Searching, indeed, must have been the thoughts moving through the mind of the Master as he jogged along on the back of the donkey on that fateful day, which marks, in the Christian calendar, the triumphant entry.
…So close had [Jesus] worked with God that the line of demarcation between his will and God's will would fade and reappear, fade and reappear.
…He could see all the sparrow-ness of the sparrow, the leprosy of the leper, the blindness of the blind, the cripple-ness of the cripple, and the frenzy of the mad. He had become joy, sorrow, hope, anguish to the joyful, the sorrowful, the hopeful, the anguished.
…I wonder what was at work in the mind of Jesus of Nazareth as he jogged along on the back of the faithful donkey?
The opening quote comes from Dr. Howard Thurman. He is wondering about the thoughts of Jesus of Nazareth when he was making his Triumphant Entry…the entry into what he surely knew was his death…the place of no return. Thurman says that Jesus must have been ready for this…he must have readied his spirit for the tragedy that was to come. Indeed it was no longer a tragedy, but a responsibility…not only for himself, but for God and for the whole world. It was his responsibility to confront the hypocrisy and corruption…it was his responsibility to show his people “the way”…the way to develop an inner strength to overcome the vicissitudes of life…the way to cultivate a relationship with the all-pervading spirit of creation that serves to protect and to enable one to survive all life’s hardships…the way to join in with the sparrow-ness of the sparrow, the leprosy of the leper, the blindness of the blind…but also the joy of the child, the hope of the flower, the determination of the blade of grass, the strength of the mother.
This unity…the ability to identify with all parts of creation can be hard-won. It does not come easy. It is the result of a lifetime of work. Nina Simone knew of this work and expressed this unity in the song Feeling Good! You can hear how she identifies with the birds, the sun, the breeze. She feels the life of the fish, the river, the blossom. She understands the dragonfly, the butterfly and the need for sleep. Even the stars and the scent of the pine…
And it is this identification with the most vulnerable…the most exposed and susceptible of us that Jesus was talking about. Jesus of Nazareth had done the work necessary to understand himself, his relationship to his creator and all creation. He learned what was being asked of him in the short time he was allotted to live as a human being on Earth. This was a gift to those around him…an embodiment of what it means to be human. Thurman uses the following story as an illustration of how powerful this gift can be.
One day, when the Master and his disciples were going along a country road, a man suddenly appeared, a man with a look of derangement in his face-- his hair disheveled, his eyes bloodshot.
There was a stare in those bloodshot eyes. And he looked here and there. His eyes dancing in some kind of frenzy, and then closer scrutiny observed that dangling from his wrists were broken chains and from his ankles the same.
And when he saw the Master, he spoke. And when he spoke, the Master asked him a question, who are you? What is your name? And for a moment, just a swirling moment, a look of sanity came across his face. And his mind that was tilted, righted itself temporarily.
And he said, I don't know. This is my great problem. If I knew who I was or if I know who I am, then I could be whole. There are so many of me, and they riot in the streets. Their name is legion. If I knew my own name, then I would know who I am and who God is.
Now the gift, the rare and extraordinary gift, of the Master, the gift that gives him, in some amazing way, a place that places him at the center of much of the imagination, and aspiration, and praise of a large section of the human race was the sense that because he knew where he was, knew what his sense of mission, purpose, sense of goal were, what was his aim, what was the integrity of himself-- because he was so secure within this, he was able to enable other people to find for themselves the same quality.
And it is this security that we are all searching for…the security that enables us to overcome the things that enslave…the things that hinder us. In the book, Jesus and the Disinherited, Howard Thurman calls these things the “three hounds of hell” that “dog” a person’s existence. We are all familiar with them…fear, deception, hatred. We are persistently given the opportunity to confront them and overcome them. But we can only do this when we accept the opportunity that presents itself…the opportunity to learn…to grow.
Howard Thurman spoke often about this growth. He called it “the growing edge”.
Look well to the growing edge!
All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge! It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor. This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and men have lost their reason, the source of confidence when worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash. The birth of the child — life’s most dramatic answer to death — this is the growing edge incarnate.
Look well to the growing edge!
It is this growing edge that we live each day…it is the opportunity to live each moment with integrity…with the understanding that the next step is not promised and is not fully known. This is the nature of the creative urge. The good news is that there is, at every moment, the opportunity to overcome…to persist…to recover.
Recovery is something I am familiar with. In my work with individuals and families experiencing the despair and anguish of substance use and addiction, I often have the opportunity to experience this growing edge. This week I met with a client from our program who recently stopped using all substances, including the medication dispensed at our clinic. It was a glorious meeting…a triumphant entry into life for a person who has suffered greatly. In her early life, she experienced so much fear that she reached for drugs to treat it. During her years of use, she became acquainted with deception…the hallmark of addiction. We have to deceive those around us if we want to continue using…and we do want to continue using. Why not? It is what makes us feel safe and secure...or so we think. And if we live in this vicious cycle of fear and deception…covering up and avoidance, we may become entrenched in a kind of hatred that is difficult to dislodge. It seems that this has happened to so many in this country…the perpetrators of the recent violence in Atlanta and in Boulder…the police violence throughout our country. It is not only drug addicts who succumb to this deep-seated hatred. It is those who have not found what Jesus found…the gift of awareness of our own integrity…our own mission and purpose in life and our place in creation. In our discussion, this client admitted that it took a lot of time…a lot of work to gain the understanding necessary to stop using. She had to work on understanding herself and the nature of creation and our creator. She searched for and found the growing edge of life…the basis of hope in the despair of life.
We all have this opportunity…despite inequities…despite corruption…despite the vicissitudes of life. Each moment, each breath holds the promise of the resurrection…the birth of a new life.
As we watch the full moon this weekend…the Paschal Moon…may we be reminded of our relatedness to the moon…the stars and to all life. May the Beams of Heaven guide our feet!