Years ago I asked my boss for a computer password. He responded, “You should know this. Its is the most obvious answer. We are a ____ people.” Now, I’ve had a lot of church related jobs, but I didn’t think this was obvious. I thought there were a lot of possible answers. We are a loving people. We are a Jesus-following people. We are a gracious people. We are a beloved people. After a while, I tried “We are a resurrection people” and that got me close enough that I was informed the password was “Easter.”
I’ve thought about that every since. For my boss, it was SO obvious that “Easter” was the sort of people we are. For me, there are a lot of questions about what that means, and how we live it out. I yearn for the sort of certainty he had in thinking I could guess the password.
Every month I ask a question of the Church Council as a start to our meeting. I’m known for asking difficult questions, and this church is full of thoughtful, intentional, … strong-willed…. opinionated people. (I wouldn’t have it any other way.) Thus, I ask a difficult question, people offer a variety of different answers, I have a better sense of what people are thinking and we move on.
For the first time, after nearly 6 years, this month the Church Council found an ANSWER to my question. It started like normal. I asked, “Where are you seeing resurrection?,” and people offered many and varied answers. But then a pattern emerged, and was named. The most profound way people are seeing resurrection is in the restoration of relationships, and as a corollary, in the miracle of life-giving relationships themselves.
I thought this was a profound answer, a good way of knowing what it is to be Easter people, so I ran it by the Confirmation class. You would be delighted to know that our Confirmation class is very reflective of this church. The students are thoughtful, intentional, strong-willed, …. opinionated people. They have no patience for irrationality, and even less for exclusion in any form. Last week I ran this idea by them. We talked about resurrection, what it does and does not mean, and how we make sense of the metaphor for our lives today. I wasn’t sure that “restored relationships” would be as meaningful for teens as for those who had experienced brokenness in relationships for decades. It turns out, I was wrong.
They thought that “restored relationships” and “hope where it seems there is no hope” sounded both meaningful and valid as ways of understanding Easter.
Thus, I’m trusting the Church Council and the Confirmation class to be good tests of the pulse of this community, and I’m going to keep on preaching about restored relationships AS resurrection.
For those who aren’t quite with me yet though, I want to play with that wonderful line from Luke’s first Easter Story, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (v. 5) Within the story it functions to emphasize the empty grave, but it also seems well phrased for metaphorical contemplation. When else have we given up something “for dead” when there is still life in it? When have we discounted a possibility, including of a restored relationship, when God wasn’t done with it yet? What does it mean to be people looking for the living among the living, rather than among the dead?
Last week I quoted John Dominic Crossan’s assessment of Jesus’ teaching, namely that Jesus taught “that God has given all human beings the wisdom to discern how, here and now in this world, one can so live that God’s power, rule, and domination are evidently present to all observers.”1 That left us questioning how to live our lives being guided by that wisdom. Parker Palmer is a wisdom teacher, who teaches people how to find the power of life within themselves. It seems to me that his book his book “A Hidden Wholeness: A Journey Toward an Undivided Life” takes off where John Dominic Crossan off.
Parker Palmer believes in the power and wisdom of the soul, and since the word soul isn’t one I find easy to explain either, I’ll let him say what he means by that:
“Philosophers haggle about what to call this core of our humanity, but I’m not stickler for precision. Thomas Merton called it the true self. Buddhists call it original nature or big self. Quakers call it the inner teacher or the inner light. Hasidic Jews call it a spark of the divine. Humanists call it identity and integrity. In popular parlance, people often call it soul. … it is the objective, ontological reality of selfhood that keeps us form reducing ourselves, or each other, to biological mechanisms, psychological projections, sociological constructs, or raw material to be manufactured into whatever society needs – diminishments of our humanity that constantly threaten the quality of our lives.”2
I’m going to take it a step further and say that the soul is the source of the wisdom that Dom was talking about, “the wisdom to discern how, here and now in this world, one can so live that God’s power, rule, and domination are evidently present to all observers.” Our souls KNOW, we know, but to know we have to listen to our souls.
