Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Life in the Whirlwind

My February, 2012 article in The Manifest
We are thoroughly enmeshed in the Gospel of Mark this season in our worship—it is lectionary year B, which means most of our Sunday gospel readings come from Mark. I described Mark’s gospel in a sermon recently as being the gospel on an adrenaline rush—it is succinct to a fault. Mark has 16 chapters compared to Matthew (28), Luke (24) and John (21) and Mark uses the word “immediately” at least 28 times. No characters in Mark’s gospel dawdle over decisions; Jesus moves from place to place rapidly; and the plot drives steadily toward Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion.

I’m not sure if the pace of Mark’s Gospel is helpful for us today because it is so familiar or dangerous for us today because it encourages our own speedy lives. I was just looking at my calendar, and the word immediately seems eerily applicable—“and immediately I will leave to go to my next appointment, which is immediately followed by….” There is a driving pace to life in the world today, and since communication around the globe can be instant, I find myself with little down time and leisure. Responses to e-mails are expected to be immediate; decisions can be made quickly (and efficiently) but there isn’t necessarily time to fully grasp or appreciate everything we’re doing.

There’s a delightful scene in the movie Babette’s Feast where the Danish elderly spinster sisters are teaching their new French refugee (and haute cuisine chef) how to prepare their food. They gather some ludefisk—lye soaked dried fish—from a line and put it in water. “Let it soak,” they sternly intone. They make “ale bread” by putting stale bread in water and beer. Again, “Let it soak.” The local cooking style is to let nature take its course. Later in the film, when Babette has won the lottery and is cooking a meal similar to those she prepared at the CafĂ© Anglais in Paris, the speed and efficiency of her cooking is one of the contrasting features, not to mention the taste. High flame, searing, fresh ingredients,—there is nothing that must simply soak except the champagne in its ice bath! It still takes time; turtles must be killed, quails plucked, truffles sliced. But the cooking is active and intense, a whirlwind of activity.

In 1 Kings, Elijah waits in a cave for God and there are a series of intense natural events—an earthquake, a fire, a whirlwhind—and each time the author of 1 Kings poetically reflects, “But God was not in the earthquake/whirlwind/fire.” It is only in the “sound of sheer silence” that God’s word is heard. It is a beautiful image, and I am confident that God is in those moments of peace and stillness.

But somehow I think God must also be in the whirlwind. The challenge for me is to be able to transition from the whirlwind to stillness. I cannot live my entire life in a whirlwind; I need to be able to slow down, spend time with Nathan playing endless rounds of the “tree game,” where I cover the “Nathan seed” with the blanket on his bed, and “water” him and wait for him to grow into a tree. I need to let myself soak in the small activities of parenthood and domestic life, and balance that with the whirlwind of my vocation.

I cannot encounter the whole Gospel only in Mark—I also need the rich theology of John, the expanded parables in Matthew and Luke, and perhaps most of all, I need the resurrection.

You see, Mark is the earliest gospel we have—likely written somewhere between 67 and 71 C.E. The first word is “beginning” and the last word is—probably—“afraid.” I say it is probably the last word because Mark’s original ending seems to have been obscured by later writers. There seems to have been no account of the resurrection in Mark originally, only the story of the empty tomb and the fear of the women who sought Jesus there. This perturbed subsequent generations of Christians so much that they “corrected” the story to reflect the appearances of the risen Jesus to the disciples, contained in other gospels. We now have collected enough early copies of Mark, however, to ascertain that either Mark left his gospel unfinished, or his original ending was lost, or he deliberately left it provocatively unconcluded. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome are greeted at the tomb by a young man in a white robe, who tells them that Jesus has risen and that they will see him again in Galilee, and they flee in fear. A new whirlwind has begun after the three days of silence in the tomb.

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