From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." Then he said to her, "For saying that, you may go--the demon has left your daughter." So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, "He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak." Mark 7:24-37
An essential part of wholeness is the sense of belonging. Belonging within nature. Belonging to one another. Belonging in your own skin.
At first, Jesus rejects the Syro-phoenician woman’s entreaty to cure her daughter, because she does not belong to his people. The woman cleverly dismantles his sense of limitation however, and now the Gospel belongs to all of us (meditation one).
The retreat continues with a meditation on the sense of belonging that comes from living in the world and through nature (meditation two).
Central to a sense of belonging is the call to help others belong, even to the core of the soul (meditation three). Inclusion continually softens all boundaries, reaching deeply into the soul and expanding widely into the world, growing more profoundly in both directions, within, without, loving God and neighbor.
Belonging to you, -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) open to the whole world
In any case, the woman does not back down. Dog indeed!She keeps right on nipping at Jesus’ heels, which showcases not only her debating skills, but her faith.She dares to take his metaphor and turn it back on him. “Children get fed before the dogs?You’ve got that right, Lord!But even the dogs get to eat the children’s crumbs; even the pets get the scraps that fall from their master’s table!”She is arguing that even on his own terms, there should be something from him – some scrap of grace – for someone like her who comes to him in faith.She is challenging him.“What are you going to do, Lord: Judge me by externals only – or judge me by my heart?” … … The day the gospel went to the dogs was the day it came to us.We are some of the “dogs” who have received the good news of the gospel!When Jesus opened himself up to mission to the whole world, he opened his church to the world.Now we are to open ourselves to the whole world in mission.
-Heidi Husted, Christian Century, August 16, 2000
Jesus opened the ears of the deaf man. But I am deaf to so much of God's beauty "and I have ears in vain" as the poet obseerves of the nightingale's ecstatic song.
Darkling I listen; and, for many a time I have been half in love with easeful Death, Call'd him soft names in many a musèd rhyme, To take into the air my quiet breath; Now more than ever seems it rich to die, To cease upon the midnight with no pain, While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad In such an ecstasy! Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain— To thy high requiem become a sod.
-John Keats 1795-1821 Excerpt, Ode to a Nightingale
This page from the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, shows Jesus in two attitudes toward the Canaanite woman. At first he rejects her. Are his companions pleading on her behalf and looking upon her with sympathy? Or are they trying to convince Jesus not to deal with her? The tensions seem resolved in the lower scene.
She is a woman. A foreigner. A pagan. Unclean.
He belongs to the chosen people.
She has means, independence, and a crackling intelligence.
He is an illegitimate, itinerant rabbi.
She has a daughter possessed by a demon. She needs him.
He is on a purposeful but limited mission.
She is everything he most despises and fears.
… He's in for a major breakthrough.
The Canaanite Woman and Jesus in two attitudes toward her, Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, Jean Colombe, 1485-89
Meditation Two (insight) no matter how lonely
You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
Meditation Three (integration) intimate belonging
As Christ came not only to serve people with leprosy, healing and cleansing them in body, but he also wished to die for them, sanctifying and cleansing them in their soul, so St. Francis, longing to be entirely conformed to Christ, used to serve victims of leprosy with very great affection, giving them food, washing their sore limbs, cleaning and washing their clothes, and, moreover, frequently and fervently giving them kisses.And so it happened many times that God by his power simultaneously healed the soul of one whose body the Saint healed, as we read of Christ.
from The Little Flowers of St. Francisc.1390
The Last Word
Master of the Universe
Grant me the ability to be alone.
May it be my custom to go outdoors each day
among the trees and grasses,
among all growing things
and there may I be alone,
and enter into prayer
to talk with the one
that I belong to.
-Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav1770-1811
Not worthy to gather up the crumbs...
He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” Mark 7:27-28
It's not fashionable to cower before the Divine Presence. That's good in one way. For generations, “I'm not worthy” became an excuse for not taking risks on behalf of the Gospel and acting on behalf of justice and peace in the world.
On the other hand, there's a kind of arrogance in current cultural Christianity that postures, “I'm forgiven once and for all” so my exploitation of others in my acquisition of material things doesn't count against me. I focus my sole attention to my own personal salvation, every one else be damned. God gave me dominion over creation so I'll ravage it for all that I need now, because heaven will be awesome when my time comes. I am totally worthy! You know the kind of thinking I mean.
Both Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross suggest that the closer you come to mystical union, the more is at stake in terms of the consequences of sin and temptation – to the world around you as much as to yourself. A characteristic of the mystical path is an ever widening sphere of love of God and neighbor. While Divine Presence may be more profoundly intimate, the concept of God may be increasingly remote and incomprehensible. The closer you get, the more realistic your perception of unworthyness - or something like it.
I grew up with the “prayer of humble access” from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer which imprinted on my soul an allusion to the Canaanite woman. “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table.” I loved this prayer as a child, an adolescent, a young woman. And while I deeply appreciate the liturgical reform that erased it from the communion service, I hope I still approach the table once in a while with awe and fear of God.
The Canaanite woman shatters Jesus' exclusionary mindset. And she does not cower before Jesus. But she also appreciates what she was asking for. He says,“Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.” She replies, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” (Mark 7:27-28)
Nevertheless, I know that from time to time I am NOT worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from beneath the table. And while I know I'm invited to the table anyway as a guest of honor, I hope I am continuing to learn to both repent quietly and alone and to act boldly in the world.
Here is the whole prayer, said just before taking communion in the version published in the 1979 prayer book - Rite I - (significantly different from the 1928 rendering). It ends with a plea for that longed for mutual indwelling in Divine Love typical of Christian mysticism.
We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he is us. Amen.