This morning I read in Mark 14 the story of the woman who poured expensive perfume over the head of Jesus while he was a guest at Simon’s house for dinner. So often when I re-read a story like this one, I come away from it with a fresh perspective on it.
The woman who came to that dinner – uninvited and subsequently soundly criticized for her action – came to worship the one who had given her something of more value than all the money she spent on that perfume. The story and the criticism she received reminded me that we all need ways in which to express our deepest feelings in worship of Jesus. Jesus recognized her action as worship and told his frugal followers (concerned for the waste) that her act of anointing was in preparation for his death. Of course they didn’t understand that his death was close at hand. And of course they had never seen anyone worship God in this way, spontaneously with an action coming from her heart, perhaps from her recent experience of love being poured out onto her hurts and sorrows as only God can. It wasn’t that the disciples and other followers were unused to expressions of worship, but worship had its prescribed forms that were to be followed and this just wasn’t the norm. This was lavish and messy and maybe embarrassing sensual.
I have been suffering from the effects of change lately. I think. The effects of living in changing times are not always glaringly obvious but I think that is what I am experiencing as we settle into anew rhythm of church life that comes with new staff. Things we used to do have no great significance to the newcomers but suddenly the change takes on new significance for me. There are things I miss; their absence makes me suddenly homesick for the old ways. Old habits suddenly take on meaning way beyond what they are worth. New patterns of worship are waiting for me to explore if I can embrace them; if I’m not too afraid to recognize that they too are ways of worship.
New ways of worship. They are going to happen. They need to happen. A new generation needs to find its own expression of faith and worship. Maybe it will look more like expensive perfume being poured out extravagantly to bless God in ways I never would have dared.
And then again, it could be that I am a bit like that woman, and the stuff I am longing for is the experience, sensual as it is, of pouring out my love to God in ways that others don’t always understand.
A short paragraph in Mark; the story of a woman that will be remembered – as Jesus promised. The words are stirring some kind of soul work in me.
Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on our Yearning to Belong
Encouragement also helps you to engage and trust your own possibility and potential. Sometimes you are unable to see the special gift that you bring to the world. No gift is ever given for your private use. To follow your gift is a calling to a wonderful adventure of discovery. Some of the deepest longing in you is the voice of your gift. The gift calls you to embrace it, not to be afraid of it. The only way to honour the unmerited presence of the gift in your life is to attend to the gift; this is also a most difficult path to walk. Each gift is different; there is no plan or programme you can get ready-made from someone else. The gift alone knows where its path leads. It calls you to courage and humility. If you hear its voice in your heart, you simply have to follow it. Otherwise your life would be dragged into the valley of disappointment. People who truly follow their gift find that it can often strip their lives and yet invest them with a sense of enrichment and fulfillment that nothing else could bring. Those who renege on or repress their gift are unwittingly sowing the seeds of regret. p. 62,63
There is something in this paragraph that rings true to me. There is something in this paragraph that resonates with who I am and how life has called me to become who I am.
Today, in my spare moments, I have been pulling together some of the resources I’ve collected and trying to finalize the Evening Prayers we will use at the woman’s retreat. I love doing this. I have no idea if I am good at it though. That assessment is always so subjective.
I hope that the prayers I collected will be a blessing to all of us as we pray together in the quiet of the evening before we head off to bed for the night.
Of course at a women’s retreat there is no guarantee that having said Evening Prayers, we will go straight to bed. There is always visiting to do, and sometimes that goes on into the wee hours of the night.
1 O Lord, hear me as I pray;
pay attention to my groaning.
2 Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God,
for I pray to no one but you.
3 Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.
Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.
4 O God, you take no pleasure in wickedness;
you cannot tolerate the sins of the wicked.
5 Therefore, the proud may not stand in your presence,
for you hate all who do evil.
6 You will destroy those who tell lies.
The Lord detests murderers and deceivers.
7 Because of your unfailing love, I can enter your house;
I will worship at your Temple with deepest awe.
8 Lead me in the right path, O Lord,
or my enemies will conquer me.
Make your way plain for me to follow.
9 My enemies cannot speak a truthful word.
Their deepest desire is to destroy others.
Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.
Their tongues are filled with flattery.
10 O God, declare them guilty.
Let them be caught in their own traps.
Drive them away because of their many sins,
for they have rebelled against you.
11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them sing joyful praises forever.
Spread your protection over them,
that all who love your name may be filled with joy.
12 For you bless the godly, O Lord;
you surround them with your shield of love.
New Living Translation (NLT)
The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough. Matt 13:33
So, as members of the Kingdom are we not then to infiltrate and permeate our country and culture like the yeast of the dough in the parable that Jesus told? It seems to me that this is likely the most effective form of spreading the way of the Kingdom.
People living out new ways of relating to co-workers. People wanting their clients to be treated with care and consideration. People acting as if they understand that the people around them are also loved by their Father and carry part of that divine spark that inhabits all of God’s creatures. People taking care of the world around them because God gave it to us to care for.
Maybe it really is the least, the most humble, the followers of Christ who quietly live like this that are the yeast – the invisible but potent ingredient that is essential to making a most excellent loaf of bread. And who can resist a slice of fresh warm bread?
Teach me, LORD, the way of your decrees,
that I may follow it to the end.
Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law
and obey it with all my heart.
Direct me in the path of your commands,
for there I find delight.
Turn my heart toward your statutes
and not toward selfish gain.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
preserve my life according to your word.
Fulfill your promise to your servant,
so that you may be feared.
Take away the disgrace I dread,
for your laws are good.
How I long for your precepts!
In your righteousness preserve my life.
Psalm 119:33-40 TNIV
Reflecting on Teresa of Avila’s writings, The Interior Castle and a quote from someone given to me by one of the spiritual directors here,
“There are places in my heart that I have never been. Lord, sometimes I don’t know myself. I am blessed that you do.”
I get the feeling that there are whole rooms inside me that God wants to open and infuse with his presence. I don’t know what they are or how to go there – yet. I guess if God wants to go there then he knows the door to them. Someone said that these sorts of doors are tricky – they can only be opened from our side, which I think is true to an extent. However, somehow we have to hear God knocking from the other side, I think, before we realize where the door is located. Gradually as I open up those inner places to God I believe that I will understand a whole new level of freedom and be closer to really knowing who I am.
So, here in the silence I have been discovering stuff about me and God. And it is good.