Do Not Be Afraid: Running with Easter, Reflections on Biblical Storytelling for Eastertide

1515a87

If you have been to NYAPC since Lent, you may have noticed that I have become fascinated with the practice of Biblical storytelling or learning the Bible by heart.  (The youth learned the whole book of Jonah on Youth Sunday, which totally blew me away.)

I was introduced to this spiritual practice mid-Lent by Rev. Casey Fitzgerald, Associate Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Alexandria and professional Biblical storyteller.  Her project was to gather five women across National Capital Presbytery to tell the story of the Women at the Well (John 4:1-42) at the NEXT Church National Conference in Kansas.

It was something I said YES to because frankly I respected the women that were asked and wanted the opportunity to get to know them better.   What I didn’t realize was how that Biblical story would become so engrained me me.  The part that I learned “Look around.  The harvest is ripe for reaping!” became implanted so deeply that I began to see the words everywhere inviting me to look around and see God’s beautiful creation and God’s harvest ALIVE and active in this world.  

17361551_10158277466550648_2818386184339720358_n

Inspired by this opportunity to learn the Biblical story by heart, during the later half of Lent when the readings from the Gospel of John became rather long — we experimented with this practice in church, not requiring our liturgists and pastors to memorize the text but rather to read it so that the words become second nature so that the the words of the Biblical story become like telling a close friend the best story in the world. That is what the Gospel message is, right?  The best story in the world. 

For Easter I took the challenge to memorize the Easter story from Matthew 28:1-10.  For two weeks, I  ran outside with the story.  I uploaded it onto my phone, and as I chugged along a few miles each day, I repeated phrase in my head, gradually adding phrase on top of phrase. 

It was a deeply spiritual practice to experience and notice the presence of God as the trees and birds were changing over from winter to spring.   Seeing the unfolding of spring all around me all while repeating the Easter story in my head, I began to experience the story of the women of the tomb.  These are the women who who rose early to check on Jesus’ body expecting a crucified man to still be there. 

Central to the story, I kept hearing the words from the angel and then Jesus saying

“DO NOT BE AFRAID.”

9ecabbc667a7b7157a4503a9e24ad7d6

These are words that we need to hear today as Christians — as people of the post resurrection era, as Eastertide people.   These are words that meet us in our creatureliness — our fears of not fitting in, of not doing well enough, of completely messing everything up,  of never being recognized or never getting the opportunity to be seen.  

These are words too that meet us in our fears that are more global — fears of that are based in a very real and scary reality of the often violent world that we live in.  These are fears that we felt this week as we experienced the real and horrific violence against mostly women and children in Manchester.  These are the very real fears  from the family of Lilana Mendez, a mom of children ages 4 and 10 years old from Falls Church, VA who was detained at her at her regularly scheduled Immigrations and Customs Enforcement checkin.  It feels as though the world is too scary — that there is too much horror and injustice and not enough real peace.  It feels easy to simply feel afraid and do nothing.  Fear can be immobilizing.  

As I was driving home yesterday, I saw a young African American man pulled over for what I assumed to be a traffic violation on 15th street in front of the White House.  I wondered what level of fear he felt or how he has been taught by his mother to act so calmly so as to avoid any kind of violence.   I took note how my son’s first driving lesson won’t likely be how to interact with the police.  I wondered what my role is as a Christian  is in in offering protection for this young man.  

As I ran and meditated on the words “Do not be afraid,” I heard the realness and the concrete particularity of our fears, and I heard that it is in those places of deepest trauma that God meets each and every one of us.

I heard that the Gospel calls out for us is to take the risk of the relationship, to take the risk of being hurt, to take the risk of being changed, and enter with hands held in compassion into the each other’s space.  The Gospel calls each of us to take on risk and burden of another — and through this deep binding to become closer to who we are and whose we are called to be.

Jesus knew that and felt that very real fear as he faced the cross on his journey to Jerusalem and then during that week of trial and execution.  So when Jesus says “DO NOT BE AFRAID”, he is saying that he knows this feeling.  He is saying to us — I know how it feels to want to immobilized.  I know the feeling of wanting to pull the blankets over your head.  I know the feeling of feeling so tired.

