Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday: "Because I am Humble and Gentle in Heart" (Matthew 11:28)



          As Jesus and his disciples gathered in the upper room, the Passover celebration at hand, his mood was heavy, his thoughts preoccupied. Knowing that the time had come for him to live out his most climactic act of love, he meditated on this moment with great thoughtfulness.
          The table, laden with food, was low to the ground with thin cushions surrounding it. Each of the twelve took their spots, Jesus in the place of honor, at the head. John, a tender comfort to Jesus during this time, sat close, sensing his teacher’s sadness.
          The men carried on conversations with one another, subconsciously aware of the heaviness of this unnamed grief, the premonition that they were attending a farewell party and something was about to happen of which they had no control.
          Their upper bodies leaned forward toward the table, their left hand supporting their weight. They ate with their clean hand as they engaged in banter, their legs and sandaled feet extending behind them. Quietly, Jesus slipped back from the table. The eyes of his disciples glanced toward him, observing his quiet movement.
          He began to disrobe, taking off his outer garments and setting them aside. A large towel lay by the table, one that a servant had left behind. He picked it up and wrapped it around his stripped body, mimicking the look of a lowly servant.
           Jesus found a large bowl and poured water into it from a jug. Then he carried the bowl over to the table, stooping low to the ground behind each disciple. Taking on the job of a menial houseboy, one by one, he began to wash each of his disciple’s feet.
          The men felt awkward and uncomfortable. It occurred to some that they had failed to think about this simple act of hospitality—washing feet. Whose responsibility should it have been? Certainly none of theirs. Where was that servant who had prepared the food and thoughtlessly overlooked this courtesy? Their faces reddened with shame and embarrassment, as they submitted to Jesus’ act of humiliating himself.
          They were silent, all except Peter. He never could use self-restraint when it came to questioning what Jesus was doing. With indignation, Peter protested, saying to him, “Are you really going to wash my feet?” Jesus insisted, responding to Peter, “Unless I wash your feet, you won’t be able to share with me in this fellowship of servant hood.”
          Stunned and humbled, Peter consented, begging to be washed from head to toe. 
                                                                                       
Clothed in Humility
          When Jesus shared in this meal with his disciples, he wanted it to be memorable—a teachable moment. His act of washing their feet was a foreshadowing of what was to come. Jesus, knowing that his earthly ministry was almost over, faced his final act of humiliation. He would submit himself to death on a Roman cross.
He chose to teach his disciples through this pericope—this smaller story germinating in the larger story of God’s redemption—an unforgettable lesson about servant leadership.
The first thing Jesus did was take off his priestly robes, lay them aside, and put on the stole of a servant. Imagine being at a private dinner party and the guest of honor taking off their dress clothes and putting on an apron in order to bus the tables. Something about that act would seem inappropriate, out of place, and objectionable. That’s how it must have felt to the disciples, as they watched their Lord put on the garments of a slave and perform an unbecoming task.
Humble people are like that. They don’t mind taking on a lower standing than what life could afford them. Unpretentious people don’t mind doing the chores that no body wants to do. Their joy isn’t in being lifted up, but in lowering themselves in order to serve others.

The Posture of the Humble
          Jesus knelt, as he made his way around the table behind each of his disciples, washing and wiping their feet. His posture reflected the essence of humility, the idea of leveling oneself to the stature of those with whom you are relating.
          In this society, only the lowliest of servants would engage in such an undignified job. Even peers would not offer that act of service to one another. The disciples could hardly imagine washing one another’s feet, let alone allowing Jesus, their teacher, to wash theirs.
          After Jesus was finished, he asked them if they understood why he did what he did. He brought up the fact that they referred to him as “Teacher and Lord” and, he affirmed, rightfully so. Jesus explained that his act of washing their feet took nothing away from his authority and personhood as their teacher and Lord. Instead, he served out of the fullness of his personhood, and now admonished them to do the same.  
          Humble people don’t cling to their titles as proof of their value or worth. They don’t have to include their credentials with their signature, or mention them in order to remind others of their importance. People who possess true meekness throw off those designations while freely and willingly stooping to love, serve, and honor others. And, in so doing, they lose nothing of their own self worth.

