I know I’m not alone in feeling exhausted. Maybe drained is more accurate. (Not dissimilar to the toll the heat has taken in places around the States and in Europe.)
A reminder of the gift and the replenishing power in emotional and spiritual hydration. Finding safety and sanctuary. A place of rest. And hope. And grace.
In times of depletion, I easily forget that grace is real. I forget the permission to “be enough” (at home in my own skin). No surprise that at times, I give in. So, this week I needed a story with an extra dose of grace.
Jesus was invited to a party. No surprise there. Jesus was often invited to parties. (Could that be why many people don’t understand him very well?)
Jesus was partial to dining with “sinners.” Which is code for people we label inferior or less than; who are marginalized and disinherited and shamed. You know, people “not of our caliber”. Or Tribe.
While sinners may have been Jesus’ preference or kinship, he was no respecter of invitations. For this particular party, his host was Simon, a Pharisee—a member of the religious elite—who was no doubt, curious about this infamous Rabbi Jesus.
Dinner parties in the first century Middle East were fueled by hospitality (similar to South Carolina parties, only without mint julep and southern accent). A basin would be provided so guests could wash the dust of the road from their feet. Often, scented olive oil would be made available to anoint a guest’s hair. And beloved guests would be kissed as they were greeted. For whatever reason, it appears that Simon offered none of these.
Here’s where the story gets interesting. A woman crashes the party. Literally. We do know that she wasn’t invited. And you could tell by what she was wearing that she didn’t do “church work,” if you know what I mean. A prostitute? We don’t know, save that she was most assuredly looked down upon. (The story tells us only that she “had lived a sinful life”.) The fact that she was allowed to enter the house is not unusual. In that time, followers of Rabbis were often given an opportunity to be near their teacher, even though the event may be “private.”
The woman is standing behind Jesus (who is reclined at the table) and begins to weep. We don’t know why or for how long. We do know that the tears fall upon Jesus’ feet, and that she has been crying long enough so that his feet are now wet. She unfastens her hair—more than likely long black hair, which had been tied up with a scarf—and lets it fall free. She kneels down to slowly and deliberately wipe his feet with her hair. She begins to kiss his feet (a behavior of passionate reverence) continuously and with affection. And then opening her vial (an alabastron of perfume, commonly worn by Jewish women around the neck), she pours oil on his feet, anointing them.
While the woman may have been disregarded until now, the scent of perfume sates the air, and attention is turned to this unknown at the feet of Jesus, weeping, caressing, kissing and anointing.
The shameless intimacy (and incaution) of her care, especially given her reputation, would have been scandalous to any guest of propriety. “How dare she!”
Indubitably, Simon got the drift. I can hear him clear his throat, “Aaaahem.” And he says (at least to himself), “If this man (Jesus) were really a prophet, he’d know who this woman is.” And he begins to rifle through the litany of labels–“she’s a sinner, prostitute, single, divorced, from a dysfunctional family, not of the true faith, and no doubt, Methodist.”
I can easily blame Simon. But if I’m honest, labeling others is natural. (And common when we are afraid or feeling powerless.) And at times, comforting to base our morality over and against anyone who is different. But here’s the deal: whenever we label someone, we dismiss him or her. And that turns out well.
Okay, put yourself in that woman’s place. She lives in a world where she is shunned, criticized and belittled. A world where she is the brunt of jokes and held up as an example by mothers who wish to “warn” their daughters.
For much of her life she has felt wounded, broken and tattered.
And she is looking for hope.
She is looking for rest.
She is looking for grace.
Jesus is aware of Simon’s judgment. And Jesus turns the tables. “Do you see this woman? I come into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but his woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she poured perfume on my feet.”
Notice this: Jesus didn’t shame her, or change her, or try to convert her.
When Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB, was asked, “How do you know who is to be your guru (teacher)?” He answered, “Because you fall in love.”
Well… this goes against our grain.
In our culture we believe, or mentally assent. We recite creeds.