But in the words of DO NOT BE AFRAID, what I gained from reading the Easter story over and over, running with it, with each pound of the foot on the pavement, hearing the words of Jesus saying DO NOT BE AFRAID and DO NOT LET YOUR FEAR PARALYZE YOU.  Don’t give up.  Don’t throw in the towel. 

Don’t give up because you don’t face all of these fears alone. 

You might be like the women at the tomb the first day who came so early because they knew no where else to go.  Even if the it was just the body of Jesus, they wanted to be with him.  When when Jesus appeared in the flesh — “they immediately came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.”   

We might be like the disciples who hid in the upper room for days in fear of the religious authorities.  We might be like Thomas who needed to experience the wounds of Christ for himself, who needed to see how God had so concretely took on the all of the pain and suffering of this world upon God-self.

We might be like the one witnessing the story from afar knowing the pain and suffering of those earliest followers and knowing the pain and suffering of God’s people today.  We might feel the urge to get up outside of ourselves and try on what it feels like to follow that call and “Do not be afraid.”

Whoever we are in the story — in reading and repeating the learning the story by heart, the story is for all of us — that God is alive and active, that God is with us in the deepest traumas, and that God says that as the body of faith, we are to be present for one another. 

Over the next months, I encourage you to take out a Biblical story — perhaps your favorite one and read it over and over.  Read it in little chunks savoring on each word and phrase, noticing the shift and tone of the voices, noticing how the story tells in parts and as whole.  I hope you will learn a Biblical story by heart.  And if you choose a lectionary passage (or ask Roger or I for one), we would love for you to share your Biblical reading in worship. 

Blessings,

Alice

Here is my plug for an intergenerational class I will be teaching on Biblical Storytelling in July.

Sundays, July 23 and July 30 :   Learning to Tell the Bible by Heart:  Anyone can tell a story!  Join us for an interactive workshop on how to tell parts of the Biblical Story by heart.  This workshop can be geared to anyone Grade K and up.  If you are planning to bring your very young child, please let Associate  Alice Tewell (alice.tewell@nyapc.org) know so she can prepare accordingly.  This workshop will also be useful for anyone serving as a Scripture reader.

Advertisements

Good Friday – Mary “Here I Am” – How does the church respond?

John 19:25b-27, Third Reading in the 7 Last Words of Christ

from Rev. Alice Rose Tewell from Good Friday service April 14, 2017, noon. 

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother,  and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas,  and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother,  “Woman, here is your son.”  Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. 

 “Woman, here is your son”  “Here is your mother”

These are the words that have burrowed deep within my soul, starting their journey when I first became a mother about 3 and half years ago.  After reading this passage many times, I’m still confused. How can Jesus address his mother as “woman?” It feels so harsh. Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, is saying this, yes, but also these words come from Mary’s beloved Son, the one whom she swaddled so carefully and played with in the manger.

The one when the angel of the Lord said, Greetings, favored one!  Do not be afraid! .. She is the one who first responded “Here I am!” and sang from her soul to the Lord.  She sings in joy at the beginning of Jesus’ life – a joy mixed with fear and joy overpowered with hope and possibility.

But now on this Friday on the foot of the cross the pangs of the soul are different, a beating so heavy; I wonder how she keeps her body standing up right? Does she feel as though she is going to collapse herself in a heap — like bones — held up only by the power of the Spirit? How does she stand at the foot of the cross looking on at her Jesus, her son?

——

Her relationship with Jesus has always been different — we remember him at the age of 12 staying in the temple longer than he should — saying tersely to his mother — “Why didn’t you think to look for me at my Father’s house?” Or at Jesus’ first miracle the wedding at Cana and another terse response: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”

There relationship was different, loving but not sentimental. It is a relationship of mom and son but also of the Son of Man and a woman of great faith — a story of God and God’s most faithful one saying “Here I am.”