Humble to the Nth Degree
          It was a common courtesy in Middle Eastern culture for servants to provide jugs of water and basins for foot washing. The roads in Palestine were dusty and coated their sandaled feet. Though people would wash their bodies early in the day, their feet became dirty from walking wherever they needed to go.  
          However, not all servants would have actually done the washing of feet, but simply provided the resources for individuals to do their own washing. Only the lowliest class of servants would have performed the act of foot washing.
          Jesus astounded his disciples when he modeled humility to the nth degree by performing this debasing act. He drew no line in terms of how far he would go to serve. No act was too humiliating or beneath him.
          Only the truly self-effacing volunteer to clean toilets, pick up garbage, change dirty diapers and care for the sick and dying—all those jobs that involve sights and smells that are repulsive. Humble people’s senses are insulted, just the same, but they don’t let that override their impulse to act out of the meekness in their heart. 

Humility is No Respecter of Persons
          Gathered around the table were Jesus’ closest male companions. He had other disciples, women and men, who traveled with him and participated in his ministry. But these were the men that he had specifically chosen to carry on when he was gone.
          John was seated on one side of him; Peter close by. And somewhere in the mix was Judas. John, who told this narrative in his gospel, mentioned that the Judas had already made plans in his heart to betray Jesus.
          As Jesus made his way around the table, he was cognizant of what was in Judas’ heart. In fact, after he had finished washing all their feet, including Judas’, Jesus became deeply troubled and emotional, asserting, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me!’” (John 13:21)
          Can you imagine washing the feet of someone whom you knew was about to betray you and have you killed? The truly humble don’t sift through the crowd, choosing the ones they will serve and the ones they won’t. Humble people serve their enemies. Harder yet, humble people serve those who pretend to be their friends. 

           Today is Maundy Thursday, "maundy" meaning command and referring to the new command Jesus gave to all his disciples to love one another as he loved. May we pause today and allow Jesus to wash our feet--to wash all of us; and may we humble ourselves and wash the feet of those whom God has called us to love--including our enemies.
Excerpt taken from Picturing the Face of Jesus (Abingdon Press), by Beth Booram.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Advent: A Fertile Void



I was familiar with the experience of a “fertile void” when Nancy, my spiritual director, mentioned it. I just didn’t know it by that name. I’ve known seasons when all seems quiet on the surface of my life, but I’m aware of a subtle stirring beneath the quiet; a place where things are composting—where my inner life is being turned over, my psychological structures broken down, in order to become more deep and real and fertile. 

It’s not an all-together comfortable place. A part of me chaffs in the waiting; feels uneasy and wonders what I should do to stir things up myself. It doesn’t take long, though, to discover the vanity of trying to hurry the decomposing and reconstituting of my inner life and soul. The invitation during a fertile void is to rest in it and trust the process of it. 

The reason I suspect for this season of fruitful emptiness is the fact that I’ve just finished the manuscript for my next book and I’m feeling the let-down. I’ve turned a corner into December, toward the Advent of Jesus, and I’m numb and honestly a little bored. I felt hopeful when Nancy suggested that I’m in a fertile void. I know that good things happen when a field is allowed to go fallow for a season; when I cease striving and rest in the knowledge that God is God and I am not (God).  

Then I thought about Advent; how it's like a fertile void. Advent is a time of waiting during a silent, holy night; watching with anticipation for the birth of Jesus. We wait in hope that he will come again; today, tomorrow and the next. We linger in the stillness and look for his yet-to be seen holy visitation. The invitation of Advent is to cease striving and consent to the deeper, quieter work of God in the silent, holy night.   

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

On Pause

I know I'm probably stating the obvious. I'm "on pause" from blogging because I don't seem to be able to blog and write a book and do all the others things I do all at the same time. Something has to go. And for me, it's my blog.

I will return. And hopefully sooner than later, as my manuscript is due to InterVarsity Press on December 1st!

This book is about giving birth to a dream; how to know if the dream inside you is from God and for you. I am including interviews from folks who have given birth to a dream and, as well, telling my own story of starting Sustainable Faith Indy with my loving husband and life-long partner, David.

