The Flip Side of the Fast

The mystery-filled flip side to the fast is communion.

Jesus speaks of us abstaining from food.  And he also speaks of us eating a supper in remembrance of him.  One of the things about mystery is that it calls us to consider wider contexts and connections, even if we can’t quite express these connections in words.

There is mystery in Jesus words and actions about blood, water, and wine.

It’s no big secret that Jesus first public miracle was the turning of water into wine.  But It’s worth contemplating this in terms of what happens later.   For example, there is the Lord’s Supper: Wine is no longer just wine, but it is Jesus’ blood.  And there is Jesus telling us that he is the living water, and if we drink from him we will never be thirsty.

I don’t think this is precisely a cycle.  It’s a little more like an apparent duality, except it’s with 3… A triality?

Jesus coming into the world is his turning the water into the wine.  And his death is the turning of the wine into his blood.  And his blood is the living water, from which we can drink and never grow thirsty.

I think that there are many aspects to this mystery.  I think it’s worth noticing that our boring, natural lives, outside of rebirth and Jesus are water.   But there is something in the process of going from grape to wine that is emblamitic of Jesus’ sacrifice and our own rebirth.   In the age before wine was made thousands of miles away and purchased at a store, they would have been much more in touch with this.  The grape is smashed, killed, destroyed.  That which lay dormant within the grape is released through this death… and it combines with something else, in the process of fermentation, to create a substance which, when imbided, brings us outside (a little bit) of our mundane reality.

Beware the Vosh

There is a voice that rises up in me.  It is not my voice.  It is not God’s.  If I had to give it a name, I’d call it the Voice of Should-Have.  Vosh, for short.

Vosh speaks the words that I think I’m supposed to think.  He tells me to feel the feelings I’m supposed to feel.  Vosh is a voice for the way the world works.  He’s a voice for the way the world thinks.

Vosh is a master mimic.  He can pitch his voice very much like that still, quiet voice of the holy spirit.  Other times he speaks so much like my own self that I barely know it’s not me.

When I think about the importance of being child-like, of wandering, of exploring, of being open, with out a goal or agenda, Vosh chimes in.

He speaks up.  He calls me out.  He can be quite intimidating, when he has to be.

Vosh says things like, “Your spirituality is too important to do those things, be an explorer.”

At first, I try to bargain and clarify with Vosh.  There are vital and important things I believe.  To these I hold firm: I will follow Jesus because he was uniquely the son of God and he paid the price of my sin to restore my relationship with him.

But at some point, I have to man up.  I have to call Vosh out.  I have to name him.  And I have to say that my spirituality is too important not to be a wanderer.

As I reflect on my life, I see that my need to act as though I had the answers was some times an act of idolatry.  I was worshipping my own cleverness.  Other times it was an act of faithlessness.  I did not trust God to work it all out and suspected that he needed me to explain things to him.

There is an act of submission here.  Submission is so hard.  Especially when things are challenging.

Have you ever driven on an icy road?  For me, the hardest thing is that as the car begins to slide, you have to relax.  If you tighten the grip, things go from bad to worse.

Or repelling.  Have you ever repelled?  It’s an incredibly unnatural thing.  The more you lean back, the closer you coming to make a 90 degree angle with the cliff, the more control you have.  Our instincts tell us, when we feel unstable, to hug the rock.  But the thing to do is lean back and away from it and trust the rope and our feet.

As we sense the importance of God to us, our natural instinct is to want to be tidy, organized, goal-oriented.  Rely on our little human words and thoughts.  We’re told that this is the way to be.  Vosh says it.  It must be true, right?

hikers vs explorers (A post almost named “Steve Blummmer”)

There are two kinds of people in the world.  There are explorers and there are hikers. Many of us begin life as explorers.  We end up slowly becoming hikers.   I certainly fall into that pattern.  As a child, I was an explorer.  At this point in my life, I’m really more of a hiker.

An explorer is someone who heads out.  He is looking for something interesting.  His hope is that it’s something which is somehow new.  He runs the risk of getting lost.  He faces the challenges associated with covering new ground.

I am fortunate to have grown up with a family that loves to camp.  One of my favorite things to do was to just wander away from our site.  I disdained paths.  I would walk through pricker bushes and poison ivy patches.  I would jump over fallen trees and slip under boulders.

Sometimes I would be rewarded with a glimpse of the sort of wild-life that I probably would otherwise have missed.  A doe, a snake, a tremendous, regal falcon.

