Reflection: January 21

Published on Jan 21st, 2018 by Rev. David Boyd | 0

         Many years ago, I heard a wonderful storyteller tell the story of Jonah; she told it vividly, with humour, and straight off the cuff. It really brought this quaint, odd little story of Jonah alive.

         Jonah, as a Biblical book, is included in the section of the Bible that is called “The Prophets.” It isn’t a prophetic book in any sense that we’ve known. Jonah is the least likely to be a prophet as he runs away from God, is swallowed whole by a Great Fish and then expelled in one great undigestible moment. Jonah, in the end, does what God asks and then argues with God because the Nineveh people actually repented; Jonah didn’t expect that! And he demanded that God not change God’s mind. Like the book of Job, the end of Jonah has God telling him a thing or two about the universe.

         And like Job, which is a much longer story, Jonah is a legend, a tale told to counteract a prevailing viewpoint in popular society. In Job’s case, it was the popular viewpoint that when we suffer, it is because we’ve done something wrong. Job proved this to be a false notion. With Jonah, it was a tale where Jonah represented the prevailing viewpoint that God did not concern God’s self with other nations and peoples; God was only for the Chosen People. Jonah initially refused to go to Nineveh and when the people repented, Jonah was petulant that God didn’t follow through anyway. But, essentially, Jonah didn’t see the value of going in the first place. “Who is my kin that I should worry about others outside of my own people?” was Jonah’s question.

         And again like Job, which would take longer to tell, storytellers would tell the tale of Jonah whenever nationalism would rear its head. “Do you remember the story of Jonah,” they might begin. “You know… he was the one who didn’t think God should be concerned about the plight of other nations. He was swallowed by a fish. Does that ring a bell? And when the Ninevites repented, remember, he argued with God? And what did God do? God caused a tree to grow to give shade to Jonah and then sent a worm to eat and kill the tree, and then said, ‘Should I not be concerned about Nineveh, a city of 120,000 people and many animals?!’” One hopes that people would hang their heads and realize that God is the Creator, not just of one people, but of the vast universe and all its diversity.

         Oh, for a storyteller today who could tell a modern-day story to set us on a different course, a course of peace and kinship, a course of love and compassion!

         I’ve been having a very personal struggle in my head and heart this new year of 2018. I went through Christmas with a sense of hope and joy, trying to embody the story of love in my living and meditative/prayer practice. But as I began to think about 2018, I fell into a bit of a funk. 2017 was a challenging year for world peace, refugees, wars, poverty, losing loved ones, and global warming—2017 was the second warmest year on record and with no El Nino! I kept thinking that we haven’t learned anything and we deserve our fate as human beings. We haven’t really repented of our consumptive ways and behaviours. And then along came Epiphany, with its emphasis on light and the gifts that lift us up and build the forces of love and compassion, helpful and beautiful. And then I listen to the news… and then I see a beautiful sunset… I go back and forth in my struggle, kind of like Tevya in Fidler on the Roof—“on the other hand…” especially at night!

         But, as I’ve continued my meditation practice and have read widely from Buddhism to Jewish philosophy to our own Christian mystics, and as I listened to Sinixt elder, Shelly Boyd, on Thursday evening, I’ve swung back to the view that God hasn’t stopped speaking, as I said last week in my sermon, and that in fact, with God, we CAN make changes to our world to save future generations from even more dire challenges.

         The likes of Brother David Stiendl-Rast, or a Tibetan Buddhist writer I’ve been reading, Tarthang Tulku, have been helpful; and the likes of Macrina Wiederkehr, who wrote, “We live in a world of theophanies (ie: “an appearance by God”). Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. There are burning bushes all around you. Every tree is full of angels. Hidden beauty is waiting in every crumb. Life wants to lead you from crumbs to angels, but this can happen only if you are willing to unwrap the ordinary by staying with it long enough to harvest its treasure.”[1] Taking time for reflection, meditation, and simply being, allows us to process the ordinary around us and see the extraordinary; gathering with others as people have done this weekend, to stand for something, also is important. Taking time to sort through what is life-giving, separating the chaff from the wheat, is vital to keeping a perspective that is based in hope and love.

         While we face the call of God to repent, to turn about from our destructive ways, we can only make these changes together. That’s the Good News that Jesus spoke about. We can change. At our “Encountering Climate Justice” event Thursday night here at Nelson United, we heard Shelly offer Sinixt teachings about moving beyond separation and dualistic divisions of us and them. Unity and oneness are what we seek. She told a story from her grandmother about a time of drought; one of the members, as they all gathered to pray, brought an umbrella.

If we live in a place of despair and hopelessness, we will only see division and destruction in our future; but, if we take time to breathe, to pray, to reflect, to gather with others, we will see new burning bushes that call us to healing and hope. We will see little miracles that help us find new expressions of love. We will see the power of community and unity to move beyond the divisive nature of capitalism and competition.

         And while Jesus’ call to the 1st disciples was probably not quite how it happened; they probably didn’t immediately leave their nets. But they did leave them, and they joined Jesus’ call to hear the Good News that repentance is possible, that empire is not the way, and that we can turn around and be made new. The small ordinary things in our lives, infused with God’s divine spark of love, are pointing the way. We follow! Together! In unity and with hope!

         Amen.


[1] Quoted from There are Burning Bushes All Around You.

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