#takethreedeepbreaths #slowdown #slowtherush #time
In anticipation of the coming Passion Week, which is the holiest week of Christianity between Palm Sunday and Easter, we are reminded that Jesus celebrated PASSOVER with his friends. It was a Jewish ritual.
This seder meal is an act of remembrance of the Jews suffering in Egypt, and God’s act of liberation: freeing the Jewish slaves in the time of Exodus. The great Hebrew narrative goes on to tell of Moses’ leadership through his people’s times of trial and being lost in the wilderness, and acknowledges their wandering and forgetting the covenant with God, and celebrates receiving the ten commandments, and coming to their promised land.
This seder meal continues to be celebrated by Jews each year. Over time and layered by Christian tradition, we now symbolically honor a form of the seder meal as communion: our Last Supper. And during Passion Week, our Maundy Thursday supper is often a seder meal, similar to what we understand was shared by Jesus and his followers.
Below is a diagram of the seder plate in traditional Jewish customs today:
The meal that we celebrate at communion holds echoes that reach back through millennia, into deep memory. Yet it also has meaning now.
People continue to suffer. To seek liberation. To desire their promised land, their home, their place and way of belonging. To need redemption.
I would argue that we share spiritual ancestors and relations. And these meal hold as much meaning now, as they did thousands of years ago. Our faith ties us to our spiritual cousins: Jews and Muslims. We are all connected by our faithfulness to One God.
This PASSOVER meal, now transformed Maundy Thursday’s meal and communion, reminds us that inside Holy Week, Passion Week, which starts and ends triumphantly, also contains the trial and execution of our Messiah. It holds its own time of suffering and loss, and three days of absence and separation. Like those who sat down to the seder meal, remembering their past, when we partake of communion, we also remember oppression and liberation. I don’t claim that it’s the same, but that we are bound together by this shared narrative.
Like the seder meal, the Christian communion also ends in hope. Yes, we look backward, rooting ourselves in time and place and history. And yet, we also look forward with hope, believing in the transforming grace and love of God to heal and restore all of us, and ultimately, this whole world. We hope in God’s capacity to bring all of us to a common table in a mutual home … someday.
Excerpts from today’s lectionary:
- Leviticus 23:4-6 — These are the appointed festivals of the Lord, the holy convocations, which you shall celebrate at the time appointed for them. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, there shall be a passover offering to the Lord, and on the fifteenth day of the same month is the festival of unleavened bread to the Lord.
- 22 Luke 22:1 — Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near.
- 22 Luke 22:7-8 — Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 So Jesus[b] sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.”
- 22 Luke 22:13 — So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
The lectionary texts today offer up the word WAKE. It’s a call out of sleep, out of rest, and even out of death in these texts. It’s a call to be alive and attentive, to be active and present. Its a call, ultimately, to be connected to self, others and God.
In our times, we’re bombarded with messages vying for our attention. Sometimes we’re hyper-aware, and we need the chance to be peaceful, if not asleep. We require a way to distinguish between the busy-ness of responding to countless demands for our time, energy, and resources versus being awake and present in a more focused, fulfilled and beneficial way.
Sometimes, I feel worn out or frazzled all day long. As if I never catch up on rest and renewal. Usually when I feel so depleted, that’s when I’m neglecting forms of self-care, from eating well and exercising and sleeping enough to maintaining a healthy spiritual practice. At such times, when I’m too exhausted, even though I’m theoretically awake, my attention is divided. Then I’m not ‘awake’ in a way that becomes meaningful in my relationships to others, or in my capacity to work or play. So my own ‘wake up’ call is often noticing that I’m stretched too thin and overloaded, overwhelmed, and tired. Then it’s time to restore self-care practices that contribute to greater psychological and emotional balance, better mind-body connection. From these practices come more attentiveness, more energy, and more capacity to ‘do.’
We can be at peace when we’re awake. For instance, we can become centered and focused by drawing on bodily spiritual and contemplative practices such as breathing, meditation, and prayer. This can take place, varying by the style of practice you use, either in a still position or while moving (you can pray or meditate as you walk, for instance).
We can use such spiritual practices to calm and prepare ourselves for the demands of the day, or to renew ourselves in the midst of such multitasking. We can become more alert and attuned, connecting spiritually with our own emotional and psychological selves, or connecting outwardly to broader consciousness and energy.
In sacred texts, sleep is sometimes equated with being unaware, complacent, or unguarded. Sometimes sleep in Biblical terms is not desirable. Sleep is also used, at times, as a euphemism for death. By contrast, being awake is a chance to revive from an altered, helpless state into a transformed state of agency, authority, and activity. Wakefulness becomes a form of vigilance and activism.
At other times, sleep in sacred texts is the chance to dream and commune with God’s messengers. Thus wakefulness can be the chance to return out of dreams into this reality with a message from God. It offers enlightenment and wisdom. This is true in Christian traditions, and the concept of being awake as an enlightened being is an ideal in other religions, too.
What wakes you up? And I don’t mean the alarm clock. For me, sometimes it’s caffeinated tea that kick-starts my body and lets my mind catch up. More often it’s the ritual of greeting my husband in the morning, going outside for a walk along the river with the dog, checking in with my daughter, connecting with a friend by phone or in person, and singing along to the radio. Small moments recharge and renew me, so that by the time I arrive at demanding, busy parts of my day, I feel more than just awake … I feel alive indeed. I am excited to be where I am, and ready to engage in whatever the day may bring.
Excerpts from today’s lectionary texts:
- Daniel 12:2a — Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life.
- Revelation 3:2 — Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God.
- Revelation 3:3 — Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.
