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Posts Tagged ‘wholeness’

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Do You Want to be Made Well?

 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” John 5:5-6

In this scene, Jesus is passing by a series of pools near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. There was a belief that when the water stirred, the first person into the pool would be healed. People with various afflictions surrounded the pools. One man had been there many years but had no one to help him into the water at its stirring, and so he remained on the sideline, unhealed. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be made well?” At first glance, this question is a head-scratcher. The Bible tells us he had been ill for thirty-eight years. Why would he not want to be healed?

As a college student, I worked at a nursery that occasionally hired people just released from prison as laborers. One man, Harold, was in his fifties and seemed like a gentle, good-natured soul. After a couple of weeks, Harold stopped coming to work. I was shocked to find out he had borrowed a gun, held up a liquor store, and returned to prison. Never mind that the gun was not loaded and that he waited outside the store for the police to pick him up. Apparently, Harold did not want his freedom if it meant hard, physical work and low wages in return for a meager existence. While I could not fathom why anyone would willingly go back to prison, he must have felt life was better there. Sometimes, we gain comfort from what is familiar. Some people, like Harold, may not have the support system required to transition to a different life.

There are numerous examples of people working hard to maintain a status quo that is neither helpful nor forward-moving, let alone one that reaches a fraction of what is possible. For example, our political system is dominated by two parties seemingly more interested in preserving the issues that define them than in finding solutions for those issues. I suppose the fear is that without abortion, taxes, immigration, a border wall, or the myriad of perpetual issues that divide us, politicians would have no purpose. They might lose not only their identity, but also their jobs.

While that may sound ludicrous, I do not believe it is far from the truth. In fact, my guess is that most of us hold onto certain traits because they have become part of our identity, no matter how painful or limiting those traits might be. Our desire for uniqueness is so strong, we may hold onto whatever sets us apart, ridiculous or not. In this context, Jesus’ question, “Do you want to be made well?” is not a crazy question at all. There are many reasons why we may not want to be made well. More generally, what is it that we really want? Do we want to hold onto our afflictions? Do we prefer imprisonment to freedom? Are we afraid that letting go of a toxic identity will leave us in anonymity?

I associate these questions with those who have yet to find their identity in the family of God. We have a perfectly unique, never-to-be-duplicated identity at our core, just as we are, without any of our imprisoning afflictions. In fact, the more we hold onto unhealthy, but defining qualities, the more deeply our true self is hidden. On the other hand, the freer we become, the more our true self shines through. Contrary to how it may sound, we do not lose anything worth keeping as our true self emerges; rather, we become more like the person we always imagined ourselves to be – secure, helpful, loving, and loved.

When Jesus asks, “Do you want to be made well,” he is really asking, “Do you want to be made whole?” Is not wholeness at the heart of every longing? I think we fear wholeness because we feel safe with what is familiar. We fear change. Wholeness cannot assure a comfortable, predictable life, but wholeness does assure inclusion into what is. Do we want to be made well? Are we ready for Christ to transform us into the image of God we were created to manifest? If we wish to reach for our potential, we must risk what is comfortable and familiar and, like the man beside the pool, make a conscious choice to be made well.

This is the 31st in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

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Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 15: Brokenness Leads to Wholeness

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:17

The egg shell must be broken at the right time for the chick to emerge. The caterpillar must be broken and bound for the butterfly to emerge. The skin of reptiles must split open for them to grow into their next stage of life. And, painful as it often is, our current state of life must be broken in order for us to move to the next stage of our development. Life is a series of deaths and rebirths, and being broken is at the heart of the process. I do not enjoy it, but I can either be broken willingly, or I can fight it tooth and nail, but broken I will be.

The central problem is that a full and satisfied heart has no motivation to change. When we are satisfied, we fight to maintain the status quo. We do whatever we can to minimize change, even when a change is necessary to improve the lot of our self and others. In political contests, one candidate is often portrayed as the “change” agent and the other as the “establishment.” The former makes the case that the political system is broken and needs to be rebuilt (or reborn). The latter claims the current system is good enough to provide a solid foundation from which to improve. In many cases, who we favor depends on the level of brokenness of our current state in life. While I do not advocate change for the sake of change, brokenness, in its time, is necessary for the sake of growth.

I am not advocating that we break a perfectly good life – destruction is a process that happens naturally enough, with or without our prodding. When we feel the status quo of our life starting to bend, however, it may be time to embrace a change. It may be the Spirit moving in our lives in a way that will lead us to a new level of wholeness. Sometimes, that may mean breaking away from negative influences by ending a toxic relationship, leaving a disrespectful employer, or receiving help for an addiction. Other times, we need to break away from our own inertia by intentionally committing ourselves to a new relationship, forming new, healthier habits, or beginning a regular prayer or meditation practice.

