Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee. - Luke 4:14a
Sunday's Gospel Reading
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." -Luke 4:14-21
Jesus, "full of the Holy Spirit returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit" into the wilderness for a time of testing. Then he "returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee." He came to Nazareth and in the synagogue he opened the scroll and read aloud from Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me." -(Luke 4:1,14,17-8)
This week's Gospel ends with a pause. Jesus has just returned to Galilee from the desert, full of the Holy Spirit. In his home town synagogue he reads from Isaiah, and adds, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." We don't hear the reaction in the synagogue until next week.
Soon enough, the reaction of the home town crowd will create drama. The experience of Jesus among old acquaintances in his home town, (Isn't this just Joseph's son?) reminds me of other notable After-Theophanies. Moses comes down from the Holy Mountain to confront Aaron and people worshiping the golden calf. Elijah, coming down from that same mountain where he encounters the Lord not in the earthquake, the fire, and the wind but in the "sound of sheer silence" has been instructed to anoint Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha. What an anti-climax! Isaiah, after his vision of seraphim in the clouds of Temple incense, must go with his son Shearjashub and meet Ahaz at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to Fuller's Field. How very specific and mundane! There's no time to bask in the after-glow of Theophany. You've got messes to clean up after a golden calf orgie, oil to procure and folks to anoint, and notes to take out from behind a chink in the third brick in the wall on the highway to Fuller's Field to deliver to Ahaz like you're some kind of spy or something.
But this Sunday's Gospel offers a break in the story where together we may bask a little in this pause, to reflect upon the light of the Spirit's initiation (Meditation One) and meditate upon the Spirit's breadth and depth and hiddenness, even in the night (Meditation Two). Then, returning to the mundane and specific work we're all called to do, and inspired by the Spirit, we we can infuse our daily encounters with connection and compassion (Meditation Three).
Let us go forth rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit. -Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit) The Light of the Spirit's Initiation There is no radiance greater than the light of the spirit's initiation; no wisdom on earth possesses comparable power. It cannot be measured on the scales against pearls or precious gems; no priceless thing can be compared to it; nothing approaches its inner beauty; all other beautiful things fail in comparison. It is more desirable than anything on earth, and its beauty can even lead the world captive in desire, seducing angels and humans alike.
-Narsai of Edessa ca.399-ca.502 The Book of Mystical Chapters trans.and introduced by John Anthony McGuckin
Christ in the Synagogue, Visoki Decani Monastery, 14th century, fresco, DETAIL
When Elijah had explained to him how he could find the Messiah sitting among the poor at the gates of the city. Rabbi Joshua ben Levi went to the Messiah and said to him: “Peace unto you, my master and teacher.” The Messiah answered, “Peace unto you, son of Levi.”
He asked, “When is the master coming?” “Today,” he answered.
Rabbi Yoshua returned to Elijah, who asked, “What did he tell you?”
“He indeed has deceived me, for he said 'Today I am coming' and he has not come.” Elijah said, “This is what he told you:'Today if you would listen to His voice.'” (Psalm 95:7) … To annouce, however, that the Liberator is sitting among the poor and that the wounds are signs of hope and that today is the day of liberation, is a step very few can take. But this is exactly the announcement of the wounded healer: “The master is coming - not tomorrow, but today, not next year, but this year, not after all our misery is passed, but in the middle of it, not in another place but right here where we are standing.”
-Henri J. M. Nouwen The Wounded Healer p.94-95
O thou who camest from above, The pure celestial fire to impart, Kindle a flame of sacred love on the mean altar of my heart.
There let it for thy glory burn with inextinguishable blaze And trembling to its source return in humble prayer, and fervent praise.
Jesus, confirm my heart's desire To work, and speak, and think for thee; Still let me guard the holy fire, And still stir up thy gift in me.
Ready for all thy perfect will, My acts of faith and love repeat, Till death thy endless mercies seal, And make my sacrifice complete.
Charles Wesley 1707-1788
Visoki Decani Monastery, Serbia, Fresco 14th century
Meditation Two (Insight) Prayer to the Holy Ghost O holy God behind the silent stone Beneath the under and the elder fire, Beyond the Milky Way, within the bone, The grace desired and grace of our desire.
