Tuesday, September 25, 2012

September 23, 2012 - Reflection by David

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

This is the season of questions. As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time for everything and every purpose under heaven. There is a time to ask and a time to answer, a time to wonder and a time to act. I find the early days of fall good days to wonder and to ask questions!
Arising from the gospel over the past few weeks, there are lots of questions: Why did Jesus offer a racial slur to the Syro-Phonoecian woman in our text from two weeks ago? Why do the disciples not get what Jesus is about from last week? Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? Why do we get caught up in thinking we are the greatest from today's gospel lesson? What does it mean to serve others?
And then there are questions from our own lives and experience. How will I find support for this health crisis? Will I find a way to make it through? What will life be like now that our children have flown from the nest? What will this new job be like? How will my child cope in school for the first time? When will the violence in the world end? When will people stop making fun of each other and their religious traditions and beliefs? When will we see each other as brother and sister rather than as stranger? What is wisdom that will enable me to live fully today?
That may be the question that underlies everything: what is wisdom? I get that question a lot from people. What is wisdom? I wonder about it in my own life.
From the Twelve Step program we get the serenity prayer affirming that it is wisdom to know the difference between what can be changed and what can not be changed. Rienhold Niebuhr goes on to say, in the lesser known part of the prayer, "Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that Christ will make all things right if I surrender to God's Will..."
Wisdom is not complicated nor is it secret as some would have it be. It is the open acceptance of life as it is and knowing, at the same time, that there are things that can change. It is knowing that we are a small dot in the grand universe but of significant importance and named in God's scheme of things. Wisdom is the grace of seeing clearly the beauty and wonder of life and quietly but determinedly living the Commonwealth of Heaven where fear and oppression exist.
One of my wisdom heroes was a woman named Hilda Craig. She was a wise elderly woman in my congregation in Northern Ontario. She was a musician, chaired Presbytery, chaired Manitou Conference, was a gentle and wise soul. She lived to be in her 90's and died a few years ago. I remember the first time that she spoke in a meeting; she spoke with a quiet voice that carried weight and power. But it was a voice that held no pretence and no hubris. She spoke from her heart about what was right and fair and just. I remember thinking to myself that this is a woman from whom I want to learn. And she was a dear friend and confidant. She had a way of seeing the local implications of things while at the same time holding the larger picture of the world. Hilda Craig lived out William Blake, the English poet's words, "To see a world in a grain of sand/And a Heaven in a wild flower/Hold infinity in the palm of your hand/And eternity in an hour..." This is wisdom.
With wisdom, Jesus took a child and placed the child into the midst of the disciples and said, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." This was to put to rest the dispute about who was the greatest. Jesus was clear; there was no dispute. It was the least among them. Wisdom is lived out in servant love to one's neighbour and sister and brother. Wisdom isn't about acknowledging that one is great, but in seeing with child-like eyes the world.
Suzanne Guthrie, in her "Edge of Enclosure" wesbiste for this week, includes a story poem by Rumi:
A young man seeking advice asks to speak to someone wise. The villagers point to a man playing stick-horse with children. "He has keen, fiery insight and vast dignity like the night sky, but he conceals it in the madness of child's play." During their conversation the young man asks the wise man why he hides his intelligence. The man answers, "The people here want to put me in charge. They want me to be judge, magistrate, and interpreter of all the texts. The knowing I have doesn't want that. It wants to enjoy itself. I am a plantation of sugarcane, and at the same time I'm eating the sweetness."
The following words are from the middle of the poem.
Knowledge that is acquired is not like this. Those who have it worry if audiences like it or not. It's a bait for popularity. Disputational knowing wants customers. It has no soul. Robust and energetic before a responsive crowd, it slumps when no one is there.
Chew quietly your sweet sugarcane God-Love, and stay playfully childish. Your face will turn rosy with illumination like the redbud flowers.
 (Rumi, 1207-1273, translation by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, The Essential Rumi)
And yet some will ask, what good is it to be wise when the world is disintegrating around us. My answer to that question is that we do what we can to improve the world, to hold to account those who lead us, and to set and live an example in our own lives. We listen to the Hilda Craigs of the world who live what they preach—in fact, Hilda's living was her preaching. She measured her life and her decisions by the impact they had on others living in the world, and not just locally in Northeastern Ontario, but in Syria, or Palestine, or Israel, or Burma, or Zimbabwe, or Nunuvut, or Newfoundland and Labrador... She had this wise way of holding the world in her heart and living a simple life in her actions.
I always wanted to be like Hilda Craig, who was a servant in the way that Jesus described servanthood, and who lived with an elegant grace and simple wisdom. I've always been drawn to people with quiet wisdom who are able in some mystical way to hold the cares and concerns of the world in their hearts. Jean Vanier, the man who made L'Arche famous, is one of those people for me. He lives with integrity and holds the world to account for its actions.
Or, as Marian Wright Edelman would say, "You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation." She also said, "We are living in a time of unbearable dissonance between promise and performance; between good politics and good policy; between professed and practiced values; between racial creed and racial deed; between calls for community and rampant individualism and greed; and between our capacity to prevent and alleviate human deprivation and disease and our political and spiritual will to do so." We just have to be a flea against injustice—that's wisdom!
Without pushing the analogy of the flea too far, where you find one flea, you will find others. That's the beauty of being in community together and that too, is wisdom—sharing our lives and burdens with one another. We share our passions together for work at the Women's Centre, for hospice work, for care of the elderly, for prevention of homelessness and poverty, for peace between Palestine and Israel, for care of creation. That's the beauty of the United Church of Canada and our work with committed partners around the world. Wisdom sees the power and grace of working with others, sharing our talents and gifts. What if we all chose to serve each other? Isn't that what Jesus called the Commonwealth of Heaven? What if we all choose to live out of the deep wisdom that is in all of us, sharing our wisdom collectively together? You see, questions lead to more questions, and in those questions lie the answers! And so we pray...
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

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