Holy Cross Monastery, West Park
Br. Robert James Magliula, n/OHC
BCP - Proper 11 C - Sunday 22 July 2007
Our readings today focus on relationships, primarily our relationship with God, and how that defines our relationships with ourselves and each other. Through the stories of Abraham & Sarah, Paul, and Martha & Mary, we get some surprising glimpses into ourselves.
(Christus in het huis van Martha en Maria) - Johannes Vermeer - c. 1654-1656 - oil on canvas - National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh
Life in these last months has brought me to a deeper realization of just how poor we are in grasping the mutuality, the give and take of our relationship with God and how that impacts on our relationships to ourselves and to each other. The revelation of God in Christ is God-with-us. It's easy to loose sight of the “with”. The revelation of God in Christ is not God-above- us, nor God-instead-of –us, nor God-without-us. It is certainly not about us without God or us instead of God.
Scripture is full of clues that describe a creative partnership between divine and human, a mutual partnership between human response and divine indwelling. Paul in his letters describes us as “collaborators with God”, “fellow workers”, working together.
Most of us are more familiar with traditions that avoid the mystery of divine/human co-creative partnership. We tend to stress one side or the other. I don’t know why we have this tendency to think in terms of either/or instead of both/and. It may seem simpler on the surface, but its implications become much more compex in our psyches and in our lives.
There are two dominant theological traditions and spiritualities that flow from this either/or mentality into which many people try to squeeze themselves. The first is a Calvinistic approach that dwells on the majesty, the totality of God’s will and power. All that is good in life comes from God. All that is flawed comes from humanity. God plans and we accommodate ourselves to the pre-ordained will of God, which is worked out to the smallest detail. The spirituality is one of submission and obedience.
The other tradition is a kind of humanism that says that God has created us to live autonomously in the world. God is content to be an onlooker as we struggle through life. God is seen as the guardian of abstract values, which we are expected to make concrete in our lives.
So God either controls or abandons us. Is it a wonder that people shrink from approaching God. So many are conditioned to believe that the closer to God they come, the more God will take over their life, absorb their freedom, and overwhelm their individuality.
The Christian mystery says something very different. I find scholastic and academic theologians of little help in breaking this bind. The mystics come closer to pointing the way. Their language is one of passion. They are able to name desire. Their lives underline the profound truth that we are the desire of God’s heart and that God is the deepest desire of ours. We need to leave behind images of control, submission, and abandonment. We would do better to consider the creative God who delights in our co-creativity, a spontaneous God who delights in our spontaneity, a free God who intends us to be free and yet also intends us to be in intimacy.
We have all had experiences in life, which leave us grasping for meaning. A key to the spirituality of our co- creativity with God is that we work with God to find or make meaning in whatever situation or circumstance we face. Think of prayer as us turning to God and God to us and asking each other what we will make of the specifics we find ourselves confronted by. Prayer is an exploring together of the meaning to be fashioned. We make meaning in our lives together with God. God will not decide for us and tell us in advance. We all want the answer, the key, but Christ did not take on our flesh in order to tell us what to do. His incarnation is our invitation to become more fully human and to participate more deeply in this divine/human mystery that is revealed in him. Meaning is made not by God and handed to us, nor is it made by us and offered to God, but rather by us and God together in a wonderful, unique, and intimate process.
Our lessons today remind us of God’s ability to surprise us by colloborating with us in making new meaning. In the case of Abraham and Sarah, to find new life where they thought there was none. For Paul it was the realization born of his own struggles and limitations, that we can only work with what we have----and that includes our imperfections. That is the only road toward wholeness. Martha and Mary remind us that meaning is to be found in our daily lives and routines-----very Benedictine! Our need is to stay focused on Christ as we do what needs to be done. Martha was not being criticized for being responsible and active---but for being distracted---the Greek means literally, “to be pulled in many directions.” If Christ is our center, then we can venture out focused and nourished to do whatever is set before us.
God meets us exactly where we are, invites us to use our unique gifts to become more focused on the transforming power of love, and challenges us to grow deeper, stronger, and more faithful in love with God and each other.