February 3rd 2019, The Rev. Sue Eaves
The “Trembling Space” That Connects One Another
As I write my last “Jottings” for St. Paul’s, I am reminded that good-byes are anything but easy and this one has proved to be no exception. You have been unceasing in your generous good wishes and expressions of affection. As the recipient of all this kindness, I am both moved and humbled.
All has served to remind me that to be human is to be connected to each other. To be human is to desire and need those connections. We discover our humanity most fully when we are in relationship with another. Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, pointed out that in any relationship there are three components: I, thou, and I-thou. What he meant was that as well as the two people in relationship, the relationship itself forms a “person,” too. Each person comes to a relationship with that unique and sacred self that God has given unto the world. The new “person” is the I-thou, which exists between those in relationship to each other. It is a relationship of great love and beauty. It does not obliterate the individual, but is a creation in itself.
This way of understanding our relationships is powerful. It helps explain why we experience our connections with each other as bigger than ourselves. Amazing things happen in that trembling space that connects one to the other. As individuals we can achieve little on our own, but together we can move mountains. Together, there is the potential for inspiration, creation, imagination, and the incarnation of love.
I will no longer be an immediate part of this community. Our I-thou is moving away from the immediacy of physical presence. For me, that brings a sense of great sadness. I have loved being with you and that isn’t something you just switch off. A wise friend tells me that our most sincere prayers are those of thanksgiving, because they are unsullied by self-centeredness. If this is so, and I believe it is, your living has been the source of my truest moments. Your faith, your individual struggles to respond to God’s loving will, your communal goodwill and dignity have often brought me to my knees in awe.
In saying this, I see afresh that our connection is not lost, for it is in thanksgiving we are eternally together. Thank God.
The Rev. Susan N. Eaves
Coming Up With Different Answers
I remember my eldest son’s history teacher explaining to the parents at orientation that if she said something was a certain way then it was the truth, even if she was wrong. She later proved the veracity of her statement when my son had the audacity to write the correct definition of evolution on a test. It wasn’t her definition – so she marked it as being wrong.
The gospel is constantly calling us out of our own little worlds into a wider and more generous life. God calls us to move beyond our own perspectives and to truly see the beauty and need that surrounds us. That was what made Jesus so extraordinary. He didn’t just stand there and tell people how he thought things should be or what they should do. He looked first. He listened first. And he looked with the eyes and ears of a heart attuned to God’s infinite compassion.
Jesus saw through the shallow, rule-keeping version of faith shared by so many of his countrymen – rules used to keep people in their place and order the universe according to their human understanding and power. Instead, he sought to find God’s love and truth in God’s world. He was a child of a great and ancient tradition of faith, and his faith insisted there was more to come.
His pilgrimage in life brought him closer and closer to the reality of God’s presence in the whole world. He invited that presence to teach him what to do, how to go forward, and what to say – which is precisely why the institutional religious leaders of the day became so angry. They saw themselves as the guardian of the tradition, as those qualified to make judgment, and as the keepers of a truth already revealed and fixed.
Jesus was offensive to them because as a devout practitioner of the same faith, he had come up with different answers, and he acted accordingly. God, in Jesus’ view, was doing things God’s way and it was all about making all things new all the time.
So “he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”
Are you ready?
The Rev. Susan N. Eaves
January 20th 2019, The Rev. Sue Eaves
Where’s the Wine Gone?
I think the people of St. Paul’s would have loved to have been the guests at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. We love food, we love a good time, we love to be together, and we love to have things to celebrate. The wedding feast would have been all of those things and more – a festive setting, special clothes, and the best the host had to offer.
Which is why it was so nearly a disaster.
The greatest dread of any host is to run out of what is needed; food or drink, space or seats, or whatever is being expected and offered for the well-being of the guest. In this case, to run out of wine at a wedding was particularly humiliating. It was the bridegroom’s duty and pride to make sure that everyone would have a good time and tell the story of what a special occasion it had been. Instead, he found himself with empty wine jars and on the verge of having to reveal that he had not provided sufficiently for the banquet.