Such a small word today: LIFE. It contains the measure of our whole beings from beginning to end, and even beyond. When we speak of life, we mean so many things. We speak of ‘life’ as the actual quickening of cellular activity itself. Yet it is also the spark of intellect and soul that animates the flesh of our bodies.
In this word is one of the ultimate questions. What is the meaning of life?
Sometimes we’re referring to the viability of an individual being, and other times we define it as any form of organic and sentient existence at all. We use ‘life’ to mark the span of time from one creature’s birth until death: moving and breathe and operating as sentient beings. Yet we can also refer to eons of time, such as the age of a planet or a cosmos, as measured by signs of life.
As spiritual creatures, we are always looking past the veil of our own senses, toward a greater and deeper meaning. We reach and imagine beyond the shape and contours of our own mortal bodies to something we cannot quite touch, detect, or cognitively encompass. Our sense of possibility is somehow defined by the limits of our corporeal selves and what we are and are-not.
The concept of life holds, in so many ways, all that contains our meaning. We weigh and express the value of all other ideas and experiences, emotions and thoughts, tangible and intangible treasures, against the weight of our own being, our own lives.
We measure risk by the threat of death and the end of life. Yet isn’t it interesting to consider that sometimes the greatest risk isn’t to face death, but to live our lives fully? To risk life? This is the challenge that today’s texts expose to us.
In today’s text, God’s divine love and presence is considered more valuable than the Psalmist’s own life. Is the writer euphemistic? Could the writer extol God’s love, except by being alive to do so?
In the prophetic text of Daniel, three characters put their lives on the line to defy an unjust law, and to continue faithfully worshiping their own God. Their lives are delivered,. So their faithfulness is measured by their willingness to sacrifice their own mortal span of being. And the power of Godself is revealed to the unjust leaders of the land, when God saves their lives, despite the affliction and torture turned upon them.
In Revelation, Christ is once more described as the one who was dead and then returned to life. Divinity is inextricably bound up with life, survival, and being. The ultimate promise of Godself is that we will have a second life, a different life, a life after death. If life contains all of our meaning, then a life that defies the very strictures that form the boundaries of our capacity to understand and experience the world, a life that overcomes death … that is powerful indeed.
So how do I measure the meaning and value of life? I cannot measure the impact of life by time alone. The import of my younger child Jessie, who lived 9 years, cannot be encapsulated by days and years. That is a poor standard to describe the value and impact of her presence among us.
So how do I describe her life? It’s easier to consider her life, versus my own, since I’m in the middle (I assume) of my own life. Her life was comprised of the relationships she formed and influences through her being. Her life could be measured by her way of being a teacher and mentor to older folks, through her approach to balancing suffering against all that made life worthwhile to her as a child. What made life rch and good to her? Engaging in fierce and deeply-rooted relationships, being able to move and claim her own body, feeding and stretching an inquisitive mind that always wanted to learn and question, acting ethically to support causes she cared about and to change unfair circumstances when she could, experiencing sheer joy through playing and laughing or taking risks … Her life was ultimately measured by her loves.
Whether it’s 9 hours, 9 days, or 90 years … our God’s presence fills up the measure of life for us. What are we willing to put at risk for this love, if not life itself? And as I mentioned earlier, isn’t the greatest risk not to die for this love, but to live for this love?
Excerpts of today’s scriptures:
- Psalm 63: 3a — Because your steadfast love is better than life.
- Daniel 3:28 — 28 Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.
- Revelation 2: 8b — These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life.
- Revelation 2: 10b — Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Today’s scripture readings lend themselves to an awareness of TIME.
For people in a society always on the go, perhaps this 40 days of focus also allows us to be present right now. Mostly, our days are framed by business to do, plans to implement, goals to achieve. This season offers us a chance to be more present to ourselves, others, and God.
As the writer says, there is “A time for every season and purpose under heaven.” This doesn’t mean we should dismiss our capacity to remember and to anticipate. Culturally, we’re often good at these skills. And we need these competencies. We need the long view, the big dream, as well as the short-term to-do list. And we need to remember our history. We can plan and prepare. We can remember and learn.
Too often, though, by planning and preparing, by recalling and reminiscing, we may miss the chance to savor our current surroundings, relationships, and experiences. Being present to the more immediate moment is a different experience, and also essential to our wellbeing. What does it mean to be aware of and present to ourselves, other people, our world and our God, right now? Part of the value of time set apart, such as Lent, is to be aware of this hour and this day.
For instance, you can follow your breath in and out, in and out. Use your five senses to ground yourself in here and now (this is particularly helpful if you are distressed, anxious or distracted and need to calm and center yourself). Count backwards using your senses, as below:
- 5 Things I See: “What can I see all around me?” Study your surroundings, and name five things you see. Consider their colors, textures, and details.
- 4 Things I Hear: “What can I hear?” Name four things you hear. How close or distant are the sounds? From what direction do they come? Loud or soft? Familiar or unidentified?
- 3 Things I Feel: “What am I feeling?” Name three things you feel bodily, by paying attention to inward and outward sensations, such as the touch of something on your skin, or the relaxation or pull of your body’s muscles.
- 2 Things I Smell: “What can I smell?” Name two things you can smell (or whose odors you like). Scents trigger our minds with memory and evoke moods. Name four odors.
- 1 Thing I Taste (Breathe): “What do I taste?” Name one residual flavor in your mouth. Breathe across your tongue and activate that sense. Then draw in a long, slow, deep breath. And exhale. Repeat the breath.
Excerpts from today’s lectionary:
- Psalm 91:15-16 — When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. 16 With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.
- Ecclesiatses 3: 1 — For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
- John 12:27 — “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.
- John 12: 36 — While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”