Often times I would discover these places: a beautiful clearing where the canopy overhead turned the sunlight into these refined, green beams.  A natural shelter where I might rest in the shades and just breathe for a while.  A tremendous, granled, unusual tree that seems just bursting with wisdom.

Of course, sometimes I’d be only rewarded with scratches or poison ivy.  I’m a guy with no sense of direction.  The mere fact that somehow I managed to avoid getting ridiculously lost is proof of God’s loving providence in my life.   And sometimes, there was really no little moment of “ahhh” at all.

But while those “ahhh” moments were wonderful, they weren’t the point.  When you go chasing after those “ahhh” moments they tend to run away from you.  I learned that early.  I just meandered, wandered even.  I was in the moment.  And it was wonderful.

These days, I hike.  I keep my clothes cleaner and my body free of rashes.  I make it back when I say I am going to.  Usually I know pretty much where I am.  The most important difference is hard to describe: I have a reason, a destination that I can put into words.  I am there to walk that path, to reach the destination.  I might have fun along the way.  But I would be willing to trade any of the little moments on that walk in exchange for achieving the goal of reaching the end of the trail.  It is not so with exploring.  The end isn’t the point at all.

I am not here to see that we should always go exploring and never hike.  I wouldn’t even go so far as to say that we shouldn’t “hike” in our experiences with God.

But we’ve become full-time hikers, in our relationships with him.  We operate in the domain of maps and compasses, not wonders and mysery.  And God is so much wonder and mystery.  We miss out when we do not take advantage of this facet of his nature.  We so rarely revel in his nature.  We so rarely explore and we so often hike.

I think this is why we’re called to be like children by Jesus.  Children are the true explorers.  What does this all mean, in terms of God?

We need to throw away the maps of our expectations, sometimes.  We need to drop our agendas, our goals.  We pray for people and we pray for things.  When is the last time we’ve prayed simply to be with God.  We read scripture to understand, we read to prove a point, we read because we’ve agreed to read x number of minutes a day… why can’t we just read with the understanding that we are reading the words of our maker with our maker?

(For those keeping track of such things, this is the first “mystery” post not in chronological order; this post goes after the one which ‘tries again’ at explaining what it is to dwell in mystery.)

The Mystery of Where God Is

In suffering, it goes even deeper.  We don’t only find the depths of God’s love.  When we suffer, we do more than merely receive an object lesson.

In suffering, we find God himself.

God says that he is with the least among us.  And the things we do to them, we do also to him.

We want see him.  We won’t know he’s there.  That seems to be the point.  If we saw that it was Jesus with our own eyes, among the widows and orphans and beaten down, we might single him out.  We might be trying to treat Jesus differently based on what we stand to gain.

Mysteriously, Jesus is there.

I don’t think it explains the issue to consider the following.  But it gives the mystery a fuller character, gives us something deeper and stranger to drink in.

Jesus suffered horrifically.  Much has been made of the physical aspects of his crucifiction.  Lots has been said about the psychological impact of being abandoned by his followers.

I’m not interested in debating these analyses.  Certainly the physical and emotional suffering was  horrendous.

But they were the only the icing on the cake.  The cake itself?

Jesus took on the sin of the world.  Not just the sins of his friends or followers.  Not just the sins of Jersalum.  Not even just the sin of the people living in the world at that time.  Jesus took on all the sin of the people who ever lived.  Yours, and mine, and the people who live in New Jersey and the hippies in the 60’s and the Republicans in Orange County, California, and the Aborigonees in Australia.  And all of these people’s grandchildren.  And all of their grandparents.  And so on…

It lead to the first and only separation between God the Father and Jesus in all of time.  It lead Jesus to say “Why have you forsaken me?”

But even in this expression of despair, mysteriously, Jesus affirms his hope and faith.  The very structure of these words is an echo of one of the psalms.  Jesus was knowingly, intentionally coming back to the bible itself in his great time of darkness.

There is a mystery: choosing to suffer gives us the privilege of standing in solidarity with God.  But this is only so because Jesus’ great suffering allowed him to stand in solidarity with us.

If history had unraveled differently, if we had lived before Jesus was born, we might say “God, you don’t get it.  You have never been mortal.  You have never been vulnerable.  You have never been hurt in the ways that we can hurt.”

