Awe & Authority
February 1, 2015
Psalm 111, Mark 1:21-28
This week I was exchanging stories with other clergy folks about our spaces, what kinds of things we had stored in our basements, whether we have basements or not, and told them that, “We at one point had accumulated a lot of old medical equipment, crutches, walkers, wheelchairs.” And this older woman looked at me, who was from more of a charismatic tradition, said, “From healings?” She was joking. Sort of.
Some traditions do have healing ceremonies, anywhere from asking for healing energy, to having the living Christ miraculously heal you, by laying on hands, exorcising the sick spirit, and healing on the spot. Disabled or injured people getting up to walk. Heidi off of her crutches and scooter and those things in the basement! Although this is quite different from our tradition, I don’t mean to poke fun at this- I believe in the power of healing.
Our scripture from Mark says, “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching–with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
Commentary says, “What Jesus says to the forces of evil that inhabit the body, “be silent.” The verb demands action. Mark wants to demonstrate that Jesus’ word is effective, powerful. His world is action, his action is embedded in his word. The authority is not only in the teaching, but also in the action. The term, “authority” in Greek is exousia, “divine power.”
Authority in English, has the root Auth, which means self, own. Any one we look to with authority, any good leader knows that authority is not about controlling other people, but about controlling one’s response to other people. We cannot control anyone’s behavior but our own. This is empowering and freeing.
True authority, I think, comes from having Awe for the world, Awe for the divine. We hear this in Psalm 111: “God sent redemption to God’s people; God has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is God’s name. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. God’s praise endures forever.”
These concepts of Authority, and Awe, surface around healing. What do authority and awe have to do with healing? Perhaps a combination of awe, as childlike reverence for the divine; ability to let go – to know we don’t control what happens around us. This awe, along with the knowledge of authority, of our own power and agency only over our behavior and bodies, not power in abuse of other’s, awe and authority are formula for healing.
We are going to work with the Gospel of Mark in the coming weeks and Mark’s gospel emphasizes healing more than any of the others. Thirteen of the eighteen miracles written about in Mark have to do with healing, and four of those thirteen are exorcisms. Mark, as the earliest gospel, makes the claim that religion and healing, spirituality and health, have to do with one another.
If we get past the miraculous, unbelievable nature of it healing, we can at least make the connection, that spiritual healing has to do with bodies. That religion has something to do with healing. With the connection of body and spirit, or the inseperability of them. Jesus does physical healing, which is also spiritual healing, so is there a difference?
We are now in a time of the liturgical calendar after Epiphany and before Lent, which begins until mid February 18th on Ash Wednesday. If you have gotten a chance to read the church newspaper, Tidings, this month, you will see an introduction to our Lenten Series for 2015.
Last year we focused on the Christ-like suffering in the world, and had a Social Justice themed Lenten Series. Each week we invited a different organization from the area to come in and tell us about what they do. We learned about advocacy around mental health, domestic violence, racial justice, healing the earth, the experiences of Transman and women. This was also a discernment process for the church, to determine which areas of outreach we feel most called to do. This discernment process is still taking place.
This year for Lent, we are focusing on inward and communal spiritual practices, but in particular Embodied Spiritual Practices. Rather than giving something up for Lent communally, we are going to have the opportunity to think about and try out a different religious or spiritual practice each week. Or to understand a spiritual practice more deeply that we already engage in.
When we talk about ‘spiritual practice,’ or ‘spiritual experience,’ it is both normal for you to nod your head and say “Yea I know what that means,” or to cock your head to the side and say, “You lost me a little.”
Sometimes Lent is paired with self-denial, and especially denial of the body. If that is your thing and it works for you, by all means, go for it, give up chocolate. But please be careful not to unconsciously equate your body with sinfulness.
During Lent this year, we at First Church are going to explore Embodied Spiritual Practices, ones that go deeply into the 5 senses. Sometimes the word spiritual can become misconstrued with ephemeral, something beyond our reach and access. We want to live deeply into our gift of incarnation, as human being in bodies on earth now.
Christianity is the incarnation religion. We uniquely and specifically claim that God joined us on earth, coming to us in the form of a human person. We are told that we too have this God spirit in us, and that we are made in the image of God.
During Lent, we want to connect to our God-in-body, or embodied spirituality, and give ourselves the opportunity to interpret embodied practice as spiritual, to learn from our incarnation experience, and to honor the physical realm. Moving, praying, Hiking, dancing, music, drumming, chanting, playing, eating, creating art, smelling fresh air. This is what we are getting at. We will make all practices open and inclusive for all bodies; for all abilities and disabilities, for all ages, children and the elderly. And your particular body will be of no exposure to anyone but you and your God.
I believe deep and true healing comes not first from striving to get somewhere else with yourself, but first with a deep awareness and acceptance of our present state. Moving forward with healing can only begin with an acceptance and even love, of the present. So those things we don’t like about ourselves? Making peace with them, having compassion for them, even extending love to those parts of ourselves. If we don’t, then when we see the things we don’t like in other’s we won’t be very kind.
What does healing mean to you? Have you experiences miraculous healing? Has physical healing felt spiritual to you?
I felt healing take place here yesterday, during our dear friend, Bob Zyko’s Memorial Service. For those of you who weren’t able to attend, or didn’t know, Bob, we talked about his positive attitude- how he reminded us to turn our faces to the sun, and to breath. We remembered his loyalty and commitment to his family and community, and his genuine appreciation of life. Bob lived with a chronic condition, but you’d hardly know it, because Bob did not act like he was suffering or sick. He served on the deposit committee, and had served as an usher and deacon. He was part of the Elder Passage, a group at First Church who have taken it upon themselves to examine the soul’s task leading up to death.
Well the Elder Passage participants experienced our first death in the group. And they decided not to try to fix their grief, or Alma’s grief, but to sit together, behind the family, to show their support and presence. They offered a poem and a hymn, “Blessed be the tie that binds.”
The Elder Passage participants represent all of us at First Church, whether we participate in the group or not. They are the focused group in this body of church, who take time to think together about scripture, and how it relates to life and death, to the soul’s task of uniting with the cosmos. There is so much healing that happens all the time, in this group, and I think we got to see the results of that on Sunday. With an awe for the mystery of the soul traveling to the arms of God, to the expansive loving cosmos, we showed up at First Church reminded that we cannot control death, when it comes or how it comes, but we have the authority to choose how we act in response to it.
The bonds we form when we go through things like this together, are what make church community unique and special. This was the first time as pastor here, that I had the privilege of officiating a Memorial Service of someone relatively young, who I knew quite well. It felt different, because I grappled with my own grief and loss of Bob. I’ve been told that there is a deepening of relationship with pastor and church, after funeral and significant death.
After Bob’s funeral yesterday, my soul allowed me to do nothing but deeply relax and exhale. I shed layers. I cried. I just sat and breathed. I made food slowly, and ate it slowly. And in doing this, I made room. Literal space, that I hadn’t had before. And I felt a healing spirit come in.
Where has there been healing in your life? With Awe and Authority, with ability to be the author of our own stories and reverence for the divine, so let us move forward on our ever journey of seeking wholeness.