Sometimes we have already been broken, but we do not yet recognize the possibilities. We, like Humpty Dumpty, have fallen off the wall, and we expend energy and resources trying to rebuild what once was instead of taking stock of what is now. Being broken opens a new world of possibilities for us, but we will never see the possible until we willingly let go of the shattered past. An old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Realistically, there are times when we do need to break something in order to move ahead in life.

Brokenness leads to wholeness. How did I miss that?

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Life Notes

An Allegorical Christmas, Part 1 

He replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.” Luke 18:27

There are those who shun the biblical telling of the Christmas story because it is too difficult to believe factually. From the impregnating of Mary by the Holy Spirit, to Joseph agreeing to marry his pregnant fiancé (as opposed to having her stoned to death), to the bright star in the sky, the shepherds leaving their flocks, and the wise men journeying from far away to pay homage to this Prince of Peace. Truly, it is an incredible story. While I believe that all things are possible with God, I also believe we can discern God’s will allegorically, and not just physically and factually.

What can one learn from the Christmas story who is not ready to make the leap of accepting the Biblical record as written? Let us begin with the Immaculate Conception. This story is foretold in the Old Testament book of Isaiah (7:14): “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us.’” Fast forward a few hundred years to the first chapter of Luke where an angel tells Mary, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” Mary responds, “How can this be, since I am a virgin.” The angel explains, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”

The virgin birth is a profound element of the Christmas story. Typically, virginity refers to one who has not had sexual relations. The word virgin, however, has a larger meaning. It also means pure, undefiled, new, and inexperienced. For example, a virgin forest is one whose trees have never been harvested. The Christmas story tells of the birth of a child – a child with an earthly mother and a spirit Father. Heaven and earth came together in this child. The Christmas story is not just the story of Jesus, however, it is the story of us.

We all wish to express our physical and spiritual natures. To do so, the spirit must impregnate us by entering to awaken and develop our spiritual nature. That experience begins to make us whole – fully human and fully spiritual. In order to awaken our spiritual nature, however, we must be sufficiently pure for the Spirit to enter. We must be submissive and willing not only to conceive but also to receive the new creation that will result. When that happens, we too have experienced an Immaculate Conception, not exactly in the way the Bible describes, but in the way the Bible implies can be true for all of us. Seen allegorically, this is our blueprint to achieving wholeness – becoming pure enough, open enough, virgin enough for the Spirit to express through us.

When we are willing to explain what the Christmas story means at its deepest and most personal level, the love of God will reach a mass of humanity who otherwise will continue to celebrate only the secular version of Christmas. Allegorically or factually, we find the same Savior.

Come home to church this Sunday. Allegorical Christmas blessings!

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Fully Human

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” Luke 1:35

For those of us with a religious or spiritual bent, there is no doubt we are an uneasy mix of earth and spirit. Our bodies are made from elements of the earth, and when we die, those elements remain with and return to the earth. Essentially everything that is visible to us is also of and belongs to the earth – our clothes, our cars, our homes, our money. One can say there is a clear distinction between what is of the earth and what is of the spirit because that which is of the earth is made from the earth and belongs to the earth. The common phrase about death, “You can’t take it with you,” applies only to the stuff of the earth. When Jesus tells us not to focus on treasures that “moth and rust” consume (Matthew 6:19), he is warning us not to become too attached to the stuff of the earth. Which is not to say our earthy incarnation is not without importance.

We all know people whose lives have a consuming focus on earthly matters – most of us fall into that category, at least occasionally. We become caught up in an obsession for a new car, a home, a pair of shoes, or a different job, and we grow inattentive to the spiritual matters around us. We spend less time in personal prayer and study, our relationships suffer, and we lose any sense of a stable, spiritual center.

For us to become fully human – to reach for the highest state we can attain – we must acknowledge that we are a physical and spiritual being. Not only must we acknowledge our dual nature, in my opinion, we must also celebrate and develop accordingly. Focusing too completely on our physical nature leads to perversions of our good and beautiful earth. We become gluttonous, greedy, and narcissistic. Focusing too completely on our spiritual nature, however, leads to detachment from our earthly incarnation. We risk becoming aloof, out of touch, and inaccessible. Either way, we are only developing part of our capacity.

Regardless of whether one accepts the factual nature of the Immaculate Conception (where Mary is impregnated by the Holy Spirit, resulting in the birth of Jesus), the symbolic message is instructive. The perfect mix of earth and spirit – Jesus – is the result of the impregnating of earth by spirit. It is when we grow our spiritual nature along with our physical nature – allowing the spirit to impregnate us – that we begin to become fully human. Prayer, study, reflection, fellowship, relationship-building, and humble service to others – these are food and exercise for the spirit.

Come home to church this Sunday. Awaken your full nature.

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