ART: Window Five — Third Sunday In Lent, by Michael Sullivan

A Lenten Journey of Stories and Art

Third Sunday in Lent Michael Sullivan

From: Windows Into the Light

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer)

God, my soul both awaits and celebrates your presence.  At times I drive you away, replacing your love for me with objects of my own desire.  On other days, I welcome you  with wild abandon, preparing a feast for all to enjoy.  Help me to find the places between, the places where I can be still and know that you are God and that I am not.  For in those sacred temples, my soul receives you and my life becomes complete. Amen.

John 2:13-22

(Jesus and the money changers)

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.  Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle.  He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  He told those who were selling the doves, Take these things out of here!  Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!  His disciples remembered that it was written, Zeal for your house will consume me.  The Jews then said to him, What sign can you show us for doing this?  Jesus answered them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.  The Jews then said, This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?  But he was speaking of the temple of his body.  After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.


My grandparents’ farm stood in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.  Several hundred acres, quite large for an up-country farm, it had been in the family since the early 1800s.  The original plat, hand drawn with notes in the margins, still hangs in my mother’s home.  It’s sort of a testimony, a reminder of the farm that once had lots of hands, as they called the workers, a place where the blacksmith shop was a local hangout, and my great-great-grandfather doled out justice as the only magistrate in the area.  By the time I was born, many of its buildings were only memories.  The old barn, built from hand-hewn logs, was seeing its last days.  I barely remember climbing into its loft.  The large barn was in better shape, and I often climbed into the loft there, unless of course I saw a snake, as was often the case.

The large barn was the one closest to the bottoms, low-lying land irrigated by canals.  I loved walking there as a child.  The road to the bottoms was magical.  The leafy trees were thick and encapsulated the little gravel road, which wound its way over bridges that crossed streams flowing with clean mountain water.  I heard stories of the swimming hole that had been there earlier, the water dammed up to provide a fresh, cool retreat in the summer.  I often wished that someone would’ve dammed it up again.  Jumping into that clean water looked so very fun.

It was in this place that I grew up.  In the summer, I would spend long days there, sometimes without a single thing to do other than walk around, look at the rocks, sticks, and flowers, and bug my grandmother to take me for a hotdog down at the café.  Usually, that worked.  She loved hotdogs herself.  But the chief memory of my childhood is captured in my grandmother’s table set for a Sunday meal.  I suppose this deep memory is the reason that I’m so into food today.  I’m just trying to keep up a grand family tradition.  For you see on Sundays, my grandmother would provide a feast of more food than anyone in their right mind would cook for such a small group of people.  Having lived with the abundance of a farm, she never stopped filling her table with the bounty of God’s creation on the Sabbath day.  Two meats, two beans, two starches, two salads, two breads, two desserts was her norm.

Cooking such a meal was my grandmother’s way of declaring the holiness of the Sabbath.  Her preparations started days in advance.  A cake was usually in the plans for Thursday or Friday with a pie following soon thereafter.  Saturday morning was reserved for last-minute shopping, unless she had to go into town.  That meant a whole different schedule and usually a Friday trip, which of course depended upon my grandfather and his schedule, for my grandmother didn’t drive.  I can still hear her saying, That’s not my job.  But I can also still hear her when my grandfather was too busy to take her into town.  I’m thinking of getting my license and buying a new car, would come forth from her mouth, and within minutes, I would hear the engine roar in the drive, my grandfather waiting patiently for her.

With butter and fresh milk for mile-high biscuits, fresh beans from the farm, macaroni with locally made cheese, she would descend into the kitchen for hours on Saturday afternoon.  I can still see her standing there in a dress with an apron tied around her waist, flour all over the place, smells of ham and chicken wafting through the air.  If I was there for Saturday night, she would usually make a sandwich using the ham.  It was like getting a foretaste of the Heavenly banquet ahead of time, a communion of sorts, a real presence of the meal that was still coming.

Usually, I was at home with my parents on the weekends and we’d head to church Sunday morning.  Immediately afterward, in a mad dash, we’d all pile into the car and head off into the countryside.  When we arrived at the farm, the smell of the meal would almost knock me down as I got out of the car.  Everything prepared the day before was in the massive oven for a final warming, a final touch of God’s goodness; the smell permeated every molecule of the air.

In the spring and summer, we’d walk through the kitchen into the dining room and encounter a covered table.  She’d set the table Saturday night and then placed another tablecloth on top so no dust or bugs would find their way into our meal.  I always thought it looked strange, sort of like something had died and the doctors had pulled the sheets up over the corpse.  I can still see my grandmother on one side of the table and my mother on the other, just before the meal, reaching down, picking up the cloth, and with great precision folding the tablecloth. It looked holy, like the folding of the flag at the end of a school day.  The meal would follow, as would the desserts, and in the summer we often churned homemade ice cream.  My arm still hurts from turning the crank.

When my grandfather died, my grandmother moved to town.  The meals stopped.  She still cooked from time to time, but in all truth, it was never the same.  Something happened when we left the farm, when the house that had stood there all those years became empty.  I’m not really sure why.  We could’ve had the same meal.  We could have eaten upon the same table.  All of us would have helped.  But it just wasn’t the same.  Sabbath meals just seemed to die.

