk of corn in an Iowa field in August, Jesus stands, here in this moment at full strength, ten feet tall… thanks to the nurturing call of his mother… like water on the fields encouraging growth.
Like a stalk of corn in an Iowa field in August, Jesus does not stand-alone. Just as row, after row, after row of corn heads out in every direction, Jesus stands there with his friends beside him.
Alone, he might have half-filled and carried one jar of water turned to wine up to the wedding planner. It would have been great wine, and it easily would have carried the party through the night.
With his friends beside him, like rows of corn, Jesus brings an abundance to the feast. Six jars filled to the brim. Enough to keep the party going for at least another week.
Truly, abundance is a communal act.
And this truth is on display throughout much of Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry. Where Jesus could choose to act alone, he often chooses to embrace the overwhelming abundance found in community.
*See the feeding of the multitude, for instance, where Jesus takes the offering of one kind young boy, and after blessing it and breaking it, his friends pass it out in overwhelming abundance to the thousands that have gathered together on that day. Once again, the feast goes on, abundance is found in community.
*See the Passover feast. The final one Jesus shares with his friends… when he says this bread is my body, this wine is my blood… and places all of himself on the table to share with all of his friends and all of the world throughout all of time… and there is more than enough to go around in this community of abundance.
On Tuesday night for our Circle gathering, Sarah invited each of us to bring an item representing the abundance of summer so that we could construct our centerpiece together. Just before we left home, I went out to the backyard and clipped one solitary sunflower stem.
I was thinking to myself how these volunteer sunflowers that have popped up in my back yard represent summertime abundance to me. I didn’t plant them, I’ve hardly watered them, but there they are… scattered around my yard in almost overwhelming abundance.
I was thinking about how the witness of those sunflowers makes it so much easier for me to trust in the abundance of God during this season. As a person who is a bit averse to change, taking a risk is a bit more imaginable when everywhere you look everything you see is thriving. It makes it easier to believe that life could really come out of something new… that the seeds planted could really grow and develop into something beautiful.
I was thinking all of these things about my solitary sunflower stem… and then I showed up to our circle gathering a little bit late… and in the center, there was nothing but a jar already overflowing with sunflowers. I tucked my solitary stem into the vase and believed the summertime truth that abundance is a communal act.
Well, this is good news… because we are a community. And as the overplayed Jack Johnson song declares, “We’re better together,” and together, we are quite good.
Just look at the good things that have already emerged among us in only one year of life together.
We’ve created a sacred, welcoming space for all people.
We’ve shared the bounty of an open table.
We’ve welcomed Fernando and Rebeca among us, and they’ve added so much to us. We’ve learned a bit more about the immigration crisis that our country is facing… and they’ve invited us to offer an alternative to the cold shoulder, and incarceration of marginalized people that this nation feels obliged to share.
As far as I know, there are four households in this little community offering hospitality out of an extra bedroom to strangers. When the Worker house burned down in January, there were six rooms for hospitality… we’ve got four now already… and maybe even more to come.
Who knows what might be next for us… who knows what might be next for you in your journey? But now, in this season, more than ever you can look around and see that the risk you are thinking about taking just might work out for you… it just might grow, and develop, and thrive… rather than dive bomb into the ground.
So look around… pay attention… here in this space, and out there in the world unfolding around you… and notice the abundance on full display… and embrace that simple summertime truth that abundance is a communal act, thanks be to God. Amen.