One of my favorite places to walk has a path that leads down from a beautiful overlook. All along the path on the right currently are flowers (black eyed Susan’s I think) that are waiting to bloom. A few have come to bloom but right now, most are still just round bulbs waiting for beauty to emerge. I admit that I’m getting impatient with them. In my heart and my mind I can see them all blooming at once and just seeing this incredible line of beauty lining the path. But it isn’t there yet. But I’ve been struck by a few of the bulbs that are just starting to emerge. There are the tiniest bits of yellow poking out of the green like the one in the picture for today.
This morning came the familiar passage from Matthew 25 where Jesus speaks of the separation of the sheep and the goats and a judgment based upon whether our lives were marked by compassion, generosity, and love or whether they were focused on self-interest. He speaks of how when we fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited the imprisoned, that when we did these things, we did them to Jesus. As I read that list, I feel like we are going backwards today. Compassion and love seem to be taking a backseat to fear and self-interest. There was an opinion article on cnn.com this week that spoke of how last week was a bad week for the God of love. So very true.
And it is easy to get frustrated. It is easy to feel that the hard work isn’t necessary because we’re not seeing the flowering of compassion and love. In fact, I had a text conversation yesterday with a friend of mine in ministry who shared essentially that – that the church was losing sight of the bigger picture in favor of the “color of the carpet” debates. And my message to him (and one that I need to remind myself of regularly too) is that the blooms aren’t all going to come at once. The beauty won’t emerge all at once or it won’t emerge on the schedule we want. I can envision in my heart and mind what the church can be in the world but it may not emerge in that way. But even when it feels like nothing is happening, if we slow down enough we’ll see the blooms that are beginning to emerge. We’ll hear about that one life changed. The emerging blooms are there.
That doesn’t mean that we simply just stand by and wait to see if something happens. We have to do the work. I am going to keep walking that path and looking for the new blooms to emerge. I’m going to keep on trying to follow the path that Jesus has laid before us to be a people of justice, love, compassion, and grace.
This morning Richard Rohr continued his series on the writings of Howard Thurman and what Rohr shared from Thurman this morning spoke into this for me.
The place and significance of spiritual disciplines and exercises cannot be overemphasized. It is important, however, to understand what that significance is. There is no necessitous relationship between the disciplines and the awareness of God’s presence. All disciplines of this character are meant to “ready” the mind, the emotions, the spirit. They are no guarantor of Presence.
This is the miracle, the heights and depths of wonder and awe. God reveals His Presence out of the mystery of Being. With all of my passionate endeavor, I cannot command that He obey. All of my prayers, my meditation, my vast and compelling urgency or need cannot order, woo or beg God into the revealing of His Presence. Even my need and my desperation cannot command Him. There is an overwhelming autonomy here; God does move in a mysterious way His wonders to perform. But He is so full of such wonderful and heartening surprises.
In the total religious experience we learn how to wait; we learn how to ready the mind and the spirit. It is in the waiting, brooding, lingering, tarrying timeless moments that the essence of the religious experience becomes most fruitful. It is here that I learn to listen, to swing wide the very doors of my being, to clean out the corners and the crevices of my life—so that when His Presence invades, I am free to enjoy His coming to Himself in me. . . .
I work at preparing my mind, my spirit for the moment when God comes to Himself in me. When it happens, I experience His Presence. When this experience becomes an object of thought and reflection, it is then that my mind creates dogmas, creeds and doctrines. These are the creations of the mind and are therefore always after the fact of the religious experience. But they are always out of date. The religious experience is always current, always fresh. In it I hear His Voice in my own tongue and in accordance with the grain in my own wood. In that glorious and transcendent moment, it may easily seem to me that all there is, is God.
(Howard Thurman, Temptations of Jesus: Five Sermons given in Marsh Chapel, Boston University, 1962 (Friends United Press: 1978), 14-15. See Howard Thurman: Essential Writings, ed. Luther E. Smith, Jr. (Orbis: 2006), 45-46.)