Living into the Message of the Good Road
In thinking about the beginning of Lent this year, it seems in a way that Lent last year never ended, maybe some of you feel the same way… The pandemic hit in the US about a year ago and I remember thinking that observing the ‘rules’ of social distancing / isolation, masks, hand washing, working remotely, worshipping virtually, etc. could be a strange type of Lenten fast. It was helpful for me to see it this way last year, particularly when it seemed that it wouldn’t last very long, and we would just have to hunker down for a month or so… The consolation of Easter came - and the pandemic continued to spread.
And then, nine days past his due date and on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Nathan was born - forgetting the cloud of COVID - we were rapt in the awe of new life. Thank you God! What an incredible blessing. We had a new way to live into Easter, and still do!
And here we are again, back at the beginning of Lent. Of course, many things have happened this year - we all have distinct experiences - joys, pain, lamentations, confessions, boredom, tiredness, loneliness, tension, sickness, grief, complacency, anxiety, depression, new hobbies, gratitudes, offerings, wisdom. Alongside our personal experiences there is the continued racism and violence perpetrated by white supremacy which the American people have collectively held a more focused lens to; there are the real symptoms of climate change (as Jennie so often reminds us of) but we saw more firsthand in the ‘lower 48’ with the fires in California and Oregon, and the very recent cold weather in Texas; and what seems is the demise of our democracy without a peaceful transition of power on February 6th and so many other scary things in our political landscape leading up to that.
Where does that leave us coming into this season? The pain and ugliness has been revealed already, it’s on the surface - but we still have to go deeper. I’m struggling to cultivate that space to go into the wilderness and fast, haven’t we done that enough already? I’m especially grateful for the contemplative service last Sunday and the attention on healthy ways to work with discomfort. I learned some helpful tools to use when confronted with my and others shortcomings.
I imagine that Jesus used some of these methods too during his 40 days in the desert or wilderness - movement, singing, praying, meditation, focus on the breath, writing, creating art… wouldn’t it be cool to know what his specific ones were? Or how about Noah and his family - in reading more about the flood in Genesis I learned a few details new to me. The rain persisted for 40 days and 40 nights, but they were in the ark (with all of the animals!) for about a year, waiting for the waters to subside and to find land. How’s that for a quarantine?!
But they endure and God is faithful. God establishes a covenant with Noah and his family, and ALL THE CREATURES OF THE EARTH!! To never flood the earth again. Did you catch that part - ALL THE CREATURES OF THE EARTH? Wow, I don’t think we’ve held up our part of the covenant… Later in the chapter, God entrusts the care of the animals and all creatures to us. God points to the rainbow as the sign of the promise - to remind himself, us, and all the animals not to destroy the earth by flood again. It’s a public reminder for everyone. As we begin Lent, what reminds us to be accountable to our intentions, to growth, transformation?
Gayle Boss’s book, “Wild Hope” with stories and stunning illustrations of animals who are suffering extinction because of human’s destruction of the planet is certainly a helpful word. I was particularly disturbed (as probably others of you were too) by the Ash Wednesday account of the Sumatran Orangutan - name meaning ‘person of the forest’. Their habitat is being burned in order to make space for palm oil trees; the oil from which is used to make many of the products we consume such as “Cookies, ice cream, cake mixes and chocolate, bagged bread and pizza dough, lotions, lipstick, toothpaste, soaps, shampoo…” (Wild Hope, Gayle Boss, p. 13). I do not have to look very far to find many items in our house with this ingredient in it. And then most harrowing part of the story,
“The only way to separate a mother orangutan from her child is to kill her. It’s the usual solution when she is found wandering in oil palm plantations, hungry, after her home trees have been burned. The babies, faces rippling with emotion, reach for a body, any body, to hold.” (Wild Hope, Gayle Boss, p. 13) What, I am complicit in this violence?! Very disturbing indeed - how can I avoid supporting this atrocity?