Some years ago from Stanley Hauwewas book on the 7 last words of Christ, I read the work of  Catholic Bishop and counter-cultural advocate Raniero Cantalamessa, author of Mary, Mary: Mirror of the Church.  Cantalemessaa, with strong roots in the Mary tradition, makes a fascinating observation that in Christian theology Jesus is associated with the new Adam, the new Moses, and the new David, yet Jesus is never associated with Abraham. Why is this case, he asks? 

It is because Mary is our new Abraham. 

Abraham is one who followed God’s call when all earthly standards told him to walk the other way.  As we recall during the lighting of candles on Christmas Eve,  even when both he and his wife Sarah were too old to conceive, God said that they would have descendants that number the stars.  Then once they finally did bear their child Isaac, the child in whom all of their hopes and dreams are cast, we recall that deeply disturbing story when Abraham did not resist God’s command to take Isaac up that treacherous mountain to sacrifice his only son. God comes to both Isaac and Abraham’s rescue providing a ram in Isaac’s place.

But the case of Mary and Jesus their story is different.  Like Abraham, Mary said “Here I Am,” to bear God incarnate, God who lived among us, God who lived both as divine and human suffering for and alongside us.  But Mary’s “Here I Am,” could not save her son.  And I think she knew that.

Here these words excerpted from Mary’s Magnificat months before she is to give birth:  My soul magnifies the Lord… Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed…He has shown strength with his arm; He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted by the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

She, the mother, the woman, the one who perhaps knew Jesus best knew from her faith from her knowledge of God that this One — and this YES, Here I AM would be different.

But standing there on the foot of the cross,  how could she have imagined that this is how she would see her son for the final time?  She bore the pain of seeing her Son on that cross.  She stood there as the soldiers divided his clothes.  She stood there in danger to her own life; she couldn’t have known the outcome of being associated as the  mother of Jesus.   She stood there in her own grief, in her own agony in own anger perhaps and entered into the cross’ dark shadow. But even from the cross — this place of brutality and torture we hear the hope and love that comes from the reconciliation of Jesus.

Woman, here is your son.” 

Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” 

These are the words of connection. These are the words of community. These are the words of a new covenant for all of creation.  

These are the words of covenant where family is no longer based on lineage on who your birth parents and blood family are. These are the words that begin the church.

From Mary, to the most beloved disciple, a new community, a new family, a new set of possibilities are shaped and put into practice.

This is where the church is the community  transcends all boundaries, extending across generations, and across cultural norms of who should accept whom and who a person should accept into her own home.

This is the church where the disciple takes the risk on behalf of the one most in need, the most vulnerable —and in this case — the mother of Jesus, the mother of this one considered notorious by the authorities, who may have very well been marked as a threat too.  This is the church where the disciple takes her into the safety  and sanctuary of his own home.  This is the church where the one who is the most vulnerable is the one of the greatest faith the one who already said “Here I am.”prompting the whole community to say  “Here I am too.”

Here I am taking your pain as my pain.

your earth is my earth

your profiling is my profiling

your detention centers are my detention centers

your deportation is my deportation

imgres-5your attack is my attack

your barrel bombs are my bombs

your victims are my victims

your dangerous boat ride is my boat ride

your razor wire fence is my razor wire fence

your famine is my famine

your desperation is my desperation

your death is my death

your life is my life

your faith is my faith

your faith is what prompts me to say yes in the midst of all fear.

Yes, I believe.   And I believe in a new way of being a person, a community, and God’s church.  “Here is Your Son.” “Here is Your Mother.” “Here I am.”  

Learning the Maundy Thursday Story

imagesOn this day Christ the Lamb of God gave himself into the hands of those who would slay him. On this day Christ gathered with his disciples in the upper room. On this day Christ took a towel and washed the disciples’ feet, giving us an example that we should do to others as he has done to us.On this day Christ our Lord gave us this holy feast, that we  who eat this bread and drink this cup may here proclaim his holy sacrifice, and be partakers of his resurrection, and at the last day may reign with him in heaven.
 Holy God, source of all love, on the night of his betrayal, Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment, to love one another as he loved them.  Write this commandment in our hearts; give us the will to serve others as he was the servant of all, who gave his life and died for us, yet is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.  – Unknown source

Learning About Biblical Storytelling

During Lent, thanks to Rev. Casey Fitzgerald (her blog is amazing), the NEXT Conference, and the opportunity to be Biblical Storytellers of the story of the Women at the Well,  I’ve gotten into the spiritual practice of Biblical Storytelling.    As I understand it, Biblical storytelling is usually telling the story by heart.  It is learning the story so well that it is 90-100% memorized, memorized so well that it is as if the storyteller is telling the words of the Bible to a good friend.  

