Monday, October 22, 2012

October 21, 2012 - Reflection by Leslie Windsor

Scripture: Job 38:1-7, 34-41

The Book of Job — what a powerful drama this is; so forcefully written with wonderful imagery and poetry, and giving this wise dramatist's understandings of the prevailing theology of his time set so dramatically alongside his understanding of a clearer understanding of YHWH [Yahweh] and what YHWH expects of us.
Despite my misgivings about attempting to look at this complex book in a Sunday service reflection, I continued to be drawn to it as I "worried" today's readings around in my head and heart. And I really don't want to become another of those warned about in Chapter 38:2 "Who is this obscuring my plans with such ignorant words?"
Let's imagine Job, sitting desolate in filth, clad only in rags, overwhelmed by the deaths of his children, the loss of his home and livelihood; his wife deeply angry and despairing at this awful turn in the events of his life, and hers. He has listened to the endlessly wordy and self-righteous counsel of his friends. Despite his reassurances to them that he is a right living man, innocent and blameless for his condition, these four give sound theological reasonings from their day, and unfortunately often still of ours, of a God bent on punishing any and all sins. They continually insist that Job must admit to his sins and accept this punishment God is meting out. Then and only then, will God forgive him and restore all to him. Despite all of this, Job continues to know God is there, speaking of wanting YHWH closer, wanting YHWH to "come down."
In the verses read today, God indeed finally does come to be with Job, making a grand entrance into the drama. YHWH has come, not to place any blame or to punish, but simply to be Presence, and offer new insights on and clarity on God's position. But as it turns out, not the insights Job, or us, might have been hoping for. Interactions with God are not necessarily "user-friendly." Walter Brueggemann states: "The God of the Bible cannot seem to remember whether God has been through clinical pastoral education or not. In the passage read earlier, God seems to have learned nothing about sensitivity' or our sensibilities about how to comfort someone 'for Job relates in great detail his anguish and pain and bewilderment, and YHWH responds, 'Let me tell you about my crocodile.' Any supervisor would write on YHWH's verbatim, 'You couldn't stand the pain and so you changed the subject."
I suspect Job, however, is quite ready for this direct eye-to-eye encounter. Throughout the earlier dialogues he has continued to maintain his complete innocence; he has quite pointedly and sometimes angrily demanded that God come and witness for him, Job has such an honest, deep and faithful relationship with God that he can challenge YHWH, even to the point of being angry within that relationship. This is a God that is elusive, hard to pin down; who often doesn't fit how we want God to fit, but keeps life ragged and open. God cannot be domesticated or tamed, nor controlled by me or you, but offers unconditional love. Throughout all, God is God!
In the passages that follow, Job never withdraws his complaints, in fact is never asked to do so. What he does do is agree to do is to stop grieving and lamenting his position in life, and to grant to God worship, praise and love. Job remains God's "faithful one," endlessly and courageously in relationship with YHWH.
YHWH gives no response to Job's complaints, instead outlining how magnificent God is in making all Creation. God is God, and Job is a human being! God is to be praised, worshiped and continually offered thanksgiving. To Job, YHWH offers companionship and unconditional love as to all God's Creation. Job's suffering is not the point; the relationship with God is. This God we are to love without reservation is indeed Holy and does not come pre-packaged as certitude, no matter how much we want all questions answered clearly. We often would like things so certain that we could say: "If I do this, live like this, think like this, you, God, will respond thus and so." This God we are to love, cherish and obey is wholly mysterious, and cannot be reduced to one of our pet projects, but is willing to always to be in a relationship of candor, in a loving and exciting journey of faith with us.
It is important to note that Job's old life is not restored, but Job's surrender opens up the possibility of his being able to move back into a journey of full life. His ten dead children are not brought back to life, but Job fathers ten more, and his new insights enrich his life with them. His land is given back to him and he starts with new herds. His relationships with friends and family begin again in renewed and enriched circumstances.
But, how then shall we live!!
The story of Job reminds me of the journey of recovering persons in the Addictions Anonymous—AA—movement:
Step One in AA states:
We admitted we were powerless over our addiction; that our lives had become unmanageable.
In my experience working in First United Church in the DTES [DownTown East Side] in Vancouver and within my own family, this awareness of one's powerlessness is internal and personal, coming from having reached, like Job, the "bottom" of one's life; often having lost everything: family; friends; belongings,; livelihood; and dignity. It doesn't come because of any well-meaning theologizing, guilt-placing or finger-waving retribution by family and friends, agency workers or government edicts, positions and laws. This admission of surrender opens a place for God, and brings the possibility of new life.
Step Two goes on to state:
