A meditation for Beloved Community
(Part 2 in a 4 part series on the seasonal themes in the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the writings of Parker Palmer)
When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it [again] until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
From “cosmos” to “chlorophyll.”
From the changing shape of the continent over billions of years,
to the changing pigment in the leaves almost overnight
as the length of the September day approaches its autumnal equinox.
From a cruising altitude of 27,000 feet,
One disembodied passenger peers out his 8.5’’x 11’’ window
(a dimension better suited for college ruled notebook paper
than a seemingly endless portal to the farthest edges of the horizon)
and notices that the crumpling of the earth’s surface
known as the Continental Divide
is going gray along her temples.
This time of year
the hills remind me of my old, bald uncle:
thick and green along the bottom—
thinning, and yet shining and shimmering on top.
Knowing my old, bald uncle the way I do,
the hills gives me reason to ask: what is the wisdom of autumn?
**With that question in mind, I want to ask you all about some of your more poignant memories of autumn. Do you remember what it was like the first time you actually noticed that the leaves were transforming? Do you have a favorite plant species in fall? A favorite place in Colorado (or your own place of origin) to visit this time of the year? What are your most poignant memories of autumn?**
The Wisdom of Autumn
The first time that I saw Kenosha Pass in the fall I was amazed. Completely blown away. We were heading towards Buena Vista on 285. As we approached the top of the hill we slowed down tremendously as the line of cars in front of us came to a stop. The Aspens were ablaze that year in gold, and burnt orange, and even maroon. Cars were stopped all alongside the road at the top of the pass. People laughed, hugged, and high fived. Dogs wagged their whole bodies with utter joy.
It was as though the hill had been transformed, and everyone knew it, especially the animals. In one sense the land was dying. In another sense the land and all who lived upon it were fully alive. The nights were growing longer. The temperatures were dropping and winter was surely coming, but the hill was glowing… and there we were fully alive.
Presented with a paradox as powerful as that one, I don’t know what to do besides lean in. Embrace it. Walk into the middle of it, and therein to ask what is the wisdom of autumn? What does this season intuitively know about life on the face of the earth that I might otherwise have missed?
Per usual, Parker Palmer offers some wonderful insight into this question. He writes, “Autumn is a season of great beauty, but it is also a season of decline: the days grow shorter, the light is suffused, and summer’s abundance decays towards winter’s death. Faced with this inevitable winter, what does nature do in autumn? She scatters the seeds that will bring new growth in the spring- and she scatters them with amazing abandon.”
As nature begins her magnificently beautiful dying process, she gratuitously scatters seeds across the face of the earth. This scattering is not calculated, not strategized, or dictated or planned, it is effusive, abundant, and completely voluntary. When death appears inevitable, and summer’s abundance appears to have met its demise, a wellspring of overwhelming love erupts like a volcano, and graciously scatters seeds across the surface of the earth.
Mary Oliver wrote a poem called, “Moments” that speaks to this phenomenon.
The poem reads:
There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.
Like, telling someone you love them.
Or giving your money away, all of it.
Your heart is beating, isn’t it?
You’re not in chains, are you?
There is nothing more pathetic than caution
When headlong might save a life,
Even, possibly, your own.
Faced with her inevitable death, nature finds herself feeling not bound as we might expect, but more free than ever, and in her freedom she chooses to whimsically toss her love up into the air and let the wind carry it as far and wide as it may go.
Re-reading Jesus’ final feast
This is the framework from which I’m interpreting Jesus’ final feast with his friends, this evening. This scene comes from the autumn of Jesus’ life. Winter is coming. His skin is probably glowing. Maybe he’s thinning on top like my uncle?
Luke informed us that Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem long ago. He walked head on into conflict with the oppressive Roman empire, and he is only hours away from dying a political traitor’s death on the torture tool called the cross.
Winter is coming, and what does Jesus do? He gathers his friends around a feast table together. Hear his words, he says to them, “I have longed to eat this meal with you all. I have eagerly desired to feast with you.”
Do you hear the tenderness? Do you feel the love? This is not official love. This is real love. “I have eagerly desired to feast with you before my suffering.”
His heart is probably beating right out of his chest. The moment is so rich, so poignant, so warm and inviting. If there were dogs there they were wagging their entire bodies with excitement.
The moment is “crying out to be fulfilled,” in the words of Mary Oliver. Jesus is certainly not in chains, he’s perhaps more free than ever, and a wellspring of overwhelming love emerges from the center of his heart to the center of his friends’ heart.
Like seeds tossed up into the wind and scattered with amazing abandon, Jesus takes a loaf of bread and says, “Here, take all of me,” and the bread is broken, and broken, and broken again, and there is more than enough bread to go around… and hear this, even the dogs eat the crumbs from the master’s table.
Faced with the inevitability of winter, faced with darkening days, longer nights, and crisp cool air that speaks of winter, a second-half of life Jesus shining with beauty and wisdom whimsically scatters seeds of love across the surface of the earth with amazing abandon.
Scattering the seeds of this community with “amazing abandon”
It’s membership month at Beloved Community and we are processing who we are and what it means for us to be a community; making new commitments to one another; stepping into new roles together; and marking and naming those commitments with a certain amount of ritual.
Just the other day, Vern and I were talking, and we both found ourselves saying, “You know, I’m ready for this thing to take off.” And I feel a little bit of shame saying that out loud, but I’m just going to name it because it’s true. So often we don’t say what we really want because we are afraid that we could never really have what we really want, so we choose to “forebode joy,” as Brene Brown would say. But I‘m just going to tell you what I want.
I want to see us reach that healthy critical mass where we have committed members from all across the age spectrum and all across all the other spectrums that we speak of here. I want to see us reach that healthy critical mass where we can afford to pay Vern, and we can bring Fernando and Rebeca back to us, and we can have some kind of space of our own to be an abiding presence of peace and justice and build a new world within the shell of the old world. I want that.
But the reason that I want that is because I believe in this space and this community so much. I believe in what God is creating and cultivating among us. I believe that it is good for me, and it is good for you, and it is good for south Denver, and Colorado, and the United States and on and on, to have a community committed to being the type of community that we are committing to being.
The type of community that practices wholehearted and real presence…
Attends to the outer and the inner and recognizes the outer and inner as one continuous expression of love…
Takes inspiration from the infinite love among us expressed in the movement of the spirit of Jesus Christ…
Nurtures distances, and names those distances as a space created by God for beauty, not dominance…
Desires to be multi-cultural and looks to non-traditional, non white patriarchal expressions of leadership…
And practices non-violence, restorative justice, deep listening, soulful and courageous speaking, and generosity.
What’s more… I actually think that South Denver, and Colorado, and the United States, and on and on are desperate for that kind of community. I actually believe that this community that is being created by God among us is precisely what people in this world are craving. I know I was. I was “eagerly desiring” to share this feast with you all, and I know that many others of you were “eagerly desiring” it as well.
The love is welling up within us… the moment is crying out to be fulfilled… who knows what might happen if we tossed these seeds up into the wind?