We can all think of times when we have been “called out” on some deficiency, mistake, or inadequacy. There is that moment of cold shame before the truth is revealed, the moment when we know ourselves as having fallen short, for good reason or bad. Just imagine (or remember) being on the verge of such a moment and being reprieved; of discovering that the worst was not about to be revealed after all. The relief! The fresh start!
Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine is many things, but not least, it was the saving grace of that day for the bridegroom. His provision had been inadequate and he expected to be shamed. Instead, the best wine was saved until the last through the generous love of the One who had come to love the world. So let us join the feast, eat, drink, rejoice, and know we are loved just as we are.
The Rev. Susan N. Eaves
Last Sunday, on the feast of the Epiphany, we left the infant Jesus lying in a manger being adored by wise men from the east. This week, we assemble to greet Jesus on the day of his baptism and the beginning of his journey to the cross. The comfort and intimacy of new birth has been replaced by engagement with the world about us, by “business as usual.”
Just as Jesus left hearth and home to answer God’s call so we, at our own baptism, have been called into the demands of life in community. For us, this is not a private and personal spirituality, but the raw demand of a world waiting to be loved and our humble response to that need. Each of us is engaged on the work of discernment, of asking what God would have us do, and then asking for strength to do it. It was not easy for Jesus, and the gospel contains no promise that it will be easy for us.
Baptism is our moment of connection to the Epiphany, to God showing God’s self to the world. God’s love is made known in Jesus. As Jesus emerges from the waters of baptism and the heavens open before him the voice says, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” God shows us who Jesus truly is.
Consider: to declare the object of one’s love as “beloved” is to knowingly become vulnerable for the sake of the other. It is a conscious decision. Embracing that kind of love will be costly, evoking both joy and suffering. Equally, to experience oneself as “beloved” of another is a deeply moving and sacred experience. To be beloved is to be the one to whom love has been given without reservation. Such love holds before us the possibility of profound and transforming response; a response taking us beyond anything we could imagine for ourselves. This is the relationship shared between God and Jesus.
At the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, we are reminded we have become the beloved of God through our own baptism. In claiming that love, we are called to the possibility of profound and transforming response for ourselves and, in the end, all humanity.
The Rev. Susan N. Eaves
Traveling Light, Creating “Holy Space”
This coming Sunday, we remember the travelers who visited the infant Jesus at his birth. They came bearing gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh – and came from a far place following a distant star. They came seeking power and expected a king. They arrived at the door of the stable and discovered not a king, but vulnerability in the form of an infant lying in a manger.
They were brought to their knees by that child. They laid down their gifts and were freed to see our world as God sees. Their reality was changed from a worldview of authorities who maintained control through magic or governments, armies, or kings, to a worldview which recognized the power of God’s glory, which is whole, pure love.
For us to enter the place where we can be brought to our knees, we will have to make a conscious decision to turn our eyes to the star in the heavens. To enter the stable where all love, all hope, and all faith is incarnate in a tiny child, we will need to travel light, lest our hands become too full to receive the gift the child offers to us. That travel takes time, prayer takes time, and the heart takes time to grow the space into which love can enter.
Creating that time and space will mean letting go of a few things and settling for not having everything just the way you feel it should be. It means inhabiting our own limitations and those of others more fully. But the creation of a holy space is the very space where God “whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” In discovering that wholeness and joy, we are released from unrealistic expectations and we can stand in wonder at the stable door. The load will indeed be lighter, the star brighter, and the baby more beautiful than we could imagine.
Then we may join in the words of the Eastern Orthodox liturgy:
O my child, child of sweetness
How is it I hold thee, Almighty?
And how that I feed thee
Who givest bread to all?
How is it that I swaddle thee,
Who with the clouds encompasseth the whole earth?
The Rev. Susan N. Eaves
January 6th 2019, The Rev. Sue Eaves
Be Truth, Be Love, Be Mercy and Justice
In the pause after the mystery of Christmas Day, we pay little attention to the feast days that follow immediately after: that of St. Stephen the martyr (depicted above), the first to die for our faith; that of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist and the author of the great fourth gospel; and finally, the commemoration of the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.
