Glimpsing God

Whether it is our own craziness or the craziness of other people, we do everythig we can to avoid it.  but if we are willing to face it, we may be surprised at what we see.

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Glimpsing God

June 19, 2016 – Luke 8:26-39

 

            I’m back from my eight-day meditation retreat.  The retreats I’ve been going on have been ten-day retreats.  It was surprising to me how much shorter eight-days feel than ten-days!

            It was also surprising to me, how long it took me settle in.  There is always some transition period, but this time it seemed to take a bit longer.  It took me longer to let go of the things I left behind as well as the things I was coming back to.  I had been looking forward to the retreat for quite a while and so probably had more expectations of what it would be like for me.  And there was my usual resistance that, even after all of my years of practice, I still experience every time I sit down.

            After arriving on Thursday evening, it really wasn’t until Monday morning that the retreat started to take hold.  I had signs of it on Sunday afternoon.  I heard myself thinking, “Chris, what are you afraid of?”

Then on Monday morning (at the 5:00 a.m. session) the teacher was saying, “…and there is the next thing and the next thing and the next thing and the next thing.  And then the music stops.  Everything comes to a standstill.  And you find yourself in a basement in Wisconsin.”

            And I thought, “OK, here we go!”  Then I began to see more clearly the patterns, the habits, and the stories in my mind.  They are the mental programs that are constantly running by which I try to calm myself and help myself feel okay.  And if those don’t do it, I check Facebook for the umpteenth time, or do yet one more New York Times crossword puzzle, or pick up a bag of mint M&Ms.  And the next thing and the next thing and the next thing and…

            So then I stop.  I sit and use my breath to calm and ground me.  I try to watch the craziness as it comes up without reacting to it.  If I can watch what is going on without trying to stop it or get rid of it, then I can begin to see this merry-go-round more clearly.  I am less likely to get caught up in it and be driven by it.  And, within all this craziness, I can sense a place of calm and security and acceptance.

            But the key is to face the craziness I am feeling, rather than avoiding it.  For it was only in facing the craziness that I was able find the calm.  And in the calm I catch a glimpse of the work of God.

 

            It may surprise you to know that my favorite passage in the Bible related to meditation is not Elijah and the still, small voice.  It is not Psalm 46 that says, “Be still and know that I am God.”  It is not Jesus saying to Martha, “You are worried and distracted out many things.  Only one thing is necessary.”

            My favorite passage about meditation is the story about the Gerasene demoniac.

            Luke 8 begins with the Parable of the Sower and the Seed.  While it has a number of possible interpretations, this parable has most often been understood by the church as a lesson about mission.  Seed should be spread everywhere.  Some of it will be rejected.  Some of it will be ignored. Some will be lost.  But there will be some, even in the unlikeliest places, that will take root and grow and bear abundant fruit.

            Jesus then takes the disciples on a mission trip.  They get in the boat and sail across the Sea of Galilee.  It’s a rough trip.  A storm blows in and nearly capsizes the boat.  The disciples are all terrified they will die.  Jesus wakes up and yells at the wind and the waves.  This kills the storm and calms the sea. 

            Jesus says to them, “Don’t you have any faith?”

            They look at each other and say, “Who is this guy?”

            They reach the other side of the sea.  They are in a foreign land – the land of the Gerasenes.  They are greeted by a crazy person – a man possessed by demons.  He is so crazy that he wears no clothes; he breaks whatever chains are put on him; he is under constant guard; and he lives in the cemetery.  No one will go near him, because this was one crazy dude!

            This is the man that greets Jesus when he steps out on shore.  He falls at Jesus’ feet and shouts – the demon shouts – Why do you keep pestering me, Jesus?  You are the Son of the most high God.”

            Jesus asked the demon its name and it replied, “Legion,” because it was not one but a whole army of demons who had possessed him.  They begged him not to order them into the bottomless pit, but rather into a herd of pigs that was eating on a hillside.

            That’s what Jesus did.  He exorcised the demon from the man and ordered it into the herd of pigs.  This drove the pigs mad. They rushed off the cliff, fell into the sea and drowned.

            Now I have to admit that, to me, this is the most bizarre story in the New Testament.  I understand some of it – that pigs were considered unclean animals by Jews.  But, even so, I want to say, “Jesus, I love you, man, but you’re weirding me out!”

