Friday, January 31, 2014

True Sisterhood: Breaking and Rebuilding

This week the True Sisterhood group in Jamestown met and we tested out a art/prayer/project from my friend Lynne. We have also been reading Laura Truax's book "Undone" and had come to a place where this hands on project fit perfectly. We did our best to " Ring the bells that still ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack - a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."(Anthem by Leonard Cohen).

We broke clay pots. We wrestled with re-gluing the broken pieces. We laughed, encouraged, and cheered one another on. We rebuilt. We painted. Here are some pictures of our project where we embraced brokenness and discovered beauty.


Beautiful Mess

Beauty from brokeness

Works drying

Definitely not perfect 

Exposed rough spots




Sharp edges

Superman's house - Fortress of Solitude


Happy Heart

The only kind of proverb or wisdom that I’m used to getting in addition to my Chinese food is the tiny paper that comes out of a fortune cookie. At the end of the meal we ceremoniously hold up the tray of cookies and carefully choose the cookie. We bite into the cookie to reveal the fortune that is tucked inside of it. Then we read our fortunes out loud and ponder how they could come true. Often we save each fortune to decorate the bulletin board at home.
Wisdom - it seems, is something we all are hungry for.

“You can be skinny and you can be pretty, but you have to feed a happy heart.”
When I first heard these words, my first reaction was confusion. All I had been trying to do was pick up some Chinese food for dinner, but in addition to my order and fortune cookie, I had been given a personal proverb from the cook. 
This conversation with the cook had started when I had asked specific questions about how the dish was prepared. “What sauce is it served with? Can you go light on the oil? Can I have chicken instead of beef?” and my final request – “No rice, thank you.”

With each of my questions, the woman who was preparing my food continued to smile at me. She looked amused at my fretting over oil until she could hold back no more and exclaimed:

“You can be skinny and you can be pretty, but you have to feed a happy heart.”
In that moment, I realized that while the cook was talking about the dish she was preparing for me now, she also was talking about something bigger, lasting and spiritual. Her words held wisdom for the present moment as well as in the future.
Beatitudes a form of wisdom writing and found all throughout literature. In Jesus day they were commonly used and would have been statements about general human virtues. These statements generally would “declare certain people to be in a privileged, fortunate.” (NIC, 176) Other words to describe beatitudes could be: “content, happy, well-off, peace, well-being and blessed by God.” (NIC. 176)

“You can be skinny and you can be pretty, but you have to feed a happy heart.”
Whether or not the cook knew it, her words fit the description of being a literary beatitude. The wisdom that I took away from her was this… there are many things we may want in life, but a content – happy – well off and peaceful heart, is one that needs to be fed. Humanity is obsessed with external beauty, but real contentment comes from nurturing the heart.
Getting to the heart of the matter is wisdom we all are hungry for.

The beatitudes listed in Matthew 5 are great examples of general human wisdom literature, but they also are problematic because they speak opposite of common wisdom. Listen for a moment to Matthew 5:1-10 as found in the Message. Allow the different paraphrase to help you hear the beatitudes text anew:

3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

Wisdom can come from unexpected places, (like cooks at Chinese Restaurants) as well as take some thought to unpack. The Beatitudes call us to be more aware of our need for God than anything else. Unpacking meaning and wisdom from the Beatitudes can be difficult for a few reasons:

      1. Changes in the meaning of language: Our current understandings of words like poor, meek, hungry are an obstacle for grasping the meaning of the Beatitudes.  However, the intended meaning of these words was to point to our great need, reliance we have for God in our lives.
It is in our trust and dependence for God that we receive the blessing of peace, comfort, and mercy.

  2. Who is being addressed? We read the Beatitudes to be spoken to an individual, but they are addressing the whole community of faith. “Not every member of every congregation can claim to be meek, merciful, and pure of heart, but the beatitudes are addressed, not initially to individuals, but to the whole faith community”. (New Interpreters Commentary Matthew, pg.181)
It is impossible to live the beatitudes alone. It is only by God’s power and work through Christ that the community of faith lives in meekness, mercy, and purity of heart.

  3. We think we are in control: We are used to buying, learning and getting to a goal by following various, “Philosophy’s of life”. It is unsettling but true that, “Christianity is not a scheme to reduce stress, lose weight, advance ones career, or preserve one from illness. Christian faith, instead, is a way of living based on the firm and sure hope that meekness is the way of God, that righteousness and peace will finally prevail, and that God’s future will, be a time of mercy and not cruelty.  (New Interpreters Commentary Matthew, pg.181)

It is God’s responsibility to vindicate the world and our responsibility to hope in and follow God.

“You can be skinny and you can be pretty, but you have to feed a happy heart.”

So many times I try to fill in my own “Can” statements. It’s like I’ve gone shopping for meaning and purpose without knowing where to find it. “You can be successful or wealthy or beautiful”.

But the happy heart knows that it source of strength does not come from itself, but from God.  The happy heart knows it can only “be” when God fills it up. Julian of Norwich, a Christian mystic and nun from the 14th century, penned this response on how God’s fills us up…

     You must learn to understand that all your deficiencies, even those that come from your past sins and vicious habits, are part of my loving providence for you, and that it is just with those deficiencies, just the way you are now, that I would love you.
Therefore you must overcome the habit of judging how you would make yourself acceptable to me. When you do this you are putting your providence, your wisdom before mine. It is my wisdom that tells you, “The way you are acceptable to me, the way I want to love you, is the way you are now, with all your defects and deficiencies.
I could wipe them out in a moment if I wanted to, but then I could not love you the way I want to love you, the way you are – now.” (Undone, pg. 73)

The beatitudes remind us that God’s ways are different than our ways. We will not find contentment in things. We will not find peace in accomplishment. We will not find the wisdom that we long for in and of ourselves. For the present and the future – God is our source of wisdom, blessing and hope.

I’d like to take some liberty with the Chinese Proverb given to me earlier this week because I want it to be clear that it is through Jesus that all blessings are given.

“You can be content and you can be at peace, but only when you let God fill your heart.”

God’s blessing is for today, tomorrow and all eternity – that is a promise. The beatitudes call us to hear Jesus’ blessing to live together as a community of faith and surrender our wisdom in exchange for God’s wisdom. Happy hearts are ones given to God and filled with a purpose that can’t be stolen or bought. May you be content, may you be at peace, and may you allow God to fill your heart.

Heavenly Father,
Thank you for your blessings for today and in the days to come. Help us to always rely on you and share in this community of faith. Fill us with the hope, peace, mercy and love – that only comes from you.