One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?" And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions." Then he said to them, "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath."
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come forward." Then he said to them, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
About This Week's Prompts for Meditation
Do we tend to choose law over love, habit over creativity, the “rules” over compassion because it is simply easier than facing the chaos of creativity? Easier than bearing the unruly potency of love? Negotiating the system-shattering faultline of compassion? Patricia Hampl remembers the dilemma presented by her first confession, when as a young child she chose to follow her own instinct toward creativity rather than the law placed before her by the catechism (Meditation One). The theme continues with a quote from Abraham Heschel's God's Search for Man, where he blames religion itself for it's lack of vibrancy: “When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain, when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion—its message becomes meaningless.” To me, Heschel captures Jesus' complaint against choosing law over love. (Meditation Two) Dorothy Day asks “what are we looking for?” “Love, she answers, “trying to make make a world in which it is easier for people to love.” But rather than leaving the reader with some sentimental fluff, she acknowledges how hard love is, how love involves suffering. “But joy, too,” she adds, “because it is a foretaste of heaven.”
Have a joyful, creative meditation. May you ever lean toward compassion. -Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit)
“My First Paradox”
In Patricia Hampl's memoir/essay The Art of the Wasted Day, she describes preparing for her first confession. Even as a young child, she discerns a flaw in the rules and chooses heart over law when she discovers that daydreaming is listed as a sin. Even knowing that making a “bad confession” is in itself a mortal sin, she “tra-las” past the proscription in the catechism toward the truth of her own inner voice.
I don't just mentally reject this sin. I tra-la my way past it. A higher editorial power takes over. I unsee it, unread it. That's part of this daydream paradise – unthinking my own thinking. I excise the word from the Baltimore Catechism, from my mind. I'm gripped by refusal. It's a form of loyalty. I'm never letting go to this. The tendency to float, to depart, to rest – this power resides within me. It's right in there, jammed into the space where I've been taught conscience also resides – inside. Listen to your inner voice, children. It will guide you. Right here, Sister says, not reaching up to her wimpled head, but touching a pale hand to her obscure bosom under the gloomy tarp of her habit. Right here. That's where truth is. You always know – if you consult here. No one questions – I still have not questioned – that there is an inner voice to be heard. I don't hesitate. I throw my lot with the occasion of sin. I already know (or believe – which comes to the same thing in my Catholic worldview) that daydreaming doesn't make things up. It sees thing. Claims things, twirls them around, takes a good look. Possesses them. Embraces them. Makes something of them. Makes sense. Or music. How restful it is, how full of motion. My first paradox. I couldn't care less what it's called. It's pure pleasure. Infinite delight. For this a person goes to hell. Okay then.
-Patricia Hampl The Art of the Wasted Day
About one third of our lives are spent in sleep. Through these collective years of rest, God is at work in us and in the world, redeeming, healing, and giving grace. Each night when we yield to sleep, we practice letting go of our reliance on self-effort and abiding in the good grace of our Creator. Thus embracing sleep is not only a confession of our limits; it is also a joyful confession of God's limitless care for us. For Christians, the act of ceasing and relaxing into sleep is an act of reliance on God. What if Christians were known as a countercultural community of the well-rested – people who embrace our limits with zest and even joy? As believers we can relish sleep as not only necessary but as an embodied response ot the truth of Scripture: we are finite, weak creatures who are abundantly cared for by our strong and loving Creator.
-Tish Harrrison Warren Liturgy of the Ordinary
What is the Sabbath? Spirit in the form of time. With our bodies we belong to space; our spirit, our souls, soar to eternity, aspire to the holy. The Sabbath is an ascent to the summit. It gives us the opportunity to sanctify time, to raise the good to the level of the holy, to behold the holy by abstaining from profanity. Spirit in the form of time, eternity, is, indeed, an absurdity to all those who think that the spirit is but an idea in the mind of man or that God is a thing among other things. Yet those who realize that God is at least as great as the known universe, that the spirit is an endless process of which we humbly partake, will understand and experience what it means that the spirit is disclosed at certain moments of time. One must be overawed by the marvel of time to be ready to perceive the presence of eternity in a single moment. One must live and act as if the fate of all of time would depend on a single moment.
