Posts Tagged Merton

The Shiny Side Up from Rev. Susan Sparks – Laughter

“God is silent.   Now if only man would shut up.”    -Woody Allen
Hi y’all, welcome to the Shiny Side Up! A journal of infectious inspiration that will lift you up, make you smile and leave you stronger!

I am a spiritual seeker and a Leo. As such, I prefer chatty, outgoing deities. I want a God that wants to talk about the same things I do, i.e. me; a God that tells me when I wake up each morning that I look gorgeous; a God that says, “I love you” every five seconds and “You are so fabulous” every ten.

I didn’t ask to be born in August. I didn’t even ask to be a Leo. But since someone or something chose to put me on this earth during that particular planetary grade, one would think that he, she or it would take the time to ensure that my royal Leo requirements were met. Unfortunately, the deity responsible was, I believe, a Scorpio: a private, quiet sign that hates lengthy conversations.

You don’t have to be a fiery lioness to feel the weight of holy silence. We’ve all had that moment when we look around expectantly for some divine response — any response — and there appears to be none. Why does God sometimes appear silent? And why do those times seem to be the ones we most need holy assistance?

One thing I have learned over the years about Scorpios is that while sometimes quiet, they are loyal beyond imagination. Often found in the background, they are nonetheless always there — a bit like Forrest Gump. In the movie, Forrest magically materializes out of the background in some of the major historical moments of the time. Oh, here is Forrest with President John F. Kennedy! Oh, here he is with Elvis Presley! Oh, look Forrest is standing beside John Lennon! You had to look closely to see him, but he was always there.

The ancient Celts apparently agreed with my assessment that God is a Scorpio. In Celtic spirituality, in order to find God, you had to look pretty hard. But if you looked in the right places, God was always there. One of those places was what the Celts deemed “thin places”; places where the boundary between human and holy was so thin, so transparent, you could almost break through. These were the spaces where secular and holy, earth and heaven, ordinary and sacred came together. As the theologian, Marcus Borg explained: “Thin places are places where the veil momentarily lifts, and we behold God.”

Thin places can take many forms. Some might be geographical, like the desert, where all things are stripped away and life is down to its bare essentials. Others might be found in music, poetry, literature or art. Another thin place we don’t often think of is laughter. Laughter is the ultimate act of letting go. It clears our hearts of insecurity, neediness and stale expectations. It opens it anew to the words or songs or silence we were meant to receive.

With laughter, our hearts are laid bare before God. And in this place where all is released, all becomes possible.

One other thing I have learned is that Leos never believe anything is their fault. That is why it has taken me years to realize that God is silent through no fault of God, but because of my own baggage — my own inability to hear. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton explained: “Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time. This is not just a fable or a nice story. It is true. [And] if we abandon ourselves to God and forget ourselves, we see it sometimes.”

In the end, I still see myself as a Leo with a Scorpio creator. But through laughter, I’ve found a thin place where even Leos and Scorpios are compatible; a point where we let go and stop trying to make God into something; a place of repose where, resting in the mystery, we simply await God to reveal God’s self in God’s own time. No expectations. No disappointments. Just faith that what comes is holy and right and meant to be … Scorpio, Leo or whatever.

(This post is an excerpt from my book, “Laugh Your Way to Grace: Reclaiming the Spiritual Power of Humor.” Permission granted by SkyLight Paths Publishing.)

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Putting God to the test – The Rev. Dr. Molly Marshall* – Baptistsnewsglobal.com

The study of the Hebrew language did not come easily to me. Perhaps it was because I waited until my final year of seminary to take it; perhaps it was because it met at 3 p.m.; perhaps it was because I sat near a window; perhaps it was because our professor was so bored teaching at this elementary level — I am sure I can come up with some other excuses. I did pass, even making an A, but only because I memorized the Book of Jonah, a particular interest of our instructor.

As I have been teaching my way through Exodus with my Sunday school class, I certainly wish I had loved the Hebrew language more. I am sure that particular nuances elude me, yet translations do capture the richness of the narratives. Specifically, I want to know more about the issue of “testing.”

Exodus itself is a patchwork of stories, which were gathered and edited over many years. These stories are complex reflections on how God’s purpose will be accomplished with flawed human actors, and how human choices will impact the character of the divine. Wandering, while being led? It is very hard to map how the wilderness journey transpired, and clearly the people made the trek more difficult through obstinacy and lack of faith.

The wilderness was a dangerous place, and the way God through Moses led was open to suspicion. A frequent refrain of the congregation of Israel was, “Have you brought us out here to kill us?” Moses usually deflected and suggested that their complaint was against God, not him (Exodus 17:2). Because he claimed to be sent by God to shepherd this people, he had to take the heat. He was a convenient target — like our pastors.

God tested the people, and the people tested God. Neither seemed pleased about this abrasion in their relationship, yet it was an unavoidable reality as a covenant was being forged in a context of peril. Could God trust the people to follow the appointed leadership of Moses? Could the people trust that they were accompanied by God’s own presence? Their insistent question was, “Is the Lord among us or not?” We can only imagine the ways in which that same query is being voiced in the daily heart-rending devastations.

They found themselves at Rephidim without water, and once again God provided through an unexpected means. God instructed Moses to take his staff, the one he had used to turn the Nile into blood, was now to provide life-giving water. God’s own presence was in front of him at Horeb, and through Moses’ action of striking the rock, abundant water flowed. The place where this occurs portrays testing and quarreling, Massah and Meribah, and becomes a cautionary note about how not to behave toward God. Israel’s remarkable lack of faith was on display in full force.

It seemed that Moses believed that God had the right to test the people, but they should have refrained from testing God. After all, God has prerogatives that do not belong to human beings. Brueggemann says that this text warns against a utilitarian view of God, in which the divine “is judged by the desired outcomes for the asking community.” In other words, human measures should not presume to assess the adequacy of God. Dictating how God must respond reduces the sovereign one to our level, a risky proposition, indeed. While immanent among us, God is also working in ways that transcend our comprehension.

Jesus’ own experience in the wilderness raises this theological question once again. When the devil tempted him to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple in order to prove his identity in a spectacular way, Jesus quoted, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deuteronomy 6:16). The rest of the verse is “as you did at Massah.”

This faith venture is not easy, and we are beckoned to trust what we cannot see. Walking by faith and not sight produces a bit of anxiety, even for the mature in Christ. We echo the treasured words of Thomas Merton in Thoughts in Solitude:

“My Lord, God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.”

Thankfully, the one who was seen and touched by earliest believers, the very sacrament of God’s presence with humanity, walks just ahead of us, marking out the pathway. It is this reality that leads Merton to conclude his prayer with these words:

“Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

*Dr. Marshall spoke at the Hamrick Lectures at First Baptist Church of Charleston. I place great store in her theological thinking and her Christian leadership.

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