“Thirsting for God” by Kolya Braun-Greiner

Eightenth Sunday After Pentecost

October 1, 2023

Ex 17:1-7
Mt 21:23-32
Phil 2:1-13

As I prepared to lead the Seekers Silent Retreat at Dayspring last weekend, I stayed at Overlook on personal retreat for a few day and while there I also reflected on the themes of scripture for this Sunday and what emerged for me was trusting n God’s presence, intentional pacing ourselves on the journey forward and responding to our call individually and collectively as a community. 

Commitment to call and community takes trust.

My own journey – last year many health issues emerged which dominated my time and deferred my long-term plans.  I felt as if my life were on a temporary hold or pause. When this happens I’m tempted to plead – “Where the heck are you God?” rather like the grumbling Hebrew people, who named the place where the water came out of the rock, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

The lyrics of Ken Whiteley’s song “Moses Last Miracle,” express this so well:

“I’ve been wondrin’ ‘round for so long, I wonder what we’re doin’.
Can’t seem to forward and we sure ain’t goin’ back.
This desert’s so dry, everyone’s worrin’ about the lack.
Oh Lord, what shall I do?
I’m countin’ on You.

Are we gonna make it through?”

 Like them I forget to remember retrospectively all the experiences that I’ve had where I’d been certain of God’s grace and presence. That was true last year when I felt like I was in a “desert place” with one physical ailment after another. Almost as if God’s presence was conveying reassurance, I saw on the desk at Overlook these words:

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”  ~Joseph Campbell

And now, while I’m tremendously relieved to be beyond last year’s challenges, I still struggle with trusting God’s presence in bringing the “life that is waiting” for me. I’m frankly I’m still finding my way into “the life that is waiting for me.” That’s a call issue and this season of commitment is an opportunity to reflect on my call as a part of my commitment to Seekers and trust seems to be an important starting place.

Out of fear or distrust, feeling the discomfort of uncertainly I yearn for quick answers or solutions like the Hebrew people did, demanding that God fix their situation immediately.  A couple of weeks ago we heard that the Hebrew people were desperate for food and when it comes in the form of quail and unfamiliar ephemeral fluff, instead of accepting it with grace and gratitude, they call it “Manna” meaning “ What is it?!” They even try to hoard it when they’ve been clearly told not to! And now they’ve moved from grumbling to quarrelling – desperate again, seemingly forgetting that God lovingly provided food a little while ago, now demanding water because they are thirsty.  When have you witnessed God’s living water refreshing your soul? What are you thirsting for? 

Reflecting further on the Hebrew people’s urgent plea for water and forgetting God’s past provisions, I find all of this humorous, because it is so familiar, so human! I confess that I succumb to this urgent “fix it now attitude” which doesn’t bode well for solving big or small problems, in personal relationships, in community or in the wider world! Trusting that things will be fulfilled in “God’s time” or kairos, rather than chronos time seems to be expressed in the phrase of the Exodus passage that caught my attention: they “journeyed by stages, as the Holy One commanded.”  It seems that God is communicating the necessity for pacing ourselves individually and collectively as we move forward. The hard part is trusting that slowing down will be OK. A popular meme among the Emergent Strategy movement and Bayo Akomolafe is “rest is resistance” which flies in the face of my personal resistance to moving more slowly.

We live during times in which so much is calling for urgent action. But we can’t actually think very creatively or find solutions when we’re moving too quickly in a state nearing panic about terrifying conditions. As if God already knew this, when I turned to a small book of quotes from Thomas Merton while on retreat at Overlook, I opened to these words:

True solutions are not those which we force upon life in accordance with our theories, but those which life itself provides for those who dispose themselves to receive the truth. Consequently our task is to dissociate ourselves from all who have theories which promise clear and infallible solutions, and to mistrust all such theories not in a spirit of negativism and defeat, rather trusting life itself, and nature, and if you will permit me, God above all. (from Raids on the Unspeakable, 1966, p. 60-61)

