Thursday, April 16, 2009

There Comes an End, And There Comes a Beginning

In the early 1980s I attended one of Buckminster Fuller's last lectures, in which he reiterated, "God is a verb."  Moves.  Lives.  Loves.  Changes.  I could almost get it.  Fuller also introduced the concept of synergy - the unpredictable behavior of a new entity created by the joining of formerly separate things.  His geodesic domes, for example, combined parts in such a way that new kinds of behavior emerged.  Moves.  Lives.  Loves.  Changes.  It's not a fixed and certain world.  The world is moving, living, changing, and we are in the midst of an unfinished story, always emerging in surprising and challenging ways.

Just yesterday I read about a common type of amoeba which normally spends its life wandering ponds and backwaters, going about its business in a solitary fashion.  In an emergency though, say in a drought, the amoebas seek each other out and begin a process of shedding their individual identities.  When a tipping point is reached, a new, higher functioning creature emerges from those formerly solitary cells.  This wonderful new being eventually becomes something like a tiny tree, with branches and roots.  Moves. Lives. Loves. Changes.  I wonder, though, about the thousands of individuals who gave up their rather complete little lives to become part of this new adventure.  Surely the time between being an individual and, say, a digestive cell in a much larger creature had its moments of deep mystery and uncertainty. What would it feel like?  

Anyone who has undergone any sort of deep change knows:  There comes a time when the old order has died, and the new order, if there is to be any, is not yet apparent.  We have, in effect, died to what we were, and we are not yet what we will become.  This is a shadowy threshold space, a border country, a gap between solid ends through which the wind whistles, and where we might, if we're lucky, catch a glimpse of the back end of God.   It is the place from which our deepest creativity springs.  It is also a place of slippery footing and unstable ground where the numinous can enter if we allow it.

I think of Jesus' time with his disciples after his resurrection as a kind of liminal space.  He was not the same man they had known.  They could barely recognize him, physically or psychically. And he was not yet "ascended to the Father."  He was, perhaps, making the very most of a powerful threshold we all must cross - the threshold from death to life.  Anything can happen on this threshold, and anything has.  Can we companion Jesus through this time?  This is the time when old assumptions have been shattered and we are left without the safety of a mutually perceived "reality."  It is a time that blows out our walls, then and now.

I wonder if I am ready, tonight, for the risen Christ to pass through the walls and locked doors of my cherished self.  Christ offers newness of life, but the price is high.  Jesus holds out his hand to me, but I am hesitant to take it.  I do not fear death.  I do not even fear suffering.  I fear instead the loss of myself, of the walls around all that I think I am, and of the sweetness of the solid footing I enjoy, even if that loss might mean newness of life.  I cling to the comfortable constructs I share with friends, the familiarity of my own body, the comfort of my daily routine. Do I really want a Christ risen, and to be part of a new, larger body of Christ?  No.  I really want the old, familiar Jesus, and the old, familiar me.  Give me more of the same.  Much more.

Alas, Jesus never promises more of the same.  I understand Mary's desire to hold on to him.  I also want to hold on to him as a rock in a storm.  A firm, unchanging rock I can count on, with rules I can follow that will lead me to an expected and comfortable end. What bitter lessons we all learn about rocks in storms, as our little boats are broken and we struggle for our lives. Rather than tying ourselves to rocks, we should have been learning to sail in deep waters, or to swim.  Christ is not the rock.  Christ is the storm.

What happens at the intersection of God and man?  Surely something as radical as the shift from noun to verb, from simple to complex, or from death to life.  For me, the risen Christ is exactly that intersection, a new emergence likely to behave in unexpected ways, shattering my expectations, throwing open doors, blowing out walls, revealing new truths, and if I can allow it, a new beauty I could not have imagined.  An emergence sprung, as is so often true, from emergency - a dire and unexpected set of circumstances that shakes our world in ways we cannot resist.

Let us then be shaken.  Let us grieve the old order, if necessary.  But let us also be joyful, and let our hearts burn within us.  Let us be deeply moved, even tossed about, even shattered by joy, as Mary was.  But do not hold on to him.  He is risen, but this is not the end of his journey or ours. He is here with us on our journey, on our road from one place to the next, as a stranger whom we might recognize and invite to dinner, even if it shatters our world.  And it will.  

We are in the middle of an unfinished story where former things have passed away.  This is our emergency.  There is no way to hold on to a center that dissolves even as we reach for it.  We must lose our footing for the Holy Spirit, the wind itself, to take hold of us.  We also make our way from death to life, here in this threshold space.  God is here, emerging.  We are emerging too, risen with Christ, about to begin.

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