How do we carefully peel ourselves out of the interconnected web of corruption, greed, and destruction that is so well cloaked in our society as convenience, productivity, a healthy economy, and success - without becoming too legalistic or paralyzed by the incredible gravity of our global power? How do we follow the Creators Good Road? Is it really right in front of us?
The gospel passage shows us Jesus’s example; and we’re reading from The First Nations version of the bible, called “Walking The Good Road”. Let’s read it again.
Mark 1:9-15 Walking The Good Road, First Nations Version
Creator Sets Free Comes Forward
“It was in those days that Creator Sets Free (Jesus) came from his home in Seed Planter Village (Nazareth) in the territory of Circle of Nations (Galilee), to have He Shows Goodwill (John) perform for him the purification ceremony.
Creator Sets Free (Jesus) was a full grown man of about thirty winters. The time had come for him to show himself to all the people and begin his great work. He waded out into the river to have He Shows Goodwill (John) perform the ceremony.
As soon as Creator Sets Free (Jesus) came up from the water, he saw the sky open. The Spirit of Creator came down like a dove and rested on him. Then a voice from the sky spoke like distant thunder, “This is my Much Loved Son who makes my heart glad!”
His Vision Quest
Right then and there the Spirit drove Creator Sets Free (Jesus) into the desert wilderness. For forty days and nights he remained there, surrounded by wild animals and being tested by Accuser (Satan) - the ancient trickster snake. Spirit messengers also came there to give him strength and comfort.
The Message of the Good Road
Then later, after He Shows Goodwill (John) was arrested, Creator Sets Free (Jesus) traveled to the territory of Circle of Nations (Galilee) to tell the Good Story. “The time has now come!” he said to his people. “Creator’s Good Road is right in front of you - it is time to return to the right ways of thinking and doing! Put your trust in this Good Story I am bringing to you.”
The story starts with Creator Sets Free (Jesus) beginning the purification ceremony (baptism) by getting into the river. He Shows Goodwill (John) performs the ceremony - and ‘as soon as Creator Sets Free (Jesus) came up from the water he saw the sky open. The Spirit of Creator came down like a dove and rested on him. Then a voice from the sky spoke like distant thunder, “This is my Much Loved Son who makes my heart glad!” Jesus is so loved by God and that is publicly affirmed in a beautiful, majestic way, with the participation of animals! And then Creator Sets Free is directly drawn into the desert/wilderness for a vision quest - or fast as we usually think of it. Some may already be familiar with the term vision quest, while it may be new to others. It is a rite of passage in Native American cultures. Vision quest is the English, umbrella term/translation, and different nations have different words. I wish that we were in relationship with someone who could teach us more about this from their own culture, at the risk of not doing it justice, I’ll offer an explanation.
“Among Native American cultures who have this type of rite, it usually consists of a series of ceremonies led by Elders and supported by the young man's community. The process includes a complete fast for four days and nights, alone at a sacred site in nature which is chosen by the Elders for this purpose. Some communities have used the same sites for many generations. During this time, the young person prays and cries out to the spirits that they may have a vision, one that will help them find their purpose in life, their role in a community, and how they may best serve the People. Dreams or visions may involve natural symbolism – such as animals or forces of nature – that require interpretation by Elders. After their passage into adulthood, and guided by this experience, the young person may then become an apprentice or student of an adult who has mastered this role.
Creator Sets Free (Jesus) emerges from his vision quest with The Message of the Good Road - the gospel, good news! “The time has now come!” he said to his people. “Creator’s Good Road is right in front of you - it is time to return to the right ways of thinking and doing! Put your trust in this Good Story I am bringing to you.” We can trust this way - “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness” (Psalm 25:8).
In briefly perusing the past handful of teachings on the 8th Day website it is beautiful to see the witness and call to the return to right ways of thinking and doing, following the Good Road. Just a recent sampling of the sermons include: Healthy ways to work with discomfort (NCMG, contemplative service), the slow faithfulness of composting (Jean Brown), confronting evil in ourselves and healthy + ethical media (Matthias Everhope), active participation in non-violent resistance for justice (Kent Beduhn), a call to the purpose of privilege (Joseph Deck), racial healing from white-body supremacy (Meade Jones-Hanna), being present & being what others need us to be (Delores Taylor), a dream of God’s love for us and that love realized through our love of one another (Kate Lasso). We are doing it, and teaching each other, and there is still so much more to learn!