Stay tuned. I will probably pick things up once Cindy Bunch, my wonderful editor, receives my manuscript and I heave a huge sigh of relief and hopefully make a big toast to it's completion.



Wednesday, May 22, 2013

When I See You and You See Me



Last week, David and I drove down to Bloomington to see our grandson's end-of-the-year preschool program. Eli was lined up with his class when we walked in and the surprise and joy on his face made the hour-plus drive a very small token to pay. He had a gray polo shirt on and right away I noticed his sparkling, blue-gray eyes. They get me every time.

We went out for ice cream after the program and I sat down next to him. He shimmered with sticky delight, his face spilling over in cascades of joy and pleasure as he ate his ice cream cone. But there was one moment in particular that I continue to savor. It was the moment when I looked deep into his eyes and he looked back.

I saw him and he saw me.

For that delicious moment, our hearts kissed. We transmitted love and connection from one to the other. A solitary and poignant moment when I saw him in all his boyish wonder and he saw me in all my grandmotherly adoration.

This isolated frame in my memory symbolizes a deep longing I have when I'm with Eli. I want to touch his soul. I want to see him and I want him to see me--to see the love I have for him that shows up so clearly and unmistakably on my face.

I remember wanting the same thing with my kids when they were little. I recall being conscious each day of seeking out a moment when I made eye contact with them and received eye contact in return. Somehow I knew that it was through looking into our eyes that the bond of our connection was formed.

I've reflected on this experience with Eli for a few days now. I'm still smitten by the memory of his amazing blue-gray eyes. And this memory has been a reminder to me of real prayer.

Prayer for me is just like this: seeing God as God sees me. Real prayer is the moment when I purpose to gaze into the face of God and see him with spiritual eyes. It's the sensation of being seen by him in return; all of me, my goodness and un-loveliness co-mingled.

In this tender, bonding moment I know that God loves me as I am. Our hearts kiss.

I believe that the same desire in me that searches out Eli's face to gaze into his eyes and see him is the same desire that moves God toward me and me toward God in prayer.

.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Most Unnatural Natural Task of Motherhood: Letting Go

When did it happen? Was it after they laid you on my chest and you slid toward my cheek, slimy and covered in vernix, and I felt your warmth and smelled your wonder. And then they whisked you away to check you and make sure all your parts were working and I wanted to say, "No, not yet." But I didn't.  I let go.

Or when I passed you over the half-door of the nursery to a grandmotherly figure who assured me you would be just fine and I glanced back over my shoulder as I walked away, wishing I could stay with you, just in case you cried. But I went to church, instead.

With each little accomplishment, like feeding yourself, or taking steps unassisted, or climbing out of your crib, you won small victories in your quest for independence and I took small steps toward my journey of letting go of you.

There were those Kodak moments for sure of you singing your first solo, getting on the school bus for the first time, and your first sleep-over at a friends that gave me practice at something I both celebrated and made me cry.

The stakes seemed even higher when I turned over the keys to the car, said good-bye to you on a date with a boy I didn't know, extended your curfew and stayed awake, praying in the night for your safety and that you would make wise choices.

When we loaded up a van from floor to ceiling and then carried all its contents up three flights of stairs into your first dorm room, and drove away, leaving you behind and returning to a house with an empty room, I felt the severing more profoundly than ever--a throb so deep and right that I couldn't argue with it; I just had to accept it.

I watched you as you met your bride at the head of the aisle, all grown up and handsome, marrying the girl you'd told me at the age of six you would marry some day because you were a family man--and I knew my task was, for the most part, complete.

And now, though you're on your own, living a full life, and working hard, you still return to me--sometimes when life is disappointing, or someone breaks your heart or you need a back rub, or you just need a mom. In those moments, I can feel confused because I want to hang on; to be indispensable. But I know I can't and I'm not.

All along the way and even now, motherhood has asked of me a very unnatural thing--to let go of you. Nothing about it has ever felt good and yet everything about it is. I look at you today, so accomplished and self-assured, and I see why.  

You're really quite amazing.