Saturday, May 03, 2014
Sunday. May 4, 2014
Spirit in the Desert is a retreat center near Phoenix, Ariz. I led regular retreats there about 10 years. I loved the place, … in the sun-burnt Sonoran desert, stark … yet beautiful.
On the edge of the property, there is an outdoor labyrinth for walking meditation. The circles of the labyrinth are divided by rows of stones carving out paths in the sand.
The first time I walked it I needed quiet time. I was tired from being in front of people, speaking all day. Approaching the entrance of the labyrinth, I took a deep breath, ready to sink into the experience and listen to whatever feelings and insights bubbled up in me as I walked.
Kneeling in the sand to pray before I started to walk, I looked to one side of the stones and saw a small sign. It read, “Beware of rattle snakes.”
So much for my peaceful walk. But God spoke, … “Don’t step on the snakes. … I heard and obeyed.
So how do we listen to God so we can hear and follow Jesus? How can we hear when our lives are as full and distracted as I was with my Indiana Jones hatred of all that slithers?
Our lives are driven and distracting with work, schedules, entertainments and challenges of ever sort. Listening to God shows up nowhere on our schedules. We don’t know what we are missing.
For God speaks wherever you are. Wherever you are the risen Christ is present to tell you what you need to hear … and know.
The same retreat when I avoided communing with rattle snakes included a trip through a barrio, a poor, Spanish-speaking neighborhood in Phoenix. We met a doctor, in his late 30s. His full-time practice was providing primary medical care to anyone in need. Some could pay for his services, a rare few had insurance, but most of his work depended on the donations from individuals and churches.
Most people knew and greeted him as he walked us through the barrio and described the needs and what he did. Our group marveled at his generous spirit amid the tough situations into which he threw himself. Back at the retreat center we discussed what we saw. And I asked a question that disturbed some, “What did the doctor get out of it?”
The question was not an insult. But it was clear that he came alive, his heart burned with love, passion and joy at what he was doing.
The Spirit of the Risen Christ spoke to him on those streets. It filled him so that his heart became bigger, more alive with faith, hope and love. His heart burned amid the heartaches of his community. He listened to God speaking through his own heart and followed Jesus into the needs of his community.
What about us? How do we hear amid the noise and constant motion of our lives?
This was also a question for sad disciples after Jesus Crucifixion. They knew they’d forever lost contact with the soul of Christ. They thought he would bring deliverance from their political situation and oppression.
There hopes were shattered. They would never see him again. They would never feel him near or hear his voice. He would never again lift their hearts and hopes. He was gone, lost … and so were they.
But he wasn’t lost to them or to us. This is what resurrection means. We do not need to live without his presence, without his voice speaking the love of God into us so our hearts burn, too.
This week I met with a small group to begin a study of Galatians. We opened the book, read and listened … to our thoughts and questions, to our hopes, to what we understood and did not. Our conversation traveled a path inspired by the squirrels out my window. But as we shared joy and affection, hope, too, passed through and among us. And the story of Emmaus came true again, for us.
We gather as a community of faith at this table every week. We open empty hands among others who hands are as empty as ours and we receive Christ, full of grace and eager to give himself to us. And Emmaus happened again, for us.
The risen Christ is not confined by walls but speaks amid the noise where there seems so little time to listen.
Many inside and outside the church think the language of God is guilt and shame. Some joke about having a bad case of Catholic … or Lutheran guilt. Hmm?
The voices that shut us down, that make us embarrassed, that harp about our smallness, our weakness, our shame or guilt, the voices that close our hearts to goodness and grace … these are not the voice of God.
God’s voice frees from preoccupation with ourselves … from obsession with what we have or don’t have, … from anxiety about what we have done or failed to do.
The risen one speaks in experiences of deep love faith and hope that stir us, that expand our hearts that we may follow Jesus. The voice of God awakens the burning of an inner voice of love that moves us to share the love God is … in the barrios of phoenix or wherever we go.
And wherever we go, he will speak … even in the voices of strangers on the road.
Pr. David L. Miller