I’ve always liked a wonderful one-liner from Mark Twain where he says that when he was 15 he thought his father was the dumbest man in the world, and when he turned 20 he was amazed how much the old man had learned in five years! That says something about the subjective element of our perception, that we see sometimes only what we look for. I’ve worked as a spiritual director and pastoral carer over the years, and so much of that work is simply listening, opening space so that people who see things clearly in black and white might , take a break and a deep breath to go beyond black and white thinking, be introduced to a wider spectrum of colors, shades of transparency and translucency, to shapes of encounters and ideas that they hadn’t looked for, relations with realities and relatives they perhaps hadn’t seen before, start to stretch out into where new possibilities.
When people have a chance to talk about their lives without immediate judgment to consider where they are and what they might wish to do with the degree of compassion and clarity, sometimes new things come into being, new options, new ways to be in love. Good books do as well, meditation is helpful there, and one of the reasons I love movies is that they can take you beyond words, using music color, visions, as well as irony, understatement and sometimes humor, to help you see things anew.
The Gospel of Luke, in his travel through the life of Jesus, will be doing something similar. I mentioned several weeks ago how Luke balances the characters in his narrative: old and young, male and female, rich and poor, Jew and Greek. It might not be in an exaggeration to say there is a rhythm, almost dancing quality, in this gospel. He keeps you moving and he keeps you balancing with being slightly off balance as you move forward.
So let’s look at today’s Gospel where we fast-forward to Jesus at 12, traveling with his parents and larger family to a festival in Jerusalem. He becomes separated, lost and is found in the temple after three days “listening and questioning the teachers” there.
“And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”
Then we go up close for a dialogue between mother and child:
“why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?”
But they did not understand what he said to them
I would imagine somebody was thinking oh dear, here comes Adolescence!
“But he goes home with them and is obedient, and his mother treasures these things and Jesus increases in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”
Let me note that in another translation the word “treasures” is “ponders.” I found that defined as “sustained and inconclusive thinking.” and there’s something to be said for that, for not having easy answers, conclusive thinking. But it’s not easy. I have never been a literalist in matters of Scripture but I often wanted clear-cut answers: what is the right way to go at this crossroad, what is the right ethical action for the situation, what is God calling me to do in my life and ministry at the present moment? All big questions!
But what I find when I look at the breadth of Scripture and tradition, and when I let myself take a breath of spirit, to breathe with God, is that the Scripture and tradition that Jesus shares with us, walks through with us in the glory of God the father, doesn’t have easy answers to these questions. What I do find instead is an assurance that the way of Jesus, the way of God, is a way in which we “live and move and have our being.” And that’s more than a simple answer, to a difficult question, it is more like an answer you can live into, as a pilgrim, to be on the way with hope and faith and love. And that goes back to Mary’s pondering.
It also relates to Paul’s wonderful words and letters to the Collisions, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patients. Bear with one another... Forgive one another... Clothe yourself with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
That makes our journey with Scripture into the life of Jesus less of a quest to find the right answer, less of a quiz for which we are graded; and more of a yoga, a pilgrimage, even perhaps a dance, where we partner with God in moving into and through the midst of the intricacies and the particular case of the rhythms of our lives, living and moving and having our being.
Somebody once said, “You have to know what the rules are so that you can know when to make exceptions.” That needs to be carefully handled, but there’s a great deal of truth there. I remember a number of tennis lessons as a boy learning to groove my stroke and where to put my feet and how to bring my arm back so that I could finally be free to move into each unique moment of contact with the ball, in individual real-time rallies and matches, being both grounded and centered, but free to move in every moment of the game as it happened.
When I came to Australia, and lived in the community at St. Peter’s Eastern Hill, I learned more about cooking. In the first stage I stayed close to the recipe book; measuring according to directions and following the list of ingredients. Then after a while I became freer to add and subtract varying according to the seasons and what was available in the marketplace and how many people were showing up. Any relationship, whether with a skill or a place or a person becomes freer, paradoxically, when it is better known: more choices and options actions and motions come to be when we know more where we are, who we’re with, what we can creatively do, in the places where we work and love, where we live and move and have our being.
The poet Rilke once wrote, “Do not look so hard for the answers, first learn to love the questions, for the point is to love everything now; and then the answers will come on their own one day in the future.” I might have misquoted that a bit, but the sense is right. Life is not an examination to be graded, is not a task to be endured (though times of testing do come), but is a day to day walk with the Lord in the spirit in the midst of God’s creation and within the intricacies of our own lives. We are here to live our lives with God, joyfully, creatively, making life more livable and holy for ourselves and others, relating and redeeming as we can, calling things to greater meaning and participation in God, linking the all embracing love of God with all that is living in our everyday lives: family and work, poetry and politics, sadness and joy, birth adolescence and adulthood aging and death. The places where we live and move and have our being, where we find God and where God finds us.
The Gospel of Luke is a worthy companion on this road: the way of Jesus, in the breath and the light of the Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.