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Reflection by Will Sparks, November 10, 2019 – The Ridiculous Journey: The Way of the Sage
“I can see clearly now. The rain has gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind..” What helps you see clearly? How do you come to trust your own vision? How do you free yourself from so many distortions, and grow to trust the path you are on? These are the core questions of our celebration this Sunday as we continue our theme, “The Ridiculous Journey.”
At the beginning of November we began a series of reflections that we have called “The Ridiculous Journey.” It is based on the premise that the events and choices of our lives form a journey, a path that is our life. The idea that life is a journey is not novel. Think about the popularity of books such as Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho and A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. But the idea that life is a path we walk goes way back: Abraham and Sarah, heading out not knowing but following the call of God; Moses leading the people of Israel through the desert on a circuitous path to the promised land; and every pilgrim story ever written casts life as a journey, a path.
And for us and our life, some of the path is laid out for us by circumstance of birth and forces beyond our control. But much of that path is a choice. Moment by moment we make choices that both reveal and create who we are in the world and what our path will be, what its purpose is and what it means. The question we ask in the Ridiculous Journey is, why in heaven’s name we would choose to follow Jesus, a poor homeless wandering peasant from the back country of Galilee 2000 years ago. It seems kind of odd and unlikely but somehow this character’s call to “follow me” still resonates, still stirs the heart, still speaks to the soul’s longing for meaning and purpose. It is not an easy path. It asks a lot of us if we take it seriously, take it to heart. What is it about this path that is just so compelling?
Our study group on Tuesday evenings over the last 6 weeks has looked at the revolutionary, world turning nature of the path that asks so much of us. Last week we heard the call to reconcile, love your enemy, the kind of wild call that can lead you to have coffee with someone who sends you hate mail. You can see why it is called the ridiculous journey. But as ridiculous as it seems, it speaks to something deep in us.
This week the Ridiculous Journey takes us to an encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman at desert well outside a Samaritan village. Jesus and his disciples are on the road, and they stop at a well outside the village. The disciples go into town to buy food, and Jesus is there by himself, when a woman comes up from the village to draw water. And he asks her for a drink. And from that moment, the gospel writer launches into a long story of an encounter with cryptic phrases with double and triple meanings, and I want to unpack it a bit.
First of all, this encounter would be outrageous in Jesus time. It breaks all the rules. This is a woman of Samaria speaking to a Jewish man, alone at a well. First of all, women don’t speak to men in this culture. Her husband speaks to Jesus. She doesn’t speak to Jesus and he should know better than to speak to her. Secondly, she is a Samaritan and he is Jewish. There had been some bad blood between these two groups. They were distantly related, all harkened back to the ancient forbearers, but they had parted ways long generations back and layers of prejudice had grown up between the Samaritans of hill country, and the Judeans of the valleys. And the prejudice was strong and it appears throughout the gospels. But that doesn’t seem to stop Jesus.
Thirdly, this particular woman seems to have a history. She is coming on her own to get water at noon, by herself. This would indicate that she is something of an outcast. And Jesus picks up on this when he asks her about her husband and uncovers that indeed she has been passed around from one man to another, and is at present, unattached. In a culture in which a woman’s value is derived from the family, and specifically the man to whose household she belongs, she would be a social outcast.
So, breaking the Samaritan/Jew rule. Breaking the man/woman rule. Breaking the social outcast rules. This encounter breaks them all. And in the encounter, he perceives her soul’s thirst before she speaks of it, and sees her with a level of deep respect that she has not ever experienced.
He sees her. No one in her life and community sees her. She is invisible. He addresses her directly- human to human. No one ever does that. No one thinks she deserves it. And he speaks to her reality as an outcast and her deep thirst for human connection, human dignity.
What happens in this encounter? Jesus shows himself to be a sage, a wise one who is able to see what is true, what is really happening, someone who is able to see so clearly that all the distortions of prejudice, racism, sexism, economic and social marginalization, the many ways in which humanity gets distorted, all of that falls away. He sees the real person. He sees the soul. And that changes everything.
It is hard to see clearly. We live in a cultural soup that has many distorted ingredients: sexism and racism distort the way we value people and distribute power, there are cultural norms around sexual orientation and gender that distort our definitions of normal, even our economic system can turn human beings into “labour market” and the earth into a resource bank. And then we have history, cultural history and personal history.
I think that for most of my life, I have not seen clearly, objectively. I mean, I only have to look back and look at some of the choices I have made along the way to realize that I’ve been making it up as I go and I have never had clear sight. Moments of clarity maybe but there have always been distortions, and blind spots. That is true for all of us. You can never get outside of your life to see it clearly. There is only so much of our path we can see from the perspective of being on the path. A sage is someone who comes along and sees clearly, honestly, wisely, deeply.
Sometimes we call them mentors, individuals that we look to for wisdom and guidance. Sometimes it is not just one person. I think I have mentioned before the idea of having a board of directors for your life. Does your life have a board of directors, people who you consult when you have to make a wise decision and you know you can’t see clearly? My board never gathers together in the same room at the same time but I do have a list of people who I think are able to see me clearly, and are wise and grounded enough to look past my BS, account for my distorted ego, love me anyways, and tell me what they really see. I wonder who would be on your list of board of directors for your life?
Jesus, the sage says come, follow me. Walk the way of the sage. Walk the path of honesty, wisdom, clarity and depth. But to walk this path we will have to practice, and we will have to learn.
I gave our study group last week a task, and I hope it is a task that will help us learn to more deeply walk the way of the sage. It is simply to set your intention sometime at the beginning of every day with a prayer that comes from a very familiar song. Sometime near the beginning of you day, make a habit of praying:
Day by day, O dear God three things I pray: to see you more clearly, love you more dearly, follow you more nearly. Day by day.
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