Well!  I think Merton is pointing another version of asking “Where are you God?” and to a kind of “mind of Christ” that Paul was talking about in his letter to those in Philippi. Interestingly this letter is really a sort of thank you note and one of encouragement to the Philippians, who I was surprised to learn were a colony of retired Roman soldiers. And since this the season of commitment I am drawn to this call – what does having the “mind of Christ” look like? The word “mind” is mentioned 3 times in this scripture from Paul’s epistle or letter to the Philippians.  What is this kind of “mind”?   The mind that Paul refers to is not so much a mental construct or conforming to thinking the same. In fact some scholars believe that while poetic, “being of the same mind” is actually a rather weak translation.  Paul’s word for mind is much more expansive than that. It’s more accurate to call it an attitude of focused thought and feeling, mindfulness, or mindset of “trusting life itself, and nature, and… to God above all” as source of answers as Merton says.

The lack of this is so aptly illustrated by the response of the priests and elders to Jesus parable about the 2 sons representing those who do or don’t follow God’s call as John the Baptist did. Jesus has the priests and elders caught in a logical conundrum.  They want to entrap Jesus, but true to the “mindset of Christ” Jesus performs a kind of spiritual jujitsu, so that no matter how they answer, the truth will be revealed about their attempts to condemn him. The priests and elders are just not able “put on the mind of Christ” that would mean responding to God and neighbor with the same all inclusive love of Christ. This kind of mindset would also see and acknowledge the ways that God has been at work and continues to be at work in new ways. Paul’s epistle encourages the community of Philippi to continue reflecting a “life in Christ” guided by the Holy Spirit they’ve already been given.  Since it is so easy to forget this, perhaps having the mindset of Christ also entails a practice of retrospective memory, a recollecting of where God’s presence was evident in our lives, in our community and in the world.

How would this be at work in ourselves and in community? I propose that our call to commitment invites a “mindset of Christ” attitude in our individual call as well as to this community of fallible followers of Christ in the following ways:

  • As a way of spiritual practice or discipline as our Inward journey, like reflecting on our spiritual life through reports, we’re invited to create and share with a spiritual companion.
  • As a way of life in community, through the various activities like the vigil for Racial & Ethnic Justice, the School for Christian Growth
  • As a way of being in the world, the outward journey we engage in through our mission groups.

For all these reasons, I will re-commit to this faith community.

When I consider how to fulfill these as we are considering our commitments this season, I offer a few questions from Marjory’s Creating Aging which I believe can apply to any age!

  • What do I dream of or love doing?
  • What would I like to change?
  • What injustice tugs at my heart?
  • What sorrows fuel my passion today?

Where am I in answering these questions?

  • What do I dream of or love doing?
    Prior to leaving my job last year, I dreamed of leading retreats and I love weaving spiritual reflections with inspiring sources I’ve collected over the years, especially about awe and reverence for nature and the resilience that God’s creation can offer.  I’m grateful for the gift of the invitation from Living Waters mission group to lead that retreat. And so my dream began to be fulfilled through this community! – in leading the recent Silent Retreat for Seekers. And by doing so, I’m feeling a call to do more of that in the future with other audiences. 
  • What would I like to change? 
    What I would like to change is my personal tendency move too fast and with a sense of urgency, at a pace that is not actually healthy for my body, mind and spirit.  I often have revelations through visitations from nature I receive while on retreat Dayspring. As if to address this, God’s messengers visited me form of two box turtles, one at the beginning of my retreat down by Dayspring Creek, and another different one as I stepped out of the “leader’s room” at the Inn on the last day of the retreat.  It suddenly occurred to me, what an embodiment of slowness!

  • What injustice tugs at my heart? My answer to heart is a more difficult one – there are so many! But it seems related to “what do I thirst for? Here are the top 3 injustices that tug at me:
    • A lack of literacy of and appreciation for our interdependence with Earth.
    • The present and historical horrors of colonization on indigenous people.
    • Response to the climate crisis and environmental racism as inseparable.