-Abraham Joshua Heschel 1907-1972 The Sabbath
Jesus walked a lot, and not only during the last week of his life. The four gospels are peppered with accounts of him walking into the countryside, walking by the Sea of Galilee, walking in the Temple, and even walking on water…. This gave him time to see things. If he had been moving more quickly–even to reach more people–these things might have become a blur to him. Because he was moving slowly, they came into focus for him, just as he came into focus for them. Sometimes he had a destination, sometimes he did not. For many who followed him around, he was the destination…. While many of his present-day admirers pay close attention to what he said and did, they pay less attention to the pace at which he did it.
-Barbara Brown Taylor An Altar in the World
Jesus Heals The Man With The Withered Hand, Hitda Codex, German, c.1020
Meditation Two (Insight) “Insipid” Religion
It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion—its message becomes meaningless.
-Abraham Joshua Heschel 1907-1972 God in Search of Man
Rabbi Jonathan bar Joseph said, “The Sabbath is committed to your hands, not you to its hands.”
-Talmud: Yoma 85b
Meditation Three (Integration) To Love And Be Loved
Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife, which may at any moment become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself, "What else is the world interested in?" What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships? God is love. Love casts out fear. Even the most ardent revolutionist, seeking to change the world, to overturn the tables of the money changers, is trying to make a world where it is easier for people to love, to stand in that relationship to each other. We want with all our hearts to love, to be loved. And not just in the family but to look upon all as our mothers, sisters, brothers, children. It is when we love the most intensely and most humanly that we can recognize how tepid is our love for others. The keenness and intensity of love brings with it suffering, of course, but joy too, because it is a foretaste of heaven.
- Dorothy Day 1897-1980 The Reckless Way of Love
The Last Word
Ever let mercy outweigh all else in you. Let our compassion be a mirror where we may see in ourselves that likeness and that true image which belong to the Divine nature and Divine essence.
- Isaac of Syria c. 613 – c. 700 Directions on Spiritual Training
detail, Jesus Heals the Man With The Withered Hand, 14th century Mosaic, Chora Museum
Suzanne's Meditation A Paradox or Two
A friend once said that a miracle is simply the healing we're all destined for with the time taken out of it. The miracle of the healing of the withered hand took place on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is the day of rest, of living toward the fulfillment of the unfolding of creation. It is time lived outside the constraints of time. Of COURSE Jesus healed on the Sabbath. What is Sabbath for? Rest. What happens when you rest? Keeping a Sabbath means opening yourself to restoration of mind, heart, soul, body. You replenish your intuition, creativity, instinct. Miraculous! You do this by practicing to live outside of time, one day a week, near the thinnest layer of the veil this side of paradise. The man's condition kept him from labor. Jesus restored not only the use of the man's hand, but his livelihood, productive living; the six days between Sabbaths. From now on, this man's Sabbaths (and ours) contain the meta-layer of miracle, healing with the time-taken-out. Jesus' anger in this passage, and really, throughout the Gospel of Mark, makes him my champion. Mark's chorus of Pharisees, following him around (in rural Galilee? Really?) waiting for him to trip up, actually goad Jesus into narrowing the gap of time between now's raggedness and tomorrow's fulfillment. Hardness of heart angers Jesus. Here is another paradox of Sabbath. A real Sabbath will melt your heart. Resting near the thin veil near Paradise helps you observe the abyss between fulfillment and time's cruelty. Hearten up ! You have six days to labor in time with your own hands toward healing injustice, poverty, and hardness of heart. Your are a miracle.
From hardness of heart, Good Lord, deliver us. From my own hardness of heart, Heal me. Amen.