March 20, 2013

Lenten Journey: Dying Before We Die

Brothers and sisters:  I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  
Philippians 3:8-11

For Reflection...

She was as good as dead.  She stood before the mercy seat awaiting the just judgment, which she knew was death by stoning.  But then she didn't die.  Or did she?

In a powerful talk entitled The Authority of Those Who Have Suffered (as well as in many other places in his body of work) Richard Rohr reflects a central message of the New Testament:  The journey into Christ passes through death.  Jesus himself talks about the grain of wheat (John 12:24) and the sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:39-40).  Paul says it in Philippians 3:10-11.  Until we descend into the earth, unless we are swallowed whole and end up in the belly of the whale, we cannot become the bearers of life and God's word of mercy.

Isn't this the case for the woman caught in adultery?  From her ordinary, admittedly sinful, life she is dragged forth into the harsh light of judgment.  From her complacency, she finds herself suddenly in the throes of suffering.  She is in the belly of the whale.

It is a baptism by fire this suffering of hers, of ours.  While she escapes physical death, her suffering is a death nonetheless.  When Jesus tells her to go and sin no more (John 8:11), he is acknowledging that her life cannot be, is not, what it was.  Something has changed.  Some part of her has died.  He is inviting her to recognize it.  She has lost something that was once of value to her -- her lover or her sense of safety, perhaps -- but what she has gained, Christ, is so much more.

For Entering In...

Enter into the presence of God as the woman caught in adultery.  Can you use your imagination to see the face of Jesus, the face of Mercy, before you?

Reflect on these questions:
  • Have you experienced a crisis after which your life could not be the same?  Maybe it was something big -- a death of a loved one or some other significant loss.  Maybe it was more subtle.  Maybe it was a series of experiences over time.  Remember your life before.  Remember the dawning awareness that nothing could be the same after.
  • The Christian view of the spiritual life has the death and resurrection of Jesus at its center.  It is the model for all of reality.  (If you doubt the truth of this pattern, look at the cycles of the natural world.)  Take that in:  Death and resurrection is the pattern of our lives.  What does that mean to you?
  • While God does not ordain that bad things happen -- that is a by-product of good creation broken by sin -- God wastes nothing, but uses suffering as the fodder for redemption.  Consider an experience of suffering with which you are familiar, yours or someone else's.  Can you see a way in which God used that experience for good (cf. Romans 8:28)?
  • Using your imagination, consider the woman caught in adultery.  How might her life be different going forward?  Put yourself in her place.  Take your time.  Imagine having been on the brink of just condemnation and death and having come through alive.  How might your life be different?
  • Every new day is a day we don't deserve; it is always a gift of life from God.  How can you live today in awareness of that fact?  Where can you experience gratitude?  How would you live today if it was the only day you will ever have?  
Spend several minutes allowing your body and mind to be at rest.  If thoughts come, let them go by.  What if the only thing that mattered was your being, not your thinking or feeling or doing?

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