Lenten Meditation 3 March 2012
“The genius of the biblical revelation is that, instead of simply giving us “seven habits for highly effective people” it gives us permission and even direction to take conscious ownership of our own story at every level, every part of our life and experience. God will use all of this material, even the negative parts, to bring us to life and love.” (page 14)
|Job on dungheap (from the Admont Giant-Bible, ca. 1140)|
For 16 years I was a mentor for Education for Ministry, a four year study of Scripture, history, and theology primarily for laity which was developed in the mid-1970’s by the School of Theology at Sewanee. EfM is a combination of individual study, seminar presentations, and group theological reflection. One of the most rewarding aspects for me was watching students discover that the biblical story, in whole or in part, was the backdrop for their own life stories. More frequently than not, as we would enter into theological reflection, individuals around the table—myself included—would relate to the discussion through biblical stories that illuminated the conversation. Often one or more of us could speak to from personal experience about how God’s interaction in our lives mirrored how God had related to the characters in our biblical passage. One particularly meaningful conversation brought in the story of the temptation of Jesus immediately following his baptism. Several of us could relate personally to a time of testing following a realization of beloved-ness.
Father Rohr takes some pains to speak of what he calls sacred wounding. He also defines suffering “very simply as when you are not in control.” (p. 15) Religion, in fact all religions, focus an enormous amount of their energy on showing one what to do with pain and suffering. Christianity gives us a direction for making our personal suffering sacred through the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus himself. In our own times of suffering and pain we are able to wrestle with the theological questions, “Where is God in all of this? Where can we find redemption? How am I being called to proclaim good news through this situation?”
I do not know if Father Rohr is immersed in Murray Bowen’s family systems theory, particularly as espoused by Rabbi Ed Friedman, but this comment makes me think he must be: “Biblical revelation is about transforming history and individuals so that we don’t just keep handing the pain on to the next generation.” Family systems theory challenges individuals to look back at their family of origin, including several generations prior to our parents if possible, to discover patterns that may have been transmitted unconsciously from parent to child. The purpose, of course, is to be able to name a pattern, to have knowledge of it in order to be able to deal with the pattern, to strengthen the positive and to ameliorate the negative in order not to continue to either live it or pass it on to our children. One pattern I recognized in my family about 20 years ago was secrecy. When I was working through my genogram (known as family tree for most of us) I realized that I knew names and dates of birth and death of several generations in both my mother’s and father’s family, but I knew none of the stories of who these people were. It was about that same time that I began trying to find out about my grandfather John Wallis Ohl who was ordained in Colorado in 1886, in order to be able to tell my children and grandchildren about this missionary priest in the wild mountain mining towns who was their ancestor. I have since discovered some intense pain and some incredible joys by learning some of his story. It also has pushed me to be open with my children about some of the pain of my life that has made me who I am today—and by nurture who they are.
One feature of the Hebrew, and I would argue Christian Scriptures, that is heartening is that the story of God’s interaction with the Hebrew people is not just a story of goodness. We also find unspeakable cruelty, depravity of sin, failures, and pain. The suffering of Job is unimaginable for most of us, and yet there it is, big as life. The pain inflicted on Job by his friends is unspeakable; but it is there, plain as day. The failure of the religious leaders to follow God is embarrassing; but read any of the prophets’ condemnation of the mistreatment of the poor and the widow. And yet God is steadfast, forgiving, and loving. That is good news. The point for me is that if God can forgive those wretched people, will he not also forgive me? Will God, in fact, use all of my story to bring redemption, even the negative, sinful parts?
A theme that runs throughout the Scriptures is that God loves what God creates. We are the beloved creatures of a God that made us to proclaim God in and through our lives. We do not have to earn belovedness; we cannot earn belovedness because we are already beloved. Our task is to incorporate that into our lives and proclaim God’s love to all we meet. It’s that simple.