These days stand in stark contrast to the stories of birth, angels, shepherds, and light. They remind us of the urgency of our task. All is not yet complete. St. Stephen calls us to be truth, St. John calls us to be love, and the Holy Innocents cry out for our mercy and justice. These are the tasks God sets before us as we contemplate the coming of a new year.
We live in a real world, not a fairy tale. Despite our world of bright lights and holiday celebration, there is darkness still. Yet we claim darkness can never overcome the light again and, in truth, the whole world longs for this moment. Our world is seeking a god who makes all our living significant, a kind god who will love and cherish us, a merciful god who will love and restore us, a strong god who will love and empower us, and a god who will make all things new. The stable and the manger have announced the time has come to make that real. That moment is now.
We have work to do. God has set us on the journey. We are to be love, peace, and mercy, truth, justice, and hope. We are to be these things so that the world may know “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
And it changed everything.
Peace and blessings,
The Reverend Susan N. Eaves
“God Becomes a Helpless Child”
In the church in which I grew up, I recall being fascinated by the church crèche. We didn’t have any kind of nativity scene at my home, so this immense crèche, dragged out from storage each year, was very impressive. Many years before, some faithful Christian had made a thatched stable to house the large and beautiful plaster figures – Mary, Joseph, the manger, ox, donkey, sheep, shepherds, and of course the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. The babe itself never appeared until Christmas Eve. We knew Christmas had really arrived when we saw it placed in the manger – a kind of plaster promise that love was real and that God had really come.
The crèche was usually erected in the back of the church in the baptistery, which contained the font. So the birth of Christ and the birth of God’s sons and daughters through baptism were to be found in the same place. It was dark back there in the back of the church, and the soft yellow light of the crèche was comforting. I always went to look at the crèche whenever I went to the church. I would stand before it and study the figures. I was looking for something. That was why I had come – although I couldn’t put words to what I was looking for, words to what this birth is all about.
How can any of us imagine we can capture God in mere words? We can be aware only of our very real longing to know that God is real and that we are loved. The Christmas event is about both that longing and that love. We have turned up, in part, to seek out a mystery. To enter once more the story of a night two millennia ago that has echoed down the years until this moment. We know from experience that this is a thin place – a place where the veil between God and ourselves has become transparent, where the invisible might at any moment become visible. This night is the night where, like the shepherds, we can enter the darkness and find it is light.
It is a dark world at times – layers of sadness, disillusionment, suffering, deprivation, anger, and brokenness infuse our common life. But we somehow sense that what happens in the stable is a tale for all time. It is the Word set over and against the darkness we fear and which threatens to overwhelm us – darkness we may try to hold at bay with gifts and parties and children and food – but a darkness that inhabits our souls nevertheless. Present with the Christ child, our instincts tell us that while it is there, while it is darkness still, we need live no longer in fear.
Those hardy shepherds hurried to the stable as the angels commanded them. They found no great spectacle, but a small homeless family huddled over a newborn child laid in a feeding trough. On the one hand, it was a scene depicting the most ordinary of human events. On the other, it was the birth of the greatest mystery of all – of God, of love, given into and expressed through the tiny body of this fragile newborn child.
Mystery may well be glimpsed in visions and dreams and signs, but true mystery is to be found in what is already here – in the apparently ordinary and generally unremarkable daily-ness of life. Mystery is enshrined in the very stuff of our own living – in a baby, in the courage of his young mother, in the unselfish and generous love of her betrothed, in birth, in shepherds who believed and were fed by what they saw.
God reaches out to us by becoming a helpless child, by surrendering into our frail and flawed arms, by God giving God into our power asking to be loved. No wonder we want to be connected to the light in the midst of darkness; to enter the mystery and wander about in it forever. Like the shepherds, we are not after solutions. We want to see and to be part of whatever God has in store.
Blessings for this holy season,
The Reverend Susan N. Eaves