But this is the miracle and the mystery of Jesus Christ: the creator of the universe made himself mortal.  Made himself vulnerable in a new way.  Allowed himself to be hurt as we hurt.

And not only did he still maintain his moral perfection.  But he took on the greatest suffering of any of us.

The Mystery of Taking Up Our Own Cross

Of course eating is not our only need.  And so fasting need not be about physical food.  Anything we might become over-dependent on, over-focused on, this might be the subject of a fast.

Fasting is sacrifice.  And that word: sacrifice of course has a different meaning.  But here is another mystery: because when they killed an animal or burned those grains, they weren’t really so different from our modern sacrifices at all.

The sacrifice was this: proving that something that could have been consumed for our own selfishness will actually be given over to God.  Various times (including through Jesus himself) we are reminded that God doesn’t want sacrifices given robotically, unthinkingly, unemotionally.

Of course nothing is deeply and truly ours.  The raw materials for everything came from our creator.  The talents that honed these materials  came from him.  The dedication to maximize these talents came from him too.  The opportunity to get the thing.  None of these are ours.

And so a sacrifice is giving over to God something that was his anyway.  Whether it’s the slaying of a bull.  Or fasting from food, or the internet, or movies, or cafienne.  None of these things were ours, really at all.  Giving them up to God demonstrates our peace with this reality.

And what is more, sacrifice is a golden and inexplicable opportunity to stand in solidarity with God himself.  God opened himself to the possibility of suffering when he created knuckle-headed humans who possessed free will.  This possibility turned into an actuality with Adam’s and Eve’s betrayal.  It culminated with Christ’s suffering on the cross.

I do not believe that God wants us to whip ourselves, to have ourselves nailed to a cross.   But Jesus took on suffering voluntarily, that was a completion of God’s suffering in Eden.  And we can take on suffering, too, that is an echo, and a reminder of what he did for us.

Which is the greatest mystery of all: In suffering, we find the depths of God’s love.

The Mystery of Fasting

Here is a mystery: The Fast.

Fasting is layer after layer of mystery, contradiction, and paradox.

(And I’m not even talking about the most obvious one: Although it’s called a fast, there is no period in the world that seems to go by so slowly as a time during which you abstrain from eating.)

Contradiction and paradox are two of the must fundamental building blocks of mystery.  They are things that should not happen.  And yet they do.  To our limited and puny little minds, things seem like they are impossibilities.  Things seem like they can’t possibly happen.  They confront us, sometimes quite brutally, with the limitations of our abilities to understand.  They speak of a reality which is greater than our understanding.

It is a contradiction, a paradox (and therefore a mystery) that abstaining from a thing is the best way to see its value.  Not-eating is the best way to fully appreciate eating.

It is a contradiction that we might begin by recognizing that eating is a very human need.  And yet me are somehow most human when we refuse ourself this need.  An animal eats when he is hungry, and damn the consequences.  A real human being is someone who looks at food, feels his stomach screeching for it, and still says “No.  I want to do it.  But I won’t.”

It is a contradiction that we come to see best how God nourishes and cares for us by choosing to not eat.  This is true in two senses.  When we go a day or so with out eating, we realize how very blessed we are that we have been able to eat before.  (and so what if it was not precisely what we wanted; who cares if it was not as much as we wanted.)  It is also true that God nourishes and cares for us in ways that are so much deeper than merely physical.  When we take a break from focusing on his physical provisions, we see so much more deeply all the other things he does for us.

Looking for some help…

You might have noticed that all of my recent postings have taken on the central theme of mystery.  You get bonus points if you’ve noticed that some portions of this are taken from some things I’ve written before.

My hope is that these all pull together into a book.  The book will be called, I think, “Mystery” (or perhaps “The Book of Mystery”)

More than anything I’ve ever written before, I’d really and truly love your comments: good, bad, or indifferent.  Please, please, please, let me know where you think I’m wrong and what you think in general.

For your convenience, here are links to “Mystery” in order.

Mystery, part I

Mystery, part II

Mystery, part III

Mystery, Part IV

Mystery, Part V

Mystery, part VI

Mystery Part VII

Mystery, Part VIII

Publisher’s often want sample chapters.   I also might try and submit some of these sections as sections as articles to print and online magazines.  For these reasons, I’d love to hear about which sections are you favorite or your least favorite.

About the only real bribery I have to offer you is my gratitude and a mention in one of those portions of the book that hardly anybody ever reads.  (agnowedgments or afterward, or whatever)