Throughout Lent we’ve been talking about spiritual practices. One might also say we’ve been talking about practices of listening to the Divine, to our own souls, and to each other’s souls. None of this is particularly easy, but Parker Palmer is the teacher who is focused on exactly that. He thinks most of the time we’re led by ego and by fear, which leads us to be divided from the wisdom of our own souls, “Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the ‘integrity that comes from being who you are.’”3 He calls us to wholeness, but cautions us that, “Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.”4
Isn’t THAT an interesting idea to consider on Easter? On this day when we think about resurrection, about restoration, about new hope and the power of life; what does it mean to think about wholeness as requiring acceptance of brokenness? Do we tend to think of resurrection as … perfection? I suspect we do. But that misses the point. God’s work in the world towards restoration doesn’t require nor create perfection. Perfection isn’t a part of life, and resurrection is about restoring LIFE. HOWEVER, God’s work in the world is always towards wholeness, and wholeness requires seeing, accepting, and making peace with brokenness.
Parker goes on to explain how we TEND to deal with this, “A divided life is a wounded life, and the soul keeps calling us to heal the wound. Ignore that call, and we find ourselves trying to numb our pain with an anesthetic of choice, be it substance abuse, overwork, consumerism, or mindless media noise. Such anesthetics are easy to come by in a society that wants to keep us divided and unaware of our pain – for the divided life that is pathological for individuals can serve social systems well, especially when it comes to those functions that are morally dubious.”5 Then he explains how to get OUT of that cycle, and the answer is both individual and communal. Palmer is a Quaker, and he believes there is a lot of power in silence, in quiet, and in listening. He encourages people to make space for silence in their lives, but he also says, “But we cannot embrace that challenge all alone, at least not for long; if we are to sustain the journey toward an undivided life. The journey has solitary passages, to be sure, and yet it is simply too arduous to take without the assistance of others. And because we we have such a vast capacity for self-delusion, we will inevitably get lost en route without correctives from outside of ourselves.”6
A few years ago I did an intensive training in the teachings of Parker Palmer. Much of what Palmer offers is based in the Quaker tradition. In living out these ideals in community, I discovered there was A LOT of power in them. We were taught to ask open, honest questions of each other, and to sit in silence especially when it was uncomfortable. We were invited to play with poetry and art, journaling, and conversation. We were taught that the soul is wise as all get out, but also shy and needing time, space, and metaphor to share its wisdom. We were taught to hold space for each other’s souls, both because souls are inherently precious, but also because every time a glimpse of a soul is seen, we learn about our own soul too. It is an unspoken part of Palmer’s worldview that souls are unique reflections of the Divine.
I have one more of his insights I want to share today: “All of the great spiritual traditions want to awaken us to the fact that we cocreate the reality in which we live. And all of them ask two questions intended to keep us awake: What are we sending form within ourselves out into the world, and what impact is it having ‘out there’? What is the world sending back at us, and what impact is it having ‘in here’? We are continually engaged in the evolution of self and world – and we have the power to choose, moment by moment, between that which gives life and that which deals death.”7 Isn’t that the question of Easter? How do we choose life? How do we work with God who chooses life in choosing life?
How do we live lives that REALLY show “that God has given all human beings the wisdom to discern how, here and now in this world, one can so live that God’s power, rule, and domination are evidently present to all observers.”8 How do we participate in and build community that loves people, and their souls, into a fuller wholeness; under the premise that whole people are a gift to the world? How do we build communities that reflect God’s goodness, wholeness, hope, and the power of God’s commitment to LIFE rather than death?
How do we allow God’s love, life, and wholeness into our lives so that we, and our relationships, can be restored? John Dominic Crossan believes that Jesus taught us we already know what we need to know, we already have the wisdom. Parker Palmer says that wisdom is in our souls, and to access the wisdom we need some quiet, and we need others who also trust in the wisdom of our souls.
This is what we know: God is a God of LIVE, not death; the wisdom you need to lead a transformed life is already with you; there are people who trust in your wisdom and are willing to help you find it; silence is a valuable asset in listening to the soul; metaphor, art, and open-honest questions matter too; AND… this is a community that has been and will continue to love people AS THEY ARE. That love then means that people can safely let their souls out to play, and grow further and further into who God calls us to be. We are a safe place for souls, and that means we are a safe place for LIFE. Maybe, after all, we are an Easter people. May it ALWAYS be so. Amen
1 John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus: Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Stories of The Death of Jesus (USA: HarperSanFrancisco: 1995) 47.
2 Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward the Undivided Self(USA: Josey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, 2004), 33.
3 Palmer, 4.
4 Palmer, 5.
5 Palmer, 20.
6 Palmer, 10.
7 Palmer, 48.
8 John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus: Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Stories of The Death of Jesus (USA: HarperSanFrancisco: 1995) 47.
Rev. Sara E. Baron
First United Methodist Church of Schenectady
603 State St. Schenectady, NY 12305
April 21, 2019