Jumping in the Water

What are we supposed to do with Biblical miracle stories? You know, those stories that bend our imagination just a little too far. Perhaps, like the story of Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33), they even defy the laws of physics. Sometimes we want to explain them away, saying “Oh, I bet I know what really happened…” Or sometimes we get caught up on insisting in their literal veracity as if God’s very existence depended on us believing something that contradicts all scientific evidence. Both of these approaches are a distraction from a third important option, which is just living with the mystery.

Miracle stories are similar to parables and Buddhist Koans. They’re a riddle or puzzle that try to help us unravel greater truths about the world and ourselves. If we change the story to make it seem more plausible or if we insist upon its historicity, we immediately run the risk of missing out on its meaning. Sometimes we need to embrace the mystery. Parables, miracle stories, and buddhist koans aren’t meant to be logical and literal but are meant to be understood by the spirit, by intuition. That is, by the heart rather than the head.

For example, one meaning or truth I find in the story of Jesus walking on water, where Peter also tries to walk on water and fails, comes in the form of a question: are we so filled with fear that we can’t trust in our power to do amazing things? I admire Peter in this story. He saw Jesus doing this amazing and scary thing and after asking for and receiving a little encouragement, Peter actually had the courage to step out of the boat. He too began to do this amazing thing until he noticed the wind and the waves and was filled with fear and began to sink. Peter failed but he had had the courage to try. I admire that. As much as I’d like to be the confident and together Jesus in this story, I’d wouldn’t mind being courageous but fearful Peter first because too often I’m like the other disciples who huddle in the boat just watching what’s happening.

Of course, this is not about walking on water. It’s about the many challenges we face in this life that force us to ask are we so filled with fear that we can’t trust in our power to do amazing things? Do we have the courage to jump in the water like Peter? Perhaps one thing we can do in the face of our challenges is what Jesus did: take time to pray, meditate, and connect with the Divine, reminding ourselves of the blessings and love that do exist in this world even if they so often get lost in the horrific headlines. But that’s not enough. We also have to act, to work for a loving, peaceful world. So, after renewing our Spirit, how do we find the courage to step boldly out into the water? Ultimately, we have to trust in the power of God that resides within us.

If we fail, if we are overcome with our fear and start to sink like Peter, we need to remember that Jesus is here, walking with us. We can call out like Peter did, “Save me,” and know that God is here with us ready to catch us, to get us back in the boat where we can begin again. What might we accomplish if we trust in our power through God that we can do what seems impossible? We might actually solve some of our problems like poverty and racism. We might just create a peaceful loving world! Don’t be afraid to get wet, jump in the water!

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, August 13, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

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Books have arrived!

Physical proof my book really exists 🙂

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Two Who Dare

My only attempt (so far) at a prose poem… had to change the line breaks to make it fit properly on the blog…

Two Who Dare

We greeted with the choreography of two hesitant mutts
sniffing each other out, surrendering an awkward quick pat
on the back and pull away of men embarrassed by intimacy,
an almost-waltz at arms length, over before the music
began to play. Later we would come to know each other.
First with the tango of predator and prey, more interested
in a quick roll in the hay than any real affection.
Then came the perfunctory contra dance of sun and moon
executing steps called out before time began as we came
to move in each other’s orbit. Finally, we danced the close
waltz of two comfortable friends no longer fearful of a lingering
gaze or the spine-tingling graze of fingers that stray.

But tonight? Tonight we embrace the idea of each other,
relaxing with willful abandon into our authentic selves.
Curled on my side next to his supine form with legs intertwined,
my arm drapes over his naked chest as we drift
between sleep and wakefulness, cloistered under the protective
quilt pieced together by his grandmother. The pulse of his heart
yokes with the contented beat of my own. Thought flees our stilled
bodies as the silky heat of his flesh steals into my soul.
I relish the profound perfect imperfections of his anatomy,
the bond formed from skin caressing skin. This is the slow dance
of two lovers transformed, lost in gentle music, cheek to cheek,
floating in empty space as if nothing else existed,
having forgotten the necessity of any proscribed movements.
We waft through no-time, hearts open and exposed to the elements,
heedless of future frosts or withering desert suns.
He turns his head and our lips meet, two who dare.