My recent, and most consistent teacher these days is Nathan. Anyone who spends longer periods of time with a baby or young child knows that it requires the best of you to keep up with them and give them the love and attention they ask for from you - we are humbly trying our best! Our close relationships, often in families, give us mirrors back to ourselves, not always showing us an attractive picture. Parenting with mindfulness towards my shortcomings and intentions for healing is a new spiritual practice for me, as I am confronted with it many times a day! In the book “Everyday Blessings, The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting” Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn offer wisdom to parents willing to embrace parenting as a journey to healing and wholeness for parents and children.
“...from the perspective of mindfulness, parenting can be viewed as a kind of extended and, at times, arduous meditation retreat spanning a large part of our lives. And our children, from infancy to adulthood and beyond, can be seen as perpetually challenging live-in teachers, who provide us with ceaseless opportunities to do the inner work of understanding who we are and who they are, so that we can best stay in touch with what is truly important and give them what they most need in order to grow and flourish. In the process, we may find that this ongoing moment-to-moment awareness can liberate us from some of our most confining habits of perception and relating, the straitjackets and prisons of the mind that have been passed down to us or that we have somehow constructed for ourselves. Through their very being, often without any words or discussion, our children can inspire us to do this inner work. The more we are able to keep in mind the intrinsic wholeness and beauty of our children, especially when it is difficult for us to see, the more our ability to be mindful deepens. In seeing more clearly, we can respond to them more effectively and with greater generosity of heart, and parent with greater wisdom.
As we devote ourselves to nourishing them and understanding who they are, these live-in teachers, especially in the first ten to twenty years of our “training,” will provide endless moments of wonder and bliss, and opportunities for the deepest feelings of connectedness and love. They will also, in all likelihood, push all our buttons, evoke all our insecurities, test all our limits and boundaries, and touch all the places in us where we fear to tread and feel inadequate or worse. In the process, if we are willing to attend carefully to the full spectrum of what we are experiencing, they will remind us over and over again of what is most important in life, including its mystery, as we share in their lives, shelter and nourish and love them, and give them what guidance we can.
Being a parent is particularly intense and demanding in part because our children can ask things of us no one else could or would, in ways that no one else could or would. They see us up close as no one else does, and constantly hold mirrors up for us to look into. In doing so, they give us over and over again the chance to see ourselves in new ways, and to work at consciously asking what we can learn from any and every situation that comes up with them. We can then make choices out of this awareness that will nurture both our children’s inner growth and our own at one and the same time. Our interconnectedness and our interdependence enable us to learn and grow together.” (Everyday Blessings, p. 22-24)
We’re only about 10 months into being parents, and this passage speaks to me. I’ve been faced with my criticality of myself and Matthias as parents, tiredness, perfectionism, and stress/selfishness over boundaries and time, to name just a few. I know Matthias has his own little list too. All the while, we are having a great time with little Nathan, and know that every day is a gift - and welcome the struggles because it is the only way toward wholeness. And, a big thanks to this community for helping and supporting all three of us!! It is definitely a journey, a long spiritual retreat, if we let it be one.
I’ll close with the end of the story about the Sumatran Orangutan, another example of people choosing to live into The Good Road not knowing what will come, trusting in the hope, love and steadfastness of Creator and life:
“The lucky ones (orangutans) are found and brought to this care center where other people do their best to mother them into orangutans who can survive in the forest that remains.
One substitute mother bends over a crib to photograph a refugee orphan, who reaches for her camera. Yes, little one, the woman says, this also may be a tool of your survival. She posts online the portraits of the babies she cares for, hoping those who see them say, Oh, they look so much like ours! She hopes they’ll see these “persons of the forest” as yes, persons.” (Wild Hope, p. 13)