Mark 1:29-39, Isaiah 40:21-31, I Corinthians 9:16-23
Five years ago when I realized I needed to retire my biggest fear was that I would be bored.
Looking back, I am aware there was a larger existential issue:
What is the meaning/value of my life when I am no longer working?
Like many of you, I had invested a lot to become and be the professional that I was.
What would it be like to step away from the demands and dictates and structure of my job/calling?
My identity, not the fear of boredom, was the real issue.
If you are retired or thinking about it can probably relate.
If you are in the midst of the great balancing act of family, job, school or whatever, you are probably thinking it is time to tune me out.
Regardless of where we are in life, Thomas Merton tells us:
“Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.”
Life is full of demands and responsibilities, temptations and opportunities, the mundane and surprises.
Merton also wisely observes:
“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to the violence of our times.
Today’s gospel reading is so real.
Once his public ministry began, Jesus is continually imposed upon.
The whole city gathered around the door of where he was staying.
When Jesus has retreated, the disciples find him and put on the pressure, everyone is searching for you.
Paul writes in I Corinthians that he is all things to all people…to me this feels similar to the demands placed on Jesus.
A favorite word of Mark is eutheos (yoo-theh-oce), translated “immediately” or “at once”.
In the first chapter of Mark it shows up 11 times.
Mark’s account of the life of Jesus is like an action packed movie.
As soon as he enters the home of Simon and Andrew, Jesus learns that Simon’s mother-in-law is ill.
Immediately he has to deal with it.
How does Jesus live with the constant demands? How do we?
And what about the constant intrusions of texts and alerts that arrive on those smart phones and other gadgets we can’t seem to live without?
Are they a blessing or a curse or both?
A few weeks ago our ancient modem died and we no internet access.
I do not have a smart phone.
At first I panicked. But then I relaxed into it. Life felt less cluttered, calmer and more spacious.
For two days it did not matter what Trump was up to.
I admit I did go to Whole Foods on the way home from yoga for the sole purpose of accessing my email. There was one email I had to check with time bound content.
Jesus has just announced that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
How do we participate in it?
Today’s gospel reading gives no commands or exhortations.
It has something better, the example of Jesus.
Actions speak louder than words.
In the midst of demands coming from all sides, Jesus gets up early and goes to a deserted place to pray.
What’s happening when Jesus does this?
First of all, Jesus stayed connected.
Not to the Internet but to his true self and the One he calls Abba, Father.
Thomas Merton again:
“Discovering vocation…is accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice out there calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice in here calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.”
In other words, by getting away, Jesus says yes his authentic self rather than be shaped by the wishes of others.
What else is going on?
In stepping aside Jesus receives clarity.
In Meditation on the Tarot:, the author writes,
“silence is the indispensable climate for all revelation, noise renders it [revelation] impossible.” (p. 71)
The immediate clarity Jesus receives is that he knows he needs to go to the neighboring towns and proclaim the message.
He says “yes” to Galilee and “no” to Capernaum.
Jesus heals many of the people who came to him but not all of them.
With every “yes” there must be a balancing “no”.
We can’t keep adding things to our lives. Saying no is a spiritual discipline, it is also about healthy boundaries.
We have to step apart and listen to say yes or no with integrity.
By praying, we learn to see and perceive with the heart rather than the ego:
The ego only sees on the surface, it sees what it wants to see.
The heart, the Sufi master, Kabir Helminski, writes:
…is the antenna that receives emanations of subtler levels of existence…. Awakening to the heart, or spiritualized mind, is an unlimited process …of joining [the mind] to its cosmic milieu, the infinity of love. (Cynthia Bourgeault, The Heart of Centering Prayer, p. 55).
The infinity of love is what endures, it is what shines in the darkness and chaos of our times.
Lastly, by stepping aside to pray there is possibility of the union of the human will and the divine will.
Again, from Meditations on the Tarot,
“a new power is born whenever there is unity between the divine will and the human will…. It is the power of love.” (p.56-57)
Richard Rohr puts it this way:
“Once we plug into the divine consciousness, God can work through us for the good of the world.” (January 7, 2018)
With the union of his human will and the divine will, Jesus becomes a vessel of healing, of liberation.
He heals Simon’s mother in law, he casts out demons and cures many who are sick.
We, too, are instruments of healing and liberation as our human will and the divine will become one..
This is the mystery of incarnation.
We participate in that incarnation as we follow the example of Jesus, retreating and praying, day after day after day.
James Finley in a recent webcast on St John of the Cross puts it this way:
I need to put aside time each day to ground my hearts so that I don’t lose my way.
Our Old Testament reading is the eloquent poetry of Second Isaiah.
Those who wait for the Most High shall renew their strength,
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
These verses must be read in context.
Those who wait on God take on the attributes of God,
What are some of the attributes of God?
The Most High is the everlasting God,
The Creator of the Ends of the earth.
One who does not faint or grow weary;
Whose understanding is unsearchable.
We are have come full circle back to Thomas Merton:
“You are made in the image of what you desire.”
Lastly, prayer is also a community activity.
This cannot be forgotten in these crazy political times.
On the eve of Martin Luther King’s birthday thirteen of us gathered at our home to nurture hope.
We had a very lively potluck dinner together. Then we sat in silence for twenty minutes.
Next we read aloud quotes from three Nobel Peace laureates: Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. After that, we offered our hearts’ ponderings.
I close with a quote of the Dalai Lama from that evening:
The more you are motivated by love, the more fearless and free your action will be.
Love is the motivation and fruit of our prayer.