Walking the Good Road: a Love Story
During my sharing I’ll be reading from the First Nations Version of the bible, called “Walking the Good Road.” I learned of this First Nations translation from the Inward-Outward daily meditations and really appreciate how fresh language enlivens the story being told. For example :
The Gospel of Matthew is known as Gift From Creator Tells the Good Story
The Gospel of Luke is known as Shining Light Tells the Good Story
The Gospel of John is called He Shows Goodwill Tells the Good Story
I love the reminder that the original meaning of Gospel is “Good News,” referring to the telling of Jesus Christ’s birth, death and resurrection. Here’s how Gift From Creator (Luke) Chapter 2 tells us of Jesus’ birth, beginning with their trip to Bethlehem:
When the time drew close for Bitter Tears (Mary) to have her child, the government of the People of Iron (Romans) ordered that the people be numbered and put on government rolls.”
And this is how Mary and Joseph found themselves on the road to Bethlehem.
“The time for Bitter Tears (Mary) to have her child was upon her! But no place could be found in the lodging house, so He Gives Sons (Joseph) found a sheep cave where it was warm and dry. There she gave birth to her son. They wrapped him in a warm soft blanket. Then they placed him on a bed of straw in a feeding trough.
That night, in the fields nearby, shepherds were keeping watch over their sheep. Suddenly a great light from above was shining all around them. A spirit-messenger from Creator appeared to them. They shook with fear and trembled as the messenger said to them, “Do not fear; I bring you the Good Story that will be told to all nations. Today in the village of Much Loved One (David) an Honored Chief has been born who will set his people free. He is the Chosen One!” The spirit-messenger continued, “this is how you will know him – you will find the child wrapped in a blanket and lying in a feeding trough”. Suddenly, next to the messenger, a great number of spirit warriors from the world above appeared giving thanks to Creator saying, “All honor to the One Above Us All, and let peace and good will follow all who walk upon the earth.” When the messengers returned to the world above, the shepherds said to each other, “Let us go and see this great thing the Creator has told to us.” So they hurried to the village of Chief Much Loved One (David) and found Bitter Tears (Mary), He Gives Sons (Joseph) and the child who, just as they were told, was lying in a feeding trough! The shepherds began to tell everyone what they had seen and heard about this child, and all who heard it were amazed.
(Gift From Creator) Matthew tells about a visit by the three wise men from the East:
After his birth Seekers of Wisdom (Magi) traveling on a long journey from the East came to the Village of Peace (Jerusalem). They began to ask around, “Where is the one who has been born to be chief of the tribes of Wrestles with Creator (Israel)? We saw his star where the sun rises and have come to honor and bow down before him.” (Gift From Creator) Matthew 2:1b-2.
And then after they found the Christ child and gave their gifts,
The Seekers of Wisdom (Magi) were warned in a dream not to go back to Looks Brave (Herod), so they returned to their homeland by a different road. After the Seekers of Wisdom (Magi) had gone, a spirit-messenger from Creator warned He Gives Sons (Joseph) in a dream. “Rise up!” he said urgently. “Take the child and his mother and go quickly to Fertile Black Land (Egypt) and remain there until I tell you to leave. Looks Brave (Herod) is searching for the child to kill him!” That night He Gives Sons (Joseph) took the child and his mother and fled for their lives to Fertile Black Land (Egypt). (Gift From Creator) Matthew 2:12-15.
It was a frightening, inauspicious beginning, to be sure, a surprising beginning for the long-awaited Christ. It is also story that captures the texture and lived experience of everyday people of that time. Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde describes it this way:
“The Christmas story begins with an emperor who could move people around at will. A young couple forced to obey the emperor’s edict, set out on a long journey in the last month of the woman’s pregnancy. She was denied a place in human community in her hour of greatest need and needed to lay her child in an animal trough. Shortly after the child’s birth, the holy family would be forced to flee again, seeking refuge from violence in another country.”
We tell the story of Christ’s birth each year, with anticipation and gratitude, and sometimes with an aching heart both for the harshness of his birth circumstances and also our knowledge of the suffering that is to come. Chapter 1 of He Shows Goodwill (John) says this:
This true Light came down into this world and even though he made all things, the world did not recognize him. Even his own tribe did not welcome or honor him. But all who welcome and trust him receive their birthright as children of the Great Spirit. They are born in a new way, not from a human father’s plans or desires, but born from above – by the Great Spirit” (He Shows Goodwill) John 1:19-13.
As the telling continues, we understand that the opposing strands of the Christ story weave together a witness (1) of hope overcoming despair and (2) forgiveness rebuilding trust and relationship and (3) heartache giving way to humble gratitude as our tiny little minds begin to grasp the expanse of God’s love for us – for everyone, for all God’s creation.
As we immerse ourselves in the story of Christ, we witness words transformed into a flesh and bones – Christ becomes the incarnate expression of God’s hope: a dream of love for us and a dream that we will love each other. A dream that we do what we can, however imperfectly, to put flesh and bones on the story of God’s love for others. I am touched very deeply by how the story of Christ’s birth – and also Christ’s death – holds opposing elements up, together – hope and despair, courage and fear, life and death.
