Monday, April 26, 2010
The folks at the retreat seemed especially glad to hear I would be posting the meditations to my blog. (Just in case they were dozing) So here's the rest of the first address:
Then the devil led Jesus up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" (Luke 4.5-8)
We’re told in the Bible that these temptations all occurred at the end of Jesus’ time in the desert. (We don’t know what he was doing in the beginning… gathering wood, finding a rock for his head, looking out for snakes or scorpions… but at the end of his time he was more vulnerable than he’d been at the beginning. He was hungry. (Famished the Bible says) and he was no doubt grubby beyond belief, wanting a bath, a change to sweeter smelling clothes.
We know what that’s like. Early stages of crisis tend to bring out the best in us… later stages the worst.
Even in a given day, patience, compassion, and any ability to handle stress or adversity ebbs and flows. For me, an incident that hardly touches me in the morning can feel like a huge weight by the end of the day. So… when our patience ebbs and flows, what do we do? What’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Run away from home.
It's in those moments that we’re especially vulnerable, not only to our lesser instincts: irritability, frustration, condescension… but to the powers of darkness.
Satan offered Jesus escape. If he would just worship him, “all the kingdoms of the world” could be his. He could escape not only the wilderness, get a bath, change his clothes, but he could also escape the dreary oppression of his Jewish heritage. He could escape his own personal invisibility. He could escape everything that ties us down as humans.
Escape is the devil's deal. It comes up over and over again. If we’ll only forget our identity (our identity as children of God) and accept the easier path of evil, we can escape… all boundaries, all commitments, all worries, all consequences, all suffering.
We know the truth, of course. It never works out. We just trade in one misery for another… out of the frying pan into the fire.
Of course it doesn’t make the “deal” seem any less appealing. But our survival depends on remembering the truth. And that truth is the devil can’t deliver. Not just won’t, but can’t.
Jesus told us he was the father of lies. “Glory and Authority” haven’t been given to the devil. Those things stay with God.
So, whatever we think will help us escape: one more drink, an affair, a shopping spree, chocolate… cruelty… shunning anyone we consider lesser than… all those are just new bonds of oppression.
Even a retreat can promise escape. We’re in a special place, a “deserted place” because it’s empty of all our normal concerns. Some call it mountaintop (and not just because we’re up high, looking over the valley,) but because it’s away from our daily routine.
If your time here is blessed, it may be an intense experience, Maybe joyful even. But it may be sorrowful… because you can finally stop all the diversions and commitments that keep you on daily auto-pilot. When those fade into the silence, the real fears… the major concerns we’re normally not facing, can get our undivided attention.
So this time away, in this deserted quiet place, can be stressful. Or relaxing. It can be exhausting. Or energizing. And that’s because it’s about you. There’s no bills to pay, no office work, no meals to fix. We’re here. In the center of the universe.
But then, of course, it’s time to leave.
And when you get home your family didn’t share your experience. Your colleagues at work aren’t interested. You may want to share your experience so they can feel what you felt (whatever it was) because… Because you want to keep those feelings alive. For you. Nobody’s interested. It’s not that they’re hostile, or don’t care, they are just distracted.
More than likely, you’ll feel a sense of isolation. You grieve what you had because you’re losing it— bit by bit.
Now comes the frustration. You have to resume everyday life.
So, where is our faith in all this? That’s the dilemma. Since faith can seem like the ultimate mountaintop experience, that same experience causes a problem. It drives an emotional wedge between faith and life. As much as we pledge to and want to “venture forth in ministry” that ministry is probably back home. Back at work, back in the neighborhood, back on the very streets we have so enjoyed being away from.
What would Jesus do?
Well, we know what he did. He always came back.
He never stayed long in the deserted places or on the mountaintop. He kept moving, working his way back to the common ground of everyday life. That common ground is faith’s venue.
Thomas Merton wrote a lot about conversion of life. Conversion of life isn’t about attending retreats. A retreat may help, but only if we leave it behind.
So this weekend… here’s the invitation: come away to your deserted place and look inside. Ask yourself this question: What is it that you uniquely care about? What is the fire that is yours alone?
Jesus tapped into the fire burning in a few dozen men and women. He tapped longings that went deep enough to claim their lives.
So, for now, instead of reciting what the church tells us we ought to care about, lets just be explorers. And explore what we do care about. Let your longing, your yearnings… be your guide. That’s where God will meet you. That’s where you will meet God.
Now there’s a difference between escape and sabbath.
Sabbath is deliberately resting so you can go back. You press pause.
But that doesn’t mean the movie stops.
Jesus retreated to his deserted place. He pressed the pause button and gave himself the time he needed to recharge, to renew, to return to the world. It’s an art… this pressing pause. And we only learn by doing it.