I would like to get to the place of memorizing more scripture (perhaps even on a weekly basis), letting the words of the Bible, and particularly the stories of God’s people, sink deep into my heart changing some of my perceptions.  For example, in reading through the Gospel of John, Jesus feels like a radical risk-taker, not some pious semi-etherial Jesus that we sometimes may imagine.   In reading through the stories with Jesus at the center, he seems more like a bad-ass giving us/ me energy to be active in trying new things for the sake of the Gospel and to lean unto our identities as being justice-seeking risk-takers.

I, of course, haven’t had the time/ commitment/ energy/ drive to fully memorize each Lenten text, but in the spirit of Biblical Storytelling,  I have been meditating on the scripture text much more.  Rather than jumping right away to commentaries on what other people have written about the text, I’m pausing longer to read and re-read the text letting the words sink in, taking more time to feel the movement of the Spirit.

Throughout Lent, I have been breaking up the text into chunks as you can see from the first reading for Maundy Thursday below.  For this reading, I was really feeling the dialogue between Jesus and Simon Peter, so I used a bit of color-coding with Jesus in red (tradition) and Simon Peter in blue.  I am also particularly drawn to the purposeful action of Jesus getting up from the table and fully engaging in the foot washing,

so I pull it out a bit so that that portion stands out a bit more.

Perhaps as your Maundy Thursday practice, you too will read over these words letting the words flow over you at first and then fill you with a deepening notion of who Jesus is, and who Jesus calls us to be for the world.

A tip I learned is to read it over and over and over walking around, and then break it down into smaller chunks to learn.

Blessings on this Maundy Thursday.


Maundy Thursday Foot/ Hand Washing Reading

John 13:1-17, 31-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart imgres-1from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.

And during supper Jesus,  knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,

got up from the table,imgres-2

took off his outer robe,

and tied a towel around himself.


Then he poured water into a basin

and began to wash the disciples’ feet

and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around                    him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,   ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’

Jesus answered, ‘  You do not know now what I am doing,  but later you will understand.’

Peter said to him, ‘  You will never wash my feet.’

Jesus answered,  ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’

Simon Peter said to him,  ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’

Jesus said to him,

‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet,

but is entirely clean.

And you are clean,

though not all of you.’

For he knew who was to betray him;  for this reason he said,  ‘Not all of you are clean.’

After he had washed their feet,

had put on his robe,imgres-3

and had returned to the table,

he said to them,

Do you know what I have done to you?

You call me Teacher and Lord—

and you are right, for that is what I am.  

So if I, your Lord and Teacher,

have washed your feet,

you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

For I have set you an example,

that you also should do as I have done to you.

imgres-4Very truly, I tell you,

servants are not greater than their master,

nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.

If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

When he had gone out, Jesus said,

‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified,

and God has been glorified in him.

If God has been glorified in him,

God will also glorify him in himself

and will glorify him at once.

Little children, I am with you only a little longer.

You will look for me;

and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you,

“Where I am going, you cannot come.”

I give you a new commandment,   images-1

that you love one another.

Just as I have loved you,

you also should love one another.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,

if you have love for one another.’


The darkness deepens, and the Lord grows troubled.
Can we keep watch? 
Can we be the friends at Jesus’ table who share this Holy bread and wine?
Can we be the companions who journey with Jesus to the end?

