The Faith Practices of Readiness & Resilience (Ken Pennings) 3/8/2020

Let’s practice “readiness” and “resilience,” knowing that the Holy Spirit is a very mysterious, sometimes scary, visitor at our door.

John 3:1-10

In church history, Lent was originally a time for preparing candidates for their baptisms at Easter. Those who were already baptized rehearsed with these candidates the counter-cultural values and practices of the kingdom of God– fasting, almsgiving and prayer rather than overindulgence, hoarding and greed. 

When the three of us pastors decided on a Lenten Preaching Series on “Faith Practices,” we immediately thought about the practices traditionally associated with the season of Lent – fasting, almsgiving, and prayer – but we wanted to introduce other practices as well.

Thus, Tammy Martens started our series last Sunday with “the practice of letting go.”

In future Sundays, others will speak about the practices of singing and digging in the dirt.

Today, I’d like to lift up the practices of “readiness” and “resilience.”

Some people are just naturally resilient, ready for anything. Nothing seems to phase them, alarm them, disturb them. They are by nature “unrattled,” “unruffled,” “unflustered.” They’re calm, cool and collected.

And if that’s you, I envy you! Because, for sure that’s not me!

You may be familiar with the ancient Sufi framework called the “enneagram.” The Enneagram (Ennea=9, Gram=Diagram) is a map for self-discovery and personal growth based on nine basic personality types. The Enneagram accurately and clearly describes why you think, feel and behave in particular ways based upon your core fears and core desires.

On the diagram, there are nine personality types. The one personality type that mystifies me the most is number nine – “the peaceful person.” And why? Because I’m number seven, the “Party Animal,” the “Enthusiast,” the one personality type that habitually looks for stimulation and satisfaction from outside of oneself. Nines aren’t looking for external stimulation and satisfaction. Instead, they find it deep within themselves. Huh! Aren’t people wired differently?!

Unless you’re a nine, you, like me, need to really practice being resilient, ready for anything, able to take life as it comes!

I really started practicing “readiness” and “resilience” 22 years ago, when I suffered one major loss after another, and was quite literally coming unglued emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.

My partner John introduced me to the writings of Anthony DeMello, a Jesuit priest strongly influenced by eastern mysticism. Anthony taught me my life mantra, “Have no expectations. Rule out no possibilities.”

When one thing after another went wrong, and I would sink deeper and deeper into despair, John would gently ask me, “What were you expecting?” 

“Well, gee, what do you think I was expecting?” “I was hoping life wouldn’t be so hard on me!”

Eventually, after months and years of reciting my mantra, I began to realize that nothing was more important for me in life that to let go of attachments, have no expectations, rule out no possibilities, take life as it comes, and simply observe everything that happens – good, bad or indifferent – without attaching too much meaning to it.

For me, it was the way to peace.

But still I must practice!

About a month ago, Dan Rosmiller and Jeanne Moberly introduced the Java & Jesus group to a poem by Rumi called “Guest House.”

I’d like to share it with you now.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

 

To me, this poem is about “readiness” and “resilience.”

What do we do when a joy, a depression, a meanness shows up at our door? Are we ready for them! Let’s practice welcoming and entertaining them all!

What if a crowd of sorrows appears at our house? Are we ready for it! Let’s practice treating the crowd honorably!

What if a dark thought, a shame, or malice arrives?

Are we ready for them! Let’s practice meeting them at the door laughing and inviting them in.

And why? Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

There’s something quite similar about the way life shows up at our door, sometimes quite unexpectedly, and the way Holy Spirit shows up at our door, as a guide, or a teacher, from beyond.

Jesus explains to Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

What do we do when Holy Spirit appears at our door with the birth of a baby, or rent assistance meaning we can stay in our home, or a clean bill of health following an injury or illness? We welcome and entertain her, of course! Who wouldn’t?!

But what if Holy Spirit shows up at our door with the death of a love-one, a diagnosis of a life-threatening disease, a betrayal from a friend, or with a crowd of other sorrows? Can we practice being ready for her, and treat her honorably regardless of what heartache she brings? 

 

And what if Holy Spirit arrives at our door with corruption and crime in government, the corona virus, or people on death-row who are actually innocent? Can we practice being ready for her, meet her at the door laughing and invite her in, regardless of the bewilderment and frustration she brings?

Sometimes we may think Holy Spirit brings only good into our lives and not evil. But this is contrary to the wisdom of Job, who said to his wife, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”

All that the Spirit brings us – good, bad or indifferent – are our guides, our teachers. We practice accepting life as it comes, being ready for anything, bouncing back from every hard blow, for every unexpected visitor may be a guide, or a teacher, from beyond. 

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “The Spirit is the least predictable Person of the Trinity, the one most likely to slip the leash and save in unorthodox ways. Just listen to the way Jesus defends her freedom to Nicodemus. Her! For reasons beyond my understanding, this simple change of pronouns solves all my problems with God the Spirit. If I am born of her, she is my mother…. No one knows when she may come blowing through the trees, the windows, the open doors, pitching all the papers off the desk and making the houseplants shiver in their pots. As scary as she may sometimes be, I can let her blow me around. When she flings me into other people, she is trying to tell me something. When she drops me off in unfamiliar places, I need to pay attention. She is completely trustworthy, even when I cannot explain a single thing she is up to. She comes. She goes…. I have plenty more questions, but the answers are not vital as long as God the Spirit keeps breathing on me. (Holy Envy, page 170).

I’d say Barbara Brown Taylor and Jesus of Nazareth are taking a similar approach when they talk about the Holy Spirit. They’re not talking doctrine or belief. They’re using playful imagery to describe the free way in which the Holy Spirit moves about.

So let’s practice “readiness” and “resilience,” knowing that the Holy Spirit is a very mysterious, sometimes scary, visitor at our door. She is going to nudge us to do this, nudge us to do that, but always with the energy and commitment to bring life out of death, daisies out of concrete, hope out of despair, comfort out of sorrow, courage out of fear, and freedom out of oppression.

Don’t you think it was she who nudged Bryan Stevenson, the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, Montgomery, Alabama, to pick up the cases of death row inmates he discovered were innocent?

Overcoming incredible odds, suffering unbelievable set-backs, obstacles and indignities in their work, Bryan and his team have won reversals, relief, or release from prison for over 135 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row, and have won relief for hundreds of others wrongly convicted or unfairly sentenced. 

When Bryan Stevenson defended Walter McMillian, the first death row prisoner who was eventually exonerated and released, he said in court, “If you’re going  to live by the truth, sometimes you’re told to sit down, but you stand up! Sometimes you’re told to be quiet, but you speak up!” That’s resilience in the face of opposition!

Ask the staff of the Equal Justice Initiative about the practices of readiness and resilience! Ask them to talk about how everything that knocks on their door – good, bad and indifferent – comes to them from beyond as their guides, their teachers.

Could it be that Jesus was suggesting to Nicodemus the practices of readiness and resilience? “Nicodemus, be ready for anything the Holy Spirit may wish to introduce into your life: a new beginning, a new birth, a new start a new consciousness, a new experience of the Divine, a new relationship with holy mystery. If before you trusted in your religious status and position, trust instead in the new dimensions God the Holy Spirit will open up to you.”

People, this lent may we practice readiness and resilience!

If we’ve lost faith, can we try returning to the faith we’ve lost?

If we’ve become guarded, hardened, and suspicious, waiting for the next shoe to drop, expecting things to go from bad to worse, can we try opening up to new possibilities?

If we’ve been beaten down, can we try getting up?

If we’ve given up, can we try again?

 

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