30 Days in Gennesaret: Invitation and Offering

Dear Reader,

Mid-February, I was tucked away at the beach – reading, walking, writing – when the scene of Jesus healing the sick in the marketplaces of Gennesaret again caught my eye. As a caregiver, and as one who experiences brokenness, this scene intrigues me. Four brief verses of scripture, but so many perspectives. Upon the advice of my writing friends (a beautiful gathering of wise, faith-filled women), I have been practicing poetry. There at the sea, not unlike Galilee, an idea sprang to life. 30 poems for 30 days  –  I can do poetry month!

During those first hours of scribbled thoughts, I did not realize, at least consciously, how fraught with anxiety our sense of community and global health would immediately become. Nor do I want to ‘capitalize’ on the moment, rather be taught by it. So here, in words, we search, if not for a microbial cure, then space for our hearts and minds to breathe.

These poems are an invitation to reflect, to create, to ponder various perspectives, to pray. Reflection opens up teachable space, allowing us to sift through our anxieties and fears, our unanswered questions. I am convinced that we continually form and reform our beliefs about suffering, whether we register them as ‘theology’ or not. Throughout life, we pace the ground of hope and healing for individual lives, or that of community, It is our privilege to tread carefully toward nurture, or unaware, trample that which might sustain life. 30 days in Gennesaret is an invitation to be intentional in reflection. For this project, I have used as prompt the passages in the Bible from Mark 6:53-56 and Matthew 14:34-36.

When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret and anchored there. And when they came out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, ran through that whole surrounding region, and began to carry about on beds those who were sick to wherever they heard He was. Wherever he entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well. 

“Mark 6:53 (NKJV) – When they had crossed over.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 30 Mar, 2020. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nkjv/mar/6/53/p1/s_963053&gt;.

If you would like to submit/share an original creative piece (poem, painting please, etc) to participate in this project, feel free to contact me directly. Thank you!   

…and Offering: almost ALL of us are caregivers in one form or another. I have been a mother, a physical therapist, a hospice worker, a good-intentioned but less-skilled listener, a neighbor, a special needs parent, a meal-maker, a daughter (my Mom does 3/4ths of the work), a wife, a friend. In what ways have you been a caregiver for the ‘sick’ in the territories of your life? When have you, yourself, been sick and reaching? All of these inform our observation, and our offerings of hope and perspective to one another. Not to mention what we offer back to God as belief.

As we approach Gennesaret, we are with the disciples, in a boat; it’s storming. We recently felt the death of John the baptist. Before climbing into the boat we observed the feeding of the 5000, that one small lunch… And frightening moments ago we pondered what it is to walk on water. The disciples’ conclusion as Jesus steps into the boat and the wind ceases, is to worship him, “Truly you are the Son of God.”  I’d like to complete this intro then, with a prayer, taken from my journal. It is what I hope my heart will remain, as we explore the marketplaces of Gennesaret together.

Sincerely,  jfig

 

A Follower’s Prayer

Father God, may my thoughts be so characterized by you:

that the psalm is on my lips in tandem with the questions

that the voice of fear is stilled to righteous caution

and the perverse seed of bitter entitlement is bled by informed compassion.

You, oh Lord, know my frame; its weakness and strength.

May that strength ever be, the wonder of who you are.   

 

 

 

“Matthew 14:22 (NIV) – Immediately Jesus made the disciples.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 1 Apr, 2020. https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/mat/14/22/p1/s_943022.

levelling: a winter ponder

We have been studying Isaiah. Talk about scanning the height and breadth of the heavens. Into that expanse creeps an Advent message:

A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord;

make straight in the desert

a highway for our God.

every valley shall be raised up,

every mountain and hill made low;

the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.

And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,

and all people will see it together.

For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (1)

There is some aspect of levelling that occurs in getting ready for Jesus. In Luke 3, as John the Baptist goes about preaching a baptism of repentance and forgiveness, this prophecy is quoted as ‘and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’

Last time I checked, I was still part of ‘all flesh;’ woefully, the part that is STILL in need of repentance and forgiveness and salvation. Levelled. Having been a Christian for over three quarters of my life, I feel like I should have it figured out by now: plumb, level, straight. Some piece of my soul plummets when I trip over the uneven, gnarly roots of sin STILL in my life. It is winter: cold, dark, and lonely. No party here.