Easter Contemplation

IMG_0664From Wendy Farley’s The Wounding and Healing of Desire: “Buddhists seek enlightenment, and Christians long for union with God. These supply us with images of a contemplative path that has discernable stages and ends up someplace, a journey that concludes when we find ourselves snug in a castle, the strains of the journey safely behind us. But Buddhists and Christians also describe stages within the enlightened or united condition, and they tend to postpone the perfect realization of these states to another life or another mode of existence in “heaven.” The idea of an ending or conclusion provides us with a more definite shape for our desire and criteria for our “advancement,” such as it is, along the path. The fruits of contemplation are said to include equanimity, deep peace, joy, undisturbed compassion, and love. In the confusions of life and the disorientation of contemplation, these markers can be helpful. If we find ourselves hating ourselves or others more than ever, this is a signal that perfect possession of enlightenment continues to elude us. But even if there is a consummation of the contemplative path, it is the path itself that we walk, step by step. As we walk we should not expect that the dawning of contemplative desire transforms us into peaceful, loving, joyous, calm people. In fact, the opposite experience is more likely to arise at various moments (or years or decades) of the path. It is crucial to remember that contemplation is a path because this allows us to attend to the place we are right now…Contemplation stills thoughts and emotions so that we can become more conscious of dimensions of mind beneath the grunge and distraction of everyday day life. Even sitting still for thirty seconds and focusing awareness on our breath can clear out an excess of anxiety, restoring a level of calm and confidence that seems disproportionate to the simplicity of what we have done. Various contemplative practices assist us in deepening this calm.”

Roger

Easter Purification

Doortocht door de Rode Zee

From Wendy Farley’s The Wounding and Healing of Desire: “Through this dialogue of mutual desire, over time interior awareness of the faith we acquired but did not believe even as children is carried more deeply into us: the gracious adoration of Holy Mystery for us requires nothing at all of us. In whatever tiny measure we awaken to desire for the Beloved, we become aware that the infinite depths of the Beloved’s desire for us preceded us: the eternity of divine love for us walks before us, follows after us, protects us from above, nourishes us from below, and burns within us. It can no more abandon us that it can abandon its own nature. The sublime indifference of our Beloved to our imperfections can be almost intolerable. We crave this Love yet find it unbearable. Desire teaches us to detach from our certainties and our need to be perfect, releasing more and more fully into the flow of desire between Holy Eros and ourselves. In this way, the painfulness of desire, the anguish of uncertainty, and the inevitability of errors that harm ourselves and others become as nothing compared to the urgency of desire as it carries us to our Beloved. It is this loving and being loved that purifies us, removes the “rust” from our souls, and makes us ‘as white as the cotton grass of the moor.’”

Roger

Holy Saturday

Aaron Douglas Creation

From my Theology from the Trenches: “The ‘revealing’ power of the cross is critically important, for if the cross exposes sin, it also discloses the God who is always and already bringing life out of the death-tending ways of our world. Or as Nadia Bolz-Weber has put it, ‘God keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves through our violence, our lies, our selfishness, our arrogance and our addictions. And God keeps loving us back to life over and over.’ The profound affirmation of cruciform faith is that God refuses to give up on God’s creation and is at every moment bringing life or resurrection out of the crucified places of our world.”

Roger

Good Friday

gecomprimeerd Anneke Kaai Death(1)

From my Cross Examen: Theologian Kristine Culp tells an arresting story of meeting a gang member from Los Angeles who had unusual marks upon him: the word “Florence” was tattooed on his forehead, over his skull, and around his neck. The tattoo defined him as belonging to a particular neighborhood—one ruled by his gang. The tattoo carried the threat of violence against anyone who would disrespect his hood. Culp met the man at an agency that aids people trying to escape L.A.’s violent gang culture. Through the ministry of this agency, the man found an alternative culture of love and forgiveness that helped him reconstruct his life. As a result, this former gang member was literally changing the marks upon him; he was in the midst of the painful process of tattoo removal, which required “months of treatment and entailed what are essentially second-degree burns.” This story is an apt metaphor for our human condition, for we also bear the marks of violence upon us, perhaps not physically, but spiritually, for the same violence that crucified Jesus crucifies us. But God in Christ is always at work, bringing life out of death, healing our wounds, resurrecting us from the death-tending ways of the world, and inviting our participation in the divine cosmic restoration project.

Roger