Now, if you think about it, a storyteller chooses what details are important to share and can be left out. Those who passed on to us the story of Christ’s birth wanted us to know that Jesus is no stranger to struggle and sorrow, they wanted us to see the freedom that Christ experienced in a time of tremendous oppression, and they wanted us to understand the human and imperfect nature of Christ’s followers and friends. These are all important parts of walking the Good Road with the Christ, known as Creator Sets Free in the First Nations bible, born humbly, fleeing the oppressor in his mother’s arms, growing up into a man who set out to teach us the right way to Walk the Good Road of Creator and to help us remember God’s dream of love for all Creation.
It’s up to us now. We are the ones to keep the light of faith shining, the gift of hope alive, the message of love authentic, not just in the Israel of 2,000 years ago, but in the United States of the 21st century.
In her book “Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible again”, Rachel Held Even writes “Jesus invites us into a story bigger than ourselves, bigger than our culture, bigger even than our imaginations, and yet we get to tell that story with the scandalous particularity of our particular moment and place in time. …
“Creator Sets Free (Jesus) said to his disciples “I am giving you a new road to walk. In the same way I have loved you, you are to love each other. This kind of love will be the sign for all people that you are walking the road with me.” He Shows Goodwill (John 13:34-35)
Rachel Held Even continues: “If the biggest story that we can imagine is about God’s loving and redemptive work in the world, then our lives will be shaped by that epic. If the biggest story we can imagine is something else, like religious nationalism, or ‘follow your bliss’ or ‘he who dies with the most toys wins,’ then our lives will be shaped by those narratives.”
At 8th Day I have witnessed - and experienced - so many instances of redemptive action and loving kindness that I have no doubt which story we embrace as a community. It is no surprise to me that our leadership has asked us to meditate on the meaning of Advent, when we expectantly wait and prepare for the birth of Christ, alongside the abomination of racism and the exclusion, oppression or dehumanization of those who do not look like or talk like us, or share other familiar traits. The indigenous perspective would add to this examination the destructive and irresponsible behavior towards all of Creation - everything made by Creator is sacred. These are not the ways of those Walking the Good Road.
Walking the Good Road requires a clear-eyed understanding of our current landscape, to help us figure out how to get from here, where we are, to where we want to go. In the United States our landscape includes the hulls of old slave ships, the Trail of Tears, avaricious behavior towards our earthly home (Mother Earth), rapacious behavior towards our workers, disdain for our women and a negation of the humanity of those seeking refuge from other places or who look, act or talk differently than what is promoted as “the best.” We need to know about all these death traps, and, as we find them, root them out, so they cause harm no more. We also need to figure out how we can repair the harm that has already been done as best we can. Borrowing from an idea shared at the Climate and Racial Justice discussion this past week, we need to go to the places of devastation and wait for God there. That’s where our work begins. We actively need to engage in the work of creating a bridge to the new life-giving way we wish to be together.
This is our work, to follow in the footsteps of Creator Sets Free. We must be prepared to leave behind what does not serve us, to make room for the new life that awaits. And as we walk this road, I urge that we all remember that we are loved. Even those we don’t love are loved - by our Creator - beyond all measure, beyond all understanding, beyond our imagination. We are also fortunate to have found each other. We have the great honor of engaging on this long walk towards Creator with friends who encourage us, get mad at us, cry with us, annoy us (as Alice said today), wait for us to “get it,” both confront and forgive us when we don’t and help us up when we fall. We have so very much to be grateful for.
And in this spirit, as our community discerns how to deepen our commitment to walking this Good Road, of claiming our place in Creator’s Great Story of love – let’s remember just that: this is a love story. It is a story of hope overcoming despair and of forgiveness rebuilding trust and relationship. It is a story that allows heartache to give way to joy as we grasp the expanse of God’s love for us – for everyone, for all God’s creation. So …. as the humble and imperfect humans that we are, let us immerse ourselves in the story of Christ, so that we, however imperfectly, are transformed into a flesh and bones expression of God’s hope-filled dream of love, a dream that we will love each other and hold sacred all that has been made by Creator.
Ann Dean of Daypring Church ended yesterday’s meditation on Inward-Outward.org this way:
In mystery, the Creator created a divine human life, a form of the eternal Word through which everything that is came into being. Jesus, the light of the world. That bright illuminating Word was in the beginning and is forever a beginning. The important thing now, …, is to listen with the same strength and devotion [of] Mary…. To awaken to deeper intimacy with the Eternal One. To be able to say yes to impossible beginnings.
May it be so.
I’ll end with a blessing by the Irish teacher and poet, John O’Donohue.
Blessed be the longing that brought you here And quickens your soul with wonder.
May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.
May the forms of your belonging—in love, creativity, and friendship—
Be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.
May the one you long for long for you. ...
May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
May you know the urgency with which God longs for you.
—John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us