I have my own children now.  My parents live in another state, hours away.  There’s no family farm to return to on a weekly basis.  No place to center ourselves for the Sabbath.  No place to fold the ritual tablecloth.  Instead, my Sunday is of course filled with work.  As a priest, I disappear form the house before seven each Sunday morning.  And if we’re lucky, we have a good sandwich for lunch around 1:00.

Most Sundays we venture to places that weren’t open when I was a child.  We head to the sporting goods store for our children’s shoes or to the department store for household items.  Sunday afternoon has become the principle shopping time in our busy lives.  Sometimes we go to a soccer game or play tennis.  I regularly buy our groceries on Sunday evening with all the young people returning from out-of-town parties.  It’s quite a happening place, the grocery store, on a Sunday evening.  And with great regularity, I do return home with bags full of God’s abundance in order to cook the best meal of the week.  We dedicate Sunday evenings to each other in our family; it’s our time to just be with each other.  Sometimes we play cards or watch a movie after a great meal.

But each Sunday around 1:15, my heart goes to a different place.  My soul remembers the feeling of gravel underneath the tires of my father’s Oldsmobile 98 and I look up for the trees towering above.  Sometimes, I even feel myself rolling down the window and leaning out, trying to catch a glimpse of the white house on the hill.  I want so very much to see that porch, to hear the screen door bang behind me, and encounter my grandmother standing at the stove, the little apron tied around her waist, the smile of approval creasing her whole face.  I want to see the table and to know that it’s still there, waiting in great expectation of the Sabbath meal, keeping it holy, undefiled, free from all the moneychangers that make it like any other day.  And, perhaps more than anything, I want to watch as the cloth is lifted from the table and folded to reveal the bounty of God’s grace.

I wonder if it’s time for me to turn over the tables of my life and let the farm be more than a place drawn on a plat hanging on the wall.  Is it possible, with just a little effort, to reclaim the temple of my life for the holiness of Sabbath?  I think so, for the memory will not fade and the meal cannot be forgotten.

Therefore, shall we keep the feast?


 EXERCISE

Cleaning Our Temple

A simple word collage can be incorporated into your daily meditations.  I use this method more than any other because it can be done anywhere with only a pen and paper.  Sometimes, I will even stop work at the office and use this method to discover what is really going on with me in times of stress.  By working quickly with the thoughts that flow from our subconscious, we discover what is truly captivating our souls at any given time.  This discovery is not only helpful to self-understanding in any situation, but of course makes it possible to be more honest in our prayer.  Discovering what is truly bothering us allows us to present more of ourselves to God, and hence experience more of God’s grace and mercy.  While this exercise draws on the themes of this chapter, the instructions will show how easy it is to adapt this method for daily use.

Materials

  • A sheet of paper, preferably 11 x 14 construction paper.
  • Two colors of pens, fine-tip markers, or colored pencils.

Method

After preparing your space, preferably with a table or lapboard, read through this entire exercise so that you can do the whole thing without referring back to this book.  You might make index cards containing reminders of the questions that follow or other instructions that would be helpful.  Feel free to use this same technique at other times throughout the book.

When you’re ready, begin with a prayer.  Then, if you can, sit in silence with your eyes closed for ten minutes or so.  Try to put aside any thoughts and let your stream-of-consciousness fade into meditation with God.  After this time of meditation, ask yourself a question: What interferes with my relationship with God?  As words come to mind that answer this question, write them down on the paper, using only one color of pen, marker, or pencil.  Write creatively, diagonally, horizontally, and perpendicularly.  You might even write words in a circle, starting in the center of the page and spiraling out as you go.  Vary the size of the words – some might seem more important than others and you might make those larger.  Write the words or phrases quickly, being sure not to reflect or ask yourself why you included any particular one.  The quicker you work, the more the right side of your brain will guide your meditation and the more you will learn about what interferes with your relationship.

When you have exhausted your answers, usually when more than fifteen seconds pass between responses, stop, put down your pen, and close your eyes.  Take a minute or two to breathe deeply, letting each breath cleanse your thoughts.  When you have re-centered, ask yourself a second question: How does Christ respond to my answers?  Then, picking up the other color of pen or marker, write the response you hear.  You might hear many responses, a different one to each of the things you have written.  Sometimes, you might hear one response to all of them, written over and over throughout the page.  Write what the Spirit reveals to you and do so creatively.  The words of God tend to be more creative than our own!

When the responses cease, stop, close your eyes, and again take several deep breaths.  Thank God for the opportunity to be honest and for God’s response to you.  After a couple of minutes, open your eyes and reflect upon the exercise.

Soul Questions

  • Was it easy to list what interferes with your relationship with God?  Why or why not?
  • What themes emerged in your responses?  Was a particular event or person present in what you wrote?
  • What surprises did you discover in your responses?
  • How did you feel when you entered the second phase of the exercise?  Was it easier or harder to respond to your honesty?  Did scripture influence your response?
  • How can you adjust your life in light of what you have discovered?

Thoughts for the Journey

On future days, use the scripture lesson for the day to form your word collage.  Is there a question in the scripture itself?  If so, use it to frame your exercise.  Or ask yourself a question, such as, Why am I so anxious today? or, What would help me see God more clearly in a particular relationship or person?  When appropriate, you can add a second meditation, as in this chapter’s exercise, by asking, What does God see in my prayer? or, How would Jesus see this differently?

 

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