“Always”

GOSPEL | JOHN 6:27-35

27 “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.”  28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”  29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  30 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?  31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”  32 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.  33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”  35 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.”

“Give us this bread always” (v.34)

This semester has been one of deep personal reflection (to anyone who follows this blog, this will have become redundantly obvious). How all this reflection began, however, is with this question: “What do you want?” Ruth Haley Barton’s book Sacred Rhythms asked me in the first chapter to begin the work of crafting my own personal spiritual rule, or “sacred rhythms,” by first examining my desires.

After taking a bleak January morning to listen deeply to what I really wanted, I discovered a few illuminating points:

  • I want to “be” more than to “do,” but I also want to understand better what I want to “do.”
  • I want more space to be creative, but the space I have I waste on distraction or self-gratification.
  • I want intimacy, fellowship, and love, but I am afraid of offering those gestures to others.

I saw in all of this work that I do not go to the right meal to nourish my deepest hungers. Paul encounters this same dynamic in his own life:

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15)

This passage from John has recalled all of this examining of my desires to the surface again. The Jews listening to Jesus cry out like nest-bound hatchlings, mouths agape, crying: “Give us this bread always!” (v.34). They have a real spiritual hunger, and they smell a pleasing aroma, and their spirits ache to be satisfied. Jesus sees and hears and understands, and ultimately offers himself: “I am the bread of life.” (v.35).

What I want most can only ever be found in Jesus Christ. He is the answer to all of my questions, he is the meal for all of my appetites, he is the source and end of my pilgrimage. I understand this well, and I understand this not at all. I am able to write this with conviction. But I have yet to really train my appetites to crave the right food: “the food that endures for eternal life” (v. 27), “the true bread from heaven” (v.32), “the Bread of Life” (v.35). I cry out with those listening: “Give [me] this Bread always!”

“Know”

GOSPEL | JOHN 3:1-8

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.  He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”  Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”  5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.  What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’  The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

I have been reading Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms this semester with my mentor, and her explanation of Lectio Divina (“sacred reading”) has been very helpful for me as I have been reading the gospel of John (the lectionary’s text for Lent) and practicing Lectio.

Read:  It usually takes me several minutes of fighting my attention to quiet focus before I can read well, and even then, I have to read it through several times before my brain will stop trying to exegete the passage for its historical context and its cultural background and its preaching value, etc. Once I can appreciate the text for its own voice today, and not for the voice I want to give it, then I’m ready to be still and listen. The word that the Spirit lifts to my attention today is “know.”

Reflect:  After reading again, “Know” shows up twice: Nicodemus says that the Pharisees “know” that Jesus must be from God, and Jesus says that Nicodemus does not “know” where the wind (and thus, those born of the Spirit) is moving. Much, if not all, of my energy is spent in knowing. I read books, I listen to sermons and lectures and reflections, I write papers and blogs and reflections, and then I have discussions and ask questions and answer questions and give opinions. My primary occupation (being a student) centers on knowing. But do I really “know” the Lord? Or am I just learning about him? On my best days, it’s both. What about today?

Respond:  O Lord, grant me the curiosity of Nicodemus, that I may come to you; but let me come by day, without shame or suspicion, with the full help of your light. And let me come with questions, but not merely to get answers. Let me come to You, and to Your Word, as one seeking conversation, relationship, intimacy. As I open myself to Your Word, know me more, and let me know you more. Guide me deeper and deeper into this shared space, Lord. Meet me there.

(Rest)

Resolve:  I had not encountered this step of Lectio before, but it has been a profound addition to the practice. The Latin for this step, according to Barton, is incarnatio, “enflesh.” How will I enflesh this? Primarily, by continuing to carve out space for Lectio in my weekly rhythm. Lectio reminds me that God (and thus, God’s Word) has an agenda for my life, and then Lectio helps me to understand that agenda through the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. Rather than always coming to the text in order to make it work for my purposes (teaching, preaching, proving a point, finding an answer, etc.), I am being crafted to work for the Bible’s purposes, namely, to bear witness. I had resolved to let Lectio be my Lenten practice, but as it takes hold of me, I think this may become an all-year-long practice.

Quote

Prayer anticipating a full day

Holy One,

there is something I wanted to tell you

but there have been errands to run,

bills to pay,

arrangements to make,

friends to entertain,

washing to do . . .

and I forget what it is I wanted to say to you,

and mostly I forget what I’m about,

or why.

O God,

don’t forget me, please,

for the sake of Jesus Christ. . . .

O Father in Heaven,

perhaps you’ve already heard what I wanted to tell you.

What I wanted to ask is

forgive me,

heal me,

increase my courage, please.

Renew in me a little of love and faith,

and a sense of confidence,

and a vision of what it might mean

to live as though you were real,

and I mattered,

and everyone was sister and brother.

What I wanted to ask in my blundering way is

don’t give up on me,

don’t become too sad about me,

but laugh with me,

and try again with me,

and I will try with you, too.

~ Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace, quoted in Ruth Haley Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership