… because everyone is drawn almost irresistibly back towards this urge to manage.
Rowan Williams. Silence and Honey Cakes, 26.
I have been reading Silence and Honey Cakes – a book by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on desert spirituality. It was recommended to me by a lecture in history at a Catholic theological institute.
The above – “this urge to manage” – is a very strong image for me in the first chapter. The withdrawal into the desert is not a withdrawal from a sinful world but an opening of my own sinfulness. And at the core of this is my need to manage people. To set limits on other people’s access to God and to always place myself between God and people. To make myself the spiritual guru, the person with the answers, the person who has it all worked out. To place myself above the other is not an act of love but hubris.
But that is nothing but my sinfulness. And in silence, I hear that most clearly. The desert is not a place but part of my heart that I need to listen to intently. Only when I know what it means to be broken can I really appreciate what it means to be whole – or holy!
The lectionary continues the journey through John 6. It skips a couple of verses but the overall flow is still there.
[The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.] So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
The introduction – setting the scene – reminds me very much of Fear and Trembling. The double movement of faith – surrender and receive – setting out mind on things above and receive the Bread of Life.
[Verse 1: Gabrielle Jones] Come, Holy Spirit, come With energy divine And on this poor, benighted soul With beams of mercy shine
[Verse 2: Gabrielle Jones with Wilder Adkins] Melt, melt this frozen heart This stubborn will subdue Each evil passion overcome And form me all anew
[Verse 3: Gabrielle Jones with Wilder Adkins] Mine will the profit be But Thine shall be the praise And unto Thee will I devote The remnant of my days And unto Thee will I devote The remnant of my days
Filmmakers gain access to the community of Rockland Ranch in the middle of the Utah desert where 14 polygamous Mormon families have created unique homes for themselves carved out of a rock-face.
There is a common theme in some “cults” (I am not saying this is a cult): individuality gives way to the community. For the greater good (however, that is defined) individuals stop being individuals and become a cog in the machine. The individual’s task is to be a step for another to reach a “higher level of holiness”.
I wanted to share that one of the things I really struggle with is catastrophizing. I know it is a learned response for me and it gets worse with the cycle of my depression. But it is incredibly hard to fight (for me) and it can be very overpowering.
As an aside, I think I have drifted to theologies that agree with my catastophizing – “the end is near” type ideas. I have been attracted by the holy elect type of thinking. But, in reality, it only leads to ghetto-type thinking and “us and then” actions.
So today I am struggling with seeing the light in the midst of the darkness I have created. And I am sure that the light at the end of the tunnel is a train!
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
The next five weeks of the lectionary look at John 6. There is a sense of confusion and continuity in the texts. John gives meaning to the old in the life of Jesus. But those who are with Jesus just don’t get it.
I think Covid-19 has taught me a lot. It has forced me to reflect on my habits and see which I should keep and throw away.
I think Covid-19 has also helped me with my Christianity. It has stripped my relationship with Jesus and has made me look at what is really important. It has helped with focusing on the core. So rather than saying, “Why, God?”, I am saying, “Thank you, Lord!”.