©2017 Kenneth W. Arthur
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Moving Into the Future

We are always moving into the future, dealing with challenges, and not quite sure of what might happen next. For many of us, this point in history is a particularly scary time. As we move into the future we do so not only with all of our gifts and with great hope, but we go with our fears and insecurities as well. When Jacob spent the night alone before being reunited with his brother Esau, a brother who had threatened to kill him the last time they were together, he too must have been full of fear and anxiety, wondering what the morning would hold for him and his family. But, by spending that night alone, he opened the way for a holy encounter.

When we spend time in prayer, meditation, and reflection with both our hopes and our fears, as Jacob was doing, we open ourselves to a life changing encounter with the Holy Spirit. Of course Jacob’s holy encounter was not a nice, polite business meeting. Instead, it took the form of a physical wrestling match. Jacob wrestled all night with a stranger in the wilderness, probably at first not knowing whether this was a robber who was trying to kill him or what was happening. But he didn’t give up. He persevered and he resisted even after he was injured. By daybreak he somehow knew that this was no simple robbery but something holy. He resisted until he found a blessing in his struggle. In our struggles, in the scars and injuries we suffer, we often find we have been changed and even blessed. We often find that those struggles can be holy and sacred events when we learn about God, ourselves, and the world around us and grow more into our authentic selves. This is what happened to Jacob that night.

Jacob’s story is about how we deal with our struggles, aspirations and moving into God’s intended future. The story of Jesus feeding five thousand families with just a little bit of bread and a few fish is also about how we meet challenges. The disciples noticed the large crowd was getting tired and hungry, and looking at what food they had, said “It’s not enough.” So they went to Jesus and told him to send the crowds home so they can eat. But then Jesus looked at the food on hand and said “Oh yeah, that’s all we need, it’s plenty.” Jesus thought that whatever we have is enough and began to share it generously – and it was enough! I’m not really concerned with the logistics of the miracle or the veracity of this story, but I’m very intrigued by the question it raises for me: what can we accomplish if we trust that what we have is enough?

What would happen if we didn’t worry about if there was enough but just shared what we had? What if, when we find ourselves struggling, whether in our personal lives, or in our churches, or in our city, state or nation… what if, in our fears and anxieties, we open ourselves to encounters with the Holy? What if we grab hold of God, grab hold of love, and, like Jacob, don’t let go? What if we persevere and persist until the blessing of the struggle becomes clear? What if we trust that what we have is enough? Maybe, just maybe, everyone gets fed and we find ourselves transformed into the loving children of God, a people who never give up, a people assured of God’s love, who give that love freely to the world. As we move together into the future, know that we are enough and that we have enough because we are God’s beloved children.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, August 6, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

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What Must the Trees Think?

What Must the Trees Think?

Anger that we lumber their siblings?
Terror when the ground we frack?
Pity that we have brought ourselves to the brink?
Befuddlement at our human quibbling?
Despair that they can’t fight back?

The willow, bent in mourning,
weeps for her children
and the aspen quakes,
whether from fear or rage.
I do not know.

Having dreamt of brilliant sun
and gentle rain, will the trees wake
from their deep winter slumber
surprised at what has become?
Or do they know, from the frog boiling
of the earth, what we have done?

The revered oak, Mayflower witness,
attests to the best and worst
we have to offer this earth.
How disappointed it must be
should it even deign to notice
our self-serving exertions.

To the Great Sequoia who
watches five generations of oak
come and go we must be nothing
more than malaria filled mosquitos.

The Bristlecone Pine birthed high
upon mountain before the first stone
of the first Egyptian pyramid was laid
looks daily into the face of God.
It most likely cares not one whit
about humanity.

I can almost hear, on a quiet day,
the trees wheeze and cough,
choking on our smog,
whimpering at the ill taste
of pesticide cocktails
as they suck at the ground,
a child with straw searching
for the last bit of nourishment
in the bottom of a glass.

©2017 Kenneth W. Arthur
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