            What happens next, though, is that the pig-herders run into the local village and tell them what happen.  The villagers, in turn, come out to see for themselves.  They see Jesus and, to their enormous surprise, they see the formerly crazy man, sitting at the feet of Jesus, fully clothes and fully in his right mind.

            This freaked people out.  So, they asked Jesus to leave.  And, surprisingly, he gets up to leave.  The man begs to go with him.  Again, surprisingly, Jesus tells him no.  Instead, he instructs him.  “Go home and tell everyone what God has done in you.”

            So, the first missionary to the Gentiles is not Paul or Barnabas or Peter.  It is this crazy dude that no one would go near.

 

            Before I left on retreat, I started a book called, “The Patient in Room 9 Thinks He’s God,” by Louis M. Profeta, M.D.  Dr. Profeta is an emergency room doctor, as well as a lifelong Jew.

            In his work, he sees all kinds of people.  He has learned not to judge them too quickly, but rather to look for God’s work in everyone. He tells of a Jewish legend that claims that God has placed 36 ‘Tzadikim Nistarim’ – holy, hidden men that God has placed on earth to carry the sins of the world.  They may not even know that is their role, but as soon as one of them dies, God replaces him.

            Dr. Profeta says that whether or not the legend is true, it is a reminder not to judge the soul of a person by what we see on the outside.  Then he tells this story:

 

            When I encountered one of the 36 righteous men, I did not recognize ‘her’.  She was elderly, ill and disheveled.  She had been sent from a nursing home with a spurious reputation.  She smelled of soiled undergarments, and her mouth was cracked and dried. She had a dirty catheter extending from her bladder.  Her nails were long and unkempt.  The elderly woman’s hair was white, greasy, and matted to her head.  Flakes of dry skin encrusted her hairline.

            I hurried into the room with an assembly line sense of importance.  I scanned her nursing home chart.  I made note of her past history of dementia, sepsis, congestive heart failure, and chronic urinary tract infections.  I flew through my exam, no problem. An old, dry, sepsis catheter urine infection.  Antibiotics, call her doc, and make the room ready for the next patient.  That was when I truly saw ‘her’.

            I was leaving the room and glanced up at her lying in the bed.  I saw her again.  Only that time, she was a child: a soft, clean vibrantly innocent child.  She was playing on a porch somewhere in the Midwest during the 1920s.  A small rag doll danced and flayed as she clutched it in her hand.  She laughed with her barefoot brother, who was clad in overalls.  He chased her around the yard with a grasshopper on his finger. She screamed with laughter.  Her father watched from the porch in a wooden rocker, laughing while Mom gently scolder her brother.  That was when I saw her taking a ride for the first time in an automobile.  It was a small pickup with wooden panels driven by a young man with wavy curls.  He smiled gently at her while she sat staring at the road ahead, her hands folded in her lap, clutching a small beaded purse.

            That was when I saw her standing in a small church.  She was dressed in white cotton, holding hands with the young man, and saying, “I do.”  Her mom watched with tearful eyes.  Her dad had since passed.  Her new husband lifted her across the threshold, holding her tight.  He promised to love and care for her forever.  Her life was enriched, happy.

            That was when I saw her cradling her infant, cooking breakfast, hanging sheets, loving her family, sending her husband off to war, and her child to school.

            That was when I saw her welcoming her husband back from battle with a hug that lasted the rest of his life.  She buried him on a Saturday under an elm, next to her father.  She married off her child and spent her later years volunteering at church functions.  In time, she lost her friends and disappeared into the nursing home as her mind and her family slowly faded away.

            That was when I saw her as a reflection of God: a righteous, pious spirit trapped, crying for help, crying for comfort and dignity.  So I went back and put my hand on her cheek.  I told her, “I am here. I will take care of you.” Though there was no response, I talked about my kids, the weather, how Reggie Miller lit up the Knicks, and how sorry I was that she had to go through all of this discomfort.  I helped the nurse clean her off.  We washed and combed her hair, scrubbed and gently massaged her hands, and offered her a brief visit into the past.

            That was the day my eyes were opened. I didn’t know why, it just happened.  It was the day I saw a person, not a patient.  I saw a soul, not a sickness.  (p. 5-7)

 

            God does not always work in the people we expect.  Sometimes God works in the strangest places and in the strangest people.

            Whether it is the crazy people we see or the craziness of our own minds, we can look for God there, because God is present.

            In this way we know the work of God.  In this way we know the wonder of God.  In this way we know the grace of God – in Jesus.