RW pic level

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Into this melancholic place, though, shines a light. One of the recurrent themes of Isaiah has been God’s undeterred mission for justice and righteousness; the lifting of oppressions. We see Jesus answering the religious establishment, when he is asked why he hangs out with sinners:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (2)

Jesus seems to draw a line between sickness and sin, suggesting that all that which oppresses is not external. (Please do no hear me say that sickness is always indicative of sin. John Cpt 9 clearly indicates otherwise.) Oppression is a deep word – one that most of us can sit with for a moment. It presupposes injustice, but does not rush to sling blame so much as sees the one oppressed. It is at risk of becoming commonplace, however, and I think we sometimes miss that oppression can come in a vast number of forms. Anything that sits on our chests so that we cannot freely breathe. No wonder we can relate. A light dawns, that perhaps this message of a savior of the sick, is for me. Perhaps Jesus would rather meet with the sinner in me, than the sanctimonious. He’d rather dine with my brokenness than any saintliness: that which oppresses, in me, or through me. Maybe he endures my hustling to clean myself up before I’ll approach him; flattering myself to somehow earn his favor or expecting others to do the same; but would much prefer the raw and broken Jenny, instead of so many layers of stiff white, but no less dirty, bandages. Perhaps he’s not all that squeamish about my wounds; whether self-inflicted or otherwise. Perhaps he’d like to bring a little mercy…HERE.

Various translations of this God statement read differently. In Hosea, God speaks judgement on the unrepentant, concluding: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (3)  Is it possible, that God does not want me to keep throwing away pieces of myself, untended by him,  because I cannot scrub them clean enough; but rather asks me to enter into his way of steadfast love. Steadfast love… HERE? You mean…you and me…the sinner in me? Is that even possible? And is that way level? Enough so that I might stop throwing away pieces of others as well?

Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (4) This is my winter ponder. Who is the object of this mercy? Could Jesus be talking about a multi-dimensional culture of mercy, rather than one direction? Could we abide in that kind of space, fill it out and breathe there?

The winter night sky of Isaiah makes it clear that, mercy-allowed, God still does not dispense with righteousness; but it is a righteousness of his making, not our own. He is hungry for righteousness to be fleshed-out in us. This Advent season, perhaps God would like to dine with the sinner in each of us;  our offering the unworked, rough places to his levelling, that we might remember from what place salvation comes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. This is me, God, perpetually unable to make myself right or plumb, or gracious. Unable to level my heart to kindness, or remove the roots of anxiety and selfishness. Yet you came, undaunted by our culture of woe, bringing the kingdom of heaven with you. Come again, Lord Jesus, into these rough places in my soul, into the poorness of my spirit. Lift, miraculously, the power of sin’s oppression, and establish your culture of mercy, in me and through me. Amen

Scripture references are typically sourced from Blue Letter Bible, for ease of reader access. (1)

  1. “Isaiah 40:1 (NIV) – Comfort comfort my people says.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Dec, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/isa/40/1/p1/s_719001&gt;.
  2. “Matthew 9:13 (NIV) – But go and learn what.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Dec, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/mat/9/13/s_938013&gt;.
  3. “Hosea 6:6 (ESV) – For I desire steadfast love.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Dec, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/hos/6/6/s_868006&gt;.
  4. “Matthew 9:13 (NLT) – Then he added Now go.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Dec, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/mat/9/13/s_938013&gt;.

breath

pic RW breath

original art: Elizabeth Figgie: http://www.elizabethfiggie.com

Our lungs have, on average, 274-790 million pulmonary alveoli (in zeroes, that’s 790,000,000) through which our lungs and bloodstream exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. The alveoli seem vulnerable in that their surface is a single-cell thick, but that vulnerability allows them to readily make this exchange with blood capillaries (their endothelial layer also one cell thick). That vulnerability initiates the distribution of oxygen to the cells of our body which utilize the oxygen for energy production. Each cell. Can you imagine us trading any other life-sustaining substance with so little security? It is no wonder that life feels fragile at times; vulnerable, weak, depleted.

In contrast to the vulnerability,  the capacity of 790 million hot air balloons, and the lift that might fuel, feels a bit astounding. Even more astounding, is the thought of whose air I might breathe. What kind of potential for living resides in the cavity of my created chest, if I were to breathe, knowing it was the breath of God filling my lungs, my alveoli inflated by the Spirit of the living God?

Isaiah 42:5 reads:

 “This is what God the LORD says— the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:”

This word breath is described by the Hebrew-Chaldean Lexicon as the Spirit of God imparting life and wisdom. Really? Pure, holy air – available to ordinary mask-wearers? The air we breathe, and the respiratory process,  is not some atmospheric curiosity. It is an intricately designed miracle, both fragile and protected, by the one who created it. Our alveoli have repair cells, and surfactant secreting cells to protect the balloons from collapse. Not only did God create the process, but he also protects its function. WHY? Because He wants to give us life, not defined in single measure, but filled to the millions.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10 NIV

At times, God has spoken as a numbers guy – counting the hairs on our heads, the sands on the seashore. I’ve no doubt he knows EXACTLY how many alveoli reside in my chest, and that there is some significance to 790, 000,000. Okay, maybe I only have 538,000,000, but what if I were breathing deeply enough of the breath of God, to fill each one of those? I also imagine he has his own definition of full…

What if, when Jesus spoke the following words, he were speaking to me, or to you…

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

How far and deep could the breathe of Jesus go, if he were breathing life in me, deep into the weighted places in my chest?  I’ve seen this, seen friends breathe Jesus air into the vulnerable places of their lives, and exhale offerings of rare beauty to those around them.  And what is the significance that as he breathes, Jesus speaks about dispensing forgiveness? If you don’t have a Jesus breather in your life, maybe you need one. Or maybe you would like to become one?

