The readings for this Sunday are chock full of choices, especially for those of us reading Amos with the command to, "hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate." That statement alone needs its own separate entry.
What drew my attention in our gospel lesson from Mark about the rich young man who wants to inherit eternal life was a particular phrase used to describe how Jesus looked upon this hapless soul. The young man wants an answer to his question. Jesus repeats for him the basics of the ten commandments dealing with relationship with your fellow human beings. The young man acknowledges that he's been doing all that from his youth. And here it comes:
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
I have been thinking a lot about the will to love lately. In this moment, Jesus is not speaking to this man in malice. He's having compassion for this creature who, whether he knows it or not, seems to be asking a question of how can I be more at one with God. And Jesus, knowing that to have oneness with this Love requires relinquishing control and giving up precious "things", knows that what he is about to say will challenge him in a way that he is not yet prepared to handle.
And we get the end result: the young man becomes very heavy in spirit, is shocked by this instruction, and goes away because he had many possessions. Jesus loved him against all odds of him actually taking the instruction. And he continued to love him and feel compassion for him as he sulked away.
I've been considering lately just how many times I have behaved like that rich young man. Not that I have lots of possessions that I am clinging to and refusing to sell for the benefit of giving money to the poor. If only God would bless me with such a dilemma! But my "rich young manness" has come out in the ways I have avoided instructions my trusted guides have given me to help me clarify my spiritual path. Bishop Gene Robinson told me to get a spiritual director, and Mtr. Lee Shafer gave me the name of someone. I thought, "Well, that's all good and fine, then," and refused to act until I found myself in such a state of anxiety over what was going on with me that I finally went back to one of my "thin places": the labyrinth at the Florida School of Massage in Gainesville. That made me email Rev. Nancy Mills, the previously recommended spiritual director, and I began seeing her. She recommended that I read, "The Cloud of Unknowing," by an anonymous Christian mystic of the 14th century, as centering prayer was a practice she encouraged me to do. I ordered it. I started it. I put it down where it gathered dust... until my new spirtual director asked me if I'd read, "The Cloud of Unknowing." At first, I ignored the question, which she did not accept and asked again if I had read it. Hemming and hawing as I looked at this email, I admitted I'd not really read it, no. And I knew that this was now my assignment before my next trip to see her.
And I also acknowledged how I recognize the pattern that is emerging in me: when faced with an instruction on what I need to do to become clearer about my path with God, I often will drag my feet, shift uncomfortably, and turn away sulking like that rich young man. It isn't because I don't want to follow; it's because to follow will require me to do some more letting go of control.
It also demands a greater will to love. This is where reading "The Cloud" has been giving me insight. In one part, the author uses the story in Luke of Mary and Martha to show how Mary, who is sitting spellbound at Jesus' feet, has chosen "the better part". Martha, who is angry that her sister isn't in the kitchen helping with food preparation, is complaining to Jesus about this lack of help. Jesus doesn't tell Martha, "You're wrong." What he notes is that she is consumed with other things, and Mary is focused on the one thing: oneness with God. In fact, she's so focused that all Martha's complaining doesn't seem to phase her. Thus, Mary is the contemplative. And Jesus refers to this as being "the better part."
To inherit eternal life means to be more at one with the Source of Love. And to do that is not so much about following a formula of "doing good" but shedding those "things" that keep us from being still and focused on the Source. This appears to be the key to entering into the Love that gives eternal life.