Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Answers, Tradition, Direction

Today's Word:
Numbers 21:4-9 (The Israelites lose faith and are afflicted by saraph serpents; but are healed by looking at a bronze serpent lifted on a pole)
Psalm 102:2-3, 16-21 (Lord, hear my prayer; and let my cry come to You)
John 8:21-30 ("When you lift up the Son of Man, you will realize that I AM..."; many people came to believe in Jesus by these words)

A few light bulbs popped on last night as my dear wife and I were discussing things.

I now have some semblance of an answer to the questions posed in Mark Hall's lyric I posted yesterday. To illustrate this, I will actually tie a couple of things together that I hadn't before. To do so, I must revisit the life of Brother Jesse.

Point me in the direction of Albuquerque
I want to go home
Oh help me get home
And point me in the direction of North Milwaukee
I need to get home...

In my post of March 20 I recalled Brother Jesse and how we interacted. In that post I mentioned that he introduced my wife and I to the Holy Hill shrine north of Milwaukee. On several occasions he would ask us to take him there. At the time, I just figured that as a professed member of a religious order, he took it upon himself to make a pilgrimage there. A pilgrimage it was; but there is so much more to the story that I am only now fully understanding.

Brother Jesse would also make a second pilgrimage during the choir's summer hiatus. Every summer he would talk about traveling to a shrine near Santa Fe, New Mexico. He never really described the place in full detail to us, but it was important to him that he attempt to make the trip. Since he was legally blind he was living on disability and Social Security plus whatever he made as a musician. He was able to live comfortably enough, but trips to the Southwest were not as easy to arrange asthose to the grocery store or even Holy Hill. Still, he managed to get out there every couple of years.

My wife and I figured out that there is a connection between Holy Hill and El Santuario de Chimayo outside of Santa Fe. Yes, both places have reputedly been sites of miraculous healing. Yes, both are Catholic shrines; but there is also a connection between the land on which these shrines exist. It seems that a Native American tribe once lived in the area of southeast Wisconsin, and migrated south into Mexico - which at that time in history included parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

Perhaps it was a tradition established through his ancestral heritage that made it so important to him to make the pilgrimage to both places. It is hard to say with any degree of certainty. But I realized that when Brother Jesse did make it to Santa Fe, we'd make the trip to Wisconsin soon after. It was that important to him.

In my post of March 27, my years in lay ministry formation, I mentioned that in one particular class I understood the teachable moment whereas my 49 colleagues missed it. The subject was on understanding our roots, our traditions as (Catholic) Christians. Traditions are the established patterns in which we express who we are as a culture, and as a spiritual community. Some traditions are timeless, others fall out of use and still others evolve using the expression of the current time.

If we are the body, why aren't His arms reaching? Why aren't His hands healing?

Because we have lost our way. We have become so busy with the mundane. We have put science ahead of faith and its ability to move mountains. Remember what Jesus said about having faith the size of a mustard seed? Remember that Mark's portrayal of Jesus was one of distress because his disciples constantly exhibited little faith?

And I'm sure it will only take a minute or two for you to verify the chapter and verse where Jesus asks:
"When the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?"

That's why I am ultimately hurt and disgusted when our religious leaders do more to separate and divide us than to bring us together. It is nitpicking; it is crossing every 't' and dotting every 'i'; it is inspecting every iota and jot in the Law rather than "Love one another as I have loved you."

Our sacred traditions as Christians are embodied in the manner in which we worship God. Every now and then, it is good to examine those traditions, to incorporate fresh ways of getting the message across. But we must always at the same time recall and incorporate the richness of the tradition that has been laid at our feet by all who came before us, even Jesus himself. It is imperative that we do this. We are passing the faith on to our children, and future generations. What are we giving them? Does the state of creation as we know it reflect this? It most certainly does.

The fact that we're asking Why aren't His words teaching? Why aren't His feet moving? is indicative that we're too caught up in the 'how we do it' and not nearly enough in the 'why we do it'. And what's more, we have to have faith. Faith in the 'why' and not the 'how.' We have to get away from one man's expression is another's anathema. And we need to get back to our roots, and soon. We are headed for our own sojourn in the desert, where anybody can point in any direction and all you see is sand - but faith in God will lead you to the oasis, and the waters of life.

Brother Jesse, Barbara, Diane, Lord Jesus - thank you all for reminding me of this very important lesson.

We may worship different ways
We may praise Him
Then spend all our days
Living life divided...divided

But when we seek Him
With open hearts
He removes the walls we've built
That keep us apart
We trust Him to unite us

In our hearts we're undivided
Worshiping one Savior
One Lord
In our hearts we're undivided
Bound by His Spirit

Does it matter
If we agree
All He asks is that we serve Him
And love as He first loved us

He made us in His image
And in His eyes we are all the same
And though our methods
They may be different
Jesus is the bond that will remain

In our hearts
We're undivided
Worshiping one Savior
One Lord
In our hearts
We're undivided
Bound by His Spirit


--Undivided (1986)
Melodie Tunney, recorded by First Call

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