Spirit of God, breathe on me, breathe in me. Fill my lungs with the oxygen of your making, the fuel of your intent. May all that feels vulnerable in me, be filled with your breath, that I may be truly alive. When I exhale, may it be something of your creating. Amen

I got some of my science info from https://www.kenhub.com.
Frequently, I use https://blueletterbible.org for cross-referencing and study, and so that further scripture reference is readily available to you:
  “Isaiah 42:5 (NIV) – This is what God the.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 26 Nov, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/isa/42/5/s_721005&gt;.
“H5397 – nĕshamah – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (NIV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 26 Nov, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H5397&t=NIV&gt;.
“John 10:10 (NIV) – The thief comes only to.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 3 Dec, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/jhn/10/10/s_1007010&gt;.
“John 20:21 (ESV) – Jesus said to them again.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 3 Dec, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/jhn/20/21/s_1017021&gt;.

jfig   11/18

 

 

fearsome

pic fiddlehead

fearsome

the fiddleheads

are bent in prayer…

is this then

how one springs to life?

 

jfig   4/18

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Several years ago, Amanda Hostettler led a worship seminar for our homeschool co-op, challenging us to ‘get on our faces,’ foreheads to the ground.  The physical action was intended to open a doorway – our hearts and minds to follow –  in worship. Obstacle one occurred in that Little Miss Sweetness was being squirrelly that morning, so I didn’t manage ‘facedown’ at the time. I later snuck away to the backstage closet to try again. Obstacle two:  my left knee was swollen from a mild running injury so I could not fully bend it to kneel. To get my forehead to the floor, I either had to stretch out prone, or resort to…heigh, ho, hoist the derriere, way up in the air.

I was hoping no one would wander in to witness my duck impersonation, but I also was struck by the vulnerability of my position. Certainly I felt vulnerable before man, both comically, and perhaps tragically, depending on whose story I carried at the moment. But I also was struck by my lack of vulnerability before God. I realized I had been withholding my deeper fears and concerns from God, trying to fix them on my own before darkening his footstool. I was  bringing him only the half-finished ‘middle stuff’, a modest representation of the things I felt I could let go of a little, and still have some sense of control; or offering the trivial stuff – treating him like a figurehead instead of a real God, one who is fearsome in power.

prompting…

So in that quiet closet sanctuary, tail to the sky I began to release to God all the tight-fisted fears and worries I had been holding: fears for my children, personal stuff, and marriage stuff and really scary stuff that I had no idea how to navigate. As I did so, I was filled with a peace I hadn’t experienced in a long time. Worship flowed out of a thankfulness that God was present, not pissed, at my inability to fix my life. He certainly wasn’t surprised by anything I told him…and he didn’t seem to think I was incapable, or unengaged, or incomplete. It appears he had been waiting all along,  patiently, to carry my burdens in his sufficiently more capable hands.

Lots of roles that we fill in life are fearsome: parenting, partnering with friends, spouse, loved ones as we all navigate the unexpected or the mundane; anything new …decision-making with consequences. How often I fail, or find myself assailed by a sense of failure, at not knowing enough, or not being able to do enough to fix a loved one’s illness, or a child’s learning struggle. Sometimes, not being enough to fill what is asked of one is fearsome,  even if the request is unspoken.

How novel, in that closet moment, to consider that we are not supposed to be enough. We are supposed to live as if there were a direct line flowing from God’s strength into our veins, the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead. We are meant to live, wild with confidence, not in our capability, but in his; not in our outcomes, but in his steadfast determination. Certainly, we are invited to use whatever tools God’s Spirit gives us, but when the burden becomes too big and wide for our size-S hands, when our knowing is not enough, we are supposed to move the mountain by handing it to him in bucket-loads of prayer. We are meant to stay engaged by  simply preparing the way for Jesus to visit.  See Luke 10: 1, 19,20; Mark 9:14-29.

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.

19. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

“Luke 10:1 (NIV) – After this the Lord appointed.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 21 May, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/luk/10/1/p1/s_983001&gt;.

Mark 9:14-29. And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out[fn] and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?”29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”[fn]

“Mark 9:28 (ESV) – And when he had entered.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 21 May, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/mar/9/28/p1/s_966028&gt;.

When our third daughter transitioned from home to public school, she spent an hour each evening releasing her worries, observations, ‘what-do–I-do now’ questions to God. She told me, “Mom, I don’t really pray, I just tell God everything, like he was my friend.” She stated it with question marks, as if asking if that were legitimate. Gee whiz – do you think I might have caught on then???

A couple ideas continue to surface  from that day: God invites our vulnerability; he welcomes the intimacy. “I believe, Help my unbelief!”

And in bringing such an ‘offering’, I find myself springing to  life, to worship,  in the least likely places.

RW pic fiddlehead3

jfig   4/18