The night is spent; the day is near at hand. We who have wrestled lonely with the flesh Listen in solitude for your command, Our fingers on the curtains, in the mesh
Of cords and concepts which your glory hide. Come whom no word of ours can symbolize. Let wiring of your word in us abide. Light us in every dark and make us wise,
Wise that through all the night our souls may see The Father and the Son alive in thee.
- George Every 1909-2003
Meditation Three (Integration) A Lesson From The Stork
Whenever the rabbi of Sasov saw anyone's suffering, either of spirit or of body, he shared it so earnestly that the other's suffering became his own. Once someone expressed his astonishment at this capacity to share in another's troubles.
“What do you mean 'share'? said the rabbi. “It is my own sorrow; how can I help but suffer it?”
-Martin Buber 1878-1965 Later Masters
Stork, Aberdeen Bestiary
The Yehudi was asked: “In the Talmud it says that the stork is called hasida in Hebrew, that is, the devout or the loving one, because he gives so much love to his mate and his young. Then why is he classed in the Scriptures with the unclean birds?”
He answered: “Because he gives love only to his own.”
-Martin Buber 1878-1965 Later Masters
The Last Word
Holy Spirit, comforter, through thee we are born as children of God, thou makest us living temples of thy presence, and thou intercedest within us, with words that cannot be uttered.
- from the Litany of the Holy Spirit, Taize Community
On Not Clinging to the Light
There is no radiance greater than the light of the spirit's initiation; no wisdom on earth possesses comparable power. It cannot be measured on the scales against pearls or precious gems; no priceless thing can be compared to it; nothing approaches its inner beauty; all other beautiful things fail in comparison. It is more desirable than anything on earth, and its beauty can even lead the world captive in desire, seducing angels and humans alike.
-Narsai of Edessa *
How many [insert your denomination/ parish/ organization/ or your own name HERE] does it take to change a light bulb? Five. One to change it, and four to stand around talking about how much better the old one was.
One temptation of a life of prayer is to enshrine the “soul's initiation.” Instead of realizing the experience of conversion nudges you into the long, deep, wide journey of the soul, you want to access that one burst of energy over and over like grabbing the brass ring on a carousel. So you go in circles instead of moving forward. And you wonder why God has “abandoned” you! The Spirit has moved on, waiting for you to move on, too. (I go before you to prepare a place for you... so that where I am, you may be also. -John 14:2-3)
Church folks cling to decaying buildings, the arrangement of pews bolted to the floor, even broken metal chairs rusting in the parish hall closet. So it is with the soul. How much spiritual debris can I cling to? But, My Dear, what do you want with those old rusty chairs?
Fear of the unknown not only stifles the spiritual life, but causes rigidity in thought, and reactionary actions - like climate denial, for example. Just. Can't. Handle. It. An unknown, an "x-factor" needs to be factored into everything. Maybe that's why we have to study Algebra; learning to move on and build and experience and ajust to the always-unknowns and truths previously unknown but finally revealed.
Here's another thing: a spiritual experience can gain clarity in retrospect. Time offers a perspective that reveals the miraculous behind the mundane in the moment. Israel wakens to the luminous holy time in the desert generations after the actual event. Gratitude sanctifies memory. They didn't make a shrine at the Red Sea, or decide to stay at Sinai. They made a light-weight, compact, travel friendly tabernacle. Israel kept moving and eventually entered Canaan. Remember Yahweh saying to David "In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word ... saying, “Why have not not built me a house of cedar?” -2 Sam7:7 ?
One of the functions of the season of Epiphany is to push the initiate onward toward Lent - the next place of purgation, a cleansing 'night of the soul'. Lent purifies the initiate for the Easter mysteries - requiring careful preparation. The Easter mysteries unfold the reason why we are initiates in the first place.
So let's GO. We can help each other on the journey toward New Life and union with the Beloved, pointing out revelations to one another along the way.
God is always coming to you in the Sacrament of the Present Moment. Meet and receive Him there with gratitude in that sacrament. - Evelyn Underhill.
* -Narsai of Edessa ca.399-ca.502 from The Book of Mystical Chapters translated and introduced by John Anthony McGuckin
Christ preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, Visoki Decani Monastery, 14th Century Serbian fresco