We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
The addicted person, like Job, has no more energy for listening to reasoning or theology, no matter how well-meant. The little space remaining is only enough for believing in a Being That is Greater Than I, an Accompanying and Mysterious Being, the Creator of all that we know and much we don't. Surrender to this Holy One often brings to the addicted person some peace, but most importantly a renewed sense of hope.
And then Step Three states:
We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood God.
Job never gets answers to his questions—why me? Why am I suffering when I'm blameless? Why am I suffering unjustly? Instead God offers to Job accompaniment, and the comfort of having a place in God's Creation, and Job accepts this. For the addicted person, the reasons why they are where they are irrelevant at this point; hope of recovery is the only point. Many say that this decision to turn all over to God has come from a direct experience of God's comfort and companionship, or from someone who brings God to them, in a kind word or loving gesture; markers of unconditional love.
And after that, these three steps, and the nine following, which a recovering addicted person NEVER loses sight of, and continually revisits, bring this person to an on-going state of self-reflection and mindfulness of themselves, the people in their lives and their surroundings. Their old pre-addiction lives are not restored, but possibilities now exist for renewed relationships and a life lived fully.
How then shall we live?
What are our addictions? I suspect each of us could name a few — most not as damaging as the addiction to mood- and mind-altering chemical substances, but disruptive to living fully, nonetheless.
I believe one of the addictions many of us share in this time and situation is that of willful ignorance of the depth of suffering around us - because we can't face the world's pain. How often do we say, or agree with another saying, "Oh, I can't listen to the news; it's much too painful, nothing peaceful or joyful is ever reported." Or, we get caught up in the trivia that makes up much of what passes for "news" in several of our media sources, and ignores the lived reality of much of the world and its peoples.
How then shall we live? In the face of the pain and despair and unjust suffering that exists in this world?
Richard Rohr, in his new book, Breathing Under Water, on using the steps of AA as a guide toward fuller spiritual living, suggests that in order to come to a place that allows for God to restore us to a place of sanity, three spaces will have to open up simultaneously: one space in our opinionated head; one in our closed-down heart; and one in our defensive and defended body.
I know I need to take a look at those space limiters daily—opinionated head, closed-down heart and defended body—and to work at being mindful of their being open at all times. I need this approach for increasing numbers of daily decisions to be made in full mindfulness of the world, all the world, and all of Creation. I can only know about the world by careful listening to its stories directly from people around me and from others around the world via the various media sources available.
How then shall we live, in the face of the pain and despair that exists in this world?
In the last verses of the Mark reading this morning, Jesus tells his followers:
Anyone who aspires to greatness must serve the rest; whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all, to give one's life in ransom for the many.
Marcus Borg writes that this dying or "giving one's life" is firstly a dying of the self as the center of its own concern. A young rock performer recently quoted in the United Church Observer succinctly states this in this prayer: "God, forgive me for thinking too highly of myself; God, forgive me for thinking too lowly of myself; God, forgive me for thinking of myself so stinkin' much." Job began to open up in his reflections when he noticed that he wasn't the only one suffering unjustly, and began to be concerned about other suffering people around him in his city and country.
So, as we mark World Food Day, how then shall we live?
This is very informed congregation, so we really do know what has to be done: waste less food; respect that others have the knowledge to solve their own food supply problems; and then listen to what they say and then offer the help they say they need; grow and/or buy crops that do not harm the earth so she will be left strong, healthy and fertile for our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
How then shall we live?
From Job's story we are reminded to live a life full of praise and thanksgiving always to YHWH who doesn't necessarily give us the answers we want, but is always Presence!
From Mark's Gospel, we have Jesus' gentle reminder that we are not, and cannot be, first; we are to live mindfully of others.
And some thoughts on the "how" from Linnea Good, in her poem, "How Then Shall I Live":
Took a walk outside of my walking
Stepped inside another's shoes;
Walked the dusty borders between us
Paths I'd never chosen to choose.

Heard a sound outside my listening
Felt the living hum of the ground;
Waited on the voice of the Spirit
Singing with its new-old sound.

Saw the world outside of my looking
Gazed upon the eyes of its soul;
Held the hopes and fears of tomorrow
Found the pieces making a whole.

Took a step outside of my walking
Found within, a beat we share.
Walked with you the length of a lifetime
And made of life a living prayer.

May it be so!

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