I can see upon further reflection – these are all connected! I am in that uneasy, unsettled place of discerning my direction. Perhaps it’s like the unsettled place of Hebrew people out there in the desert, and also like that of God’s fulfillment of their hunger and thirst, God keeps putting in front of me when I least expect, the exhortations of people who are speaking prophetically to our times. I’d like to share briefly from 2 of those, whose message I would name as Prophetic vs. Profiteers of the Fossil Fuel industry.

Gov. Gavan Newsom (governor of CA) recently responded to an outpouring of advocates who sent messages to him, calling for his passage of the CA legislation to hold fossil fuel companies accountable. He said, “The climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis and these guys have been playing us for fools.” This action will illuminate their deception and their lies over the course of 70 years. They knew… My daughter’s lack of optimism is incalculable. Kevin McCarthy is a wholely owned subsidiary of the oil interests. Look where the money is… We need to share our moral authority more abundantly, every day and everywhere.

Amen I say. Preach it, Gavan Newsom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9Fw7yqMVP0

The other prophetic voice I heard unexpectedly when I turned on the radio Friday morning. It turned out to be “Climate Friday” on WPFW and after listening for a while I discerned that it was Rev. Lenox Yearwood, President of the Hip Hop Caucus, speaking at the recent 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, a month ago.  It felt like a God moment.  Rev. Yearwood declared that the climate crisis is “our lunch counter moment” and that “Racial justice is climate justice, and climate justice is Racial Justice”; that is, civil rights and climate change are inexorably connected. He celebrated that Al Gore has now admitted that the most inconvenient truth of climate change is racism, and how there are “sacrifice zones” throughout these United States and around the world where people are facing extermination because they are deemed disposable to the higher value of profits for the petrochemical industry. These communities of poverty and people of color are up against the “mission of genocide” by companies whose “business plan means a death sentence for [their] community,” he said, whether it be Palestine, OH or Cancer Alley, LA. “We are all frontline communities.” Again, I say Amen, preach it Rev. Yearwood. Speaking prophetic truth to power seems even more necessary these days. As people of many faiths rise to this awareness we declare together with Dr. King “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” 

The climate crisis unites us all, and is a fitting focus for prayer on this ecumenical World Communion Day, both of which remind us we are one world community with a shared destiny of humanity on this planet, our common home of Earth.  Thomas Berry called to “our Christian awareness the communion to which we are called: communion with the source of our being, and finally, communion with the entire universe… The Body of Christ is ultimately the entire universe.” This is a call to what King called the “world house” of humanity, “an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” 

Discerning our individual call as part of this  informed by the “mindset of Christ” as a way of life, and recalling Christ’s presence with us, is integrally related to our commitment to community. We are not “lone rangers” on this journey through what can feel sometime like a wilderness.  In closing I share some of Elizabeth O’Connor’s wisdom from Eighth Day of Creation in which she has much to say about this connection between individual and the collective call to community:

A primary purpose of the church is to help us discover our gifts, and in the face of our fears, hold us accountable for them so that we can enter into the joy of creating. p. 17

No community develops the potential of its corporate life unless the gifts of each of its members are evoked and exercised on behalf of the whole community. p. 8

We have Paul’s message of “encouragement in Christ” in Philippians chapter 2 as a guide, “Let the common mind, spirit and love be in you as that was in Christ Jesus.” 

As you too discern your personal call and a call to commitment for this community I offer these words of Paul: Trust that God is at work in you, enabling you both to will and acts for God’s pleasure and purpose.

As we heard in our opening reflection from Richard Rohr:  God is choosing us now, and now, and now. ~Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs, p. 27-28.

And Elizabeth O’Connor reminds us to trust that God’s will is written into our very beings. p. 15 We exercise our gifts and learn that there is a mysterious law of reciprocity at work in the universe. p. 9 

So be it. Amen.

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