What is certain is that we discourage vulnerability and the indiscriminate desire of the heart. Gratefully, love makes your soul crawl out of its hiding place. And this woman finds herself—her equilibrium, her salvation, her healing and her wholeness—by falling in love. By “falling” into that place of absolute vulnerability, when all of our boundaries (of control or answers or theological and religious piety) melt away, and we see who we are, and who we can become, and who we have pretended to be all along. We see ourselves through the eyes of grace. And we see the world around us through those eyes now.
This doesn’t dismiss or deny pain or suffering. Or brokenness or injustice. It says that grace makes room for healing. Grace allow us to bring the gift of enough to the present moment, for restitution, renewal, restoration and return.
As Jesus sends the woman on her way, he lets the whole household know, “She has been forgiven because she loved much.”
The woman didn’t learn this from a book or a seminar or a sermon. She knew this to be true in her heart.
Here’s the deal: This week I needed this story. Because when I drained (exhausted) I live disconnected from my heart. I live afraid of vulnerability and the stickum that grace is abundant.
Everybody is a little broken. (Or, a lot). But that’s okay. Because it is from our brokenness that we love and become healers, and risk and pay attention, and fall down and get back up and are forgiven. And invest with our whole heart and indiscriminate desire. May each and every one of us find this freedom and wholeness.
I do miss my Vashon Island garden, but am grateful for my little garden here in Port Ludlow. I can get dirt under my fingernails. And speaking of indiscriminate, no matter the size of the garden, it is a profligate banquet for the senses. Grace indeed.
And for those who’ve been in the heat too long, I wish for you moments of restorative hydration. Be gentle with yourself.
Quote for your week…
Lay down your weary tune, lay down
Lay down the song you strum
And rest yourself ‘neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum
Note: The party story is told in the Gospel of Luke.
Today’s Photo Credit: “Terry, This photo is one that captures simplicity… walking past a pool soon after dawn and seeing the beauty in these simplest of objects. And yet, even here, it is the visual relationship of everything that makes it striking – the ‘we’ of even the inanimate.” Suchin Rai… Thank you Suchin… Keep sending your photos… send to terryhershey.com
Yes, your gift makes a difference… Donation = Love…
Help make Sabbath Moment possible. I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
(NEW address by check: PO Box 65336, Port Ludlow, WA 98365)
UPCOMING EVENTS —
August 12 – 14 — Mary and Joseph Center, Rancho Palos Verdes CA, Soul Gardening: Sacrament of the Present Moment.
October 3 – 5 — Hinton Retreat Center, Hayesville, NC, Life in the Garden
Letters that do my heart good…
–Hi Terry. Absolute perfection in your words this morning…so desperately needed by me and I am sure many, many others. Some mornings facing another day is all too often like trudging thru quicksand. Patsy
–Terry, Been a tough week for us. Has been real hard to watch & not be able to help. As always, Sabbath Moment came Monday AM & lighten the load. Terry, thank you for the encouragement you send Every Week. You never know how much you impact the lives of others unless they let you know. You are a very special man Terry, and your words do much more than you can imagine. Thank you for being there Every Monday for us. S & T
POEMS AND PRAYERS
We are born broken. We live mending. The grace of God is the glue.
O gather up the brokenness, And bring it to me now
The fragrance of those promises,
You never dared to vow
The splinters that you carry, The cross you left behind
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind
And let the heavens hear it, The penitential hymn,
Come healing of the spirit, come healing of the limb
Behold the gates of mercy, In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving, the cruelty or the grace.
O solitude of longing, Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body, Come healing of the mind
O see the darkness yielding, That tore the light apart
Come healing of the body, Come healing of the mind
Come healing of the reason, Come healing of the heart
O troubled dust concealing, an undivided love
The Heart beneath is teaching
To the broken Heart above
Come Healing, Leonard Cohen
My wish for you
Is that you continue
To be who and how you are
To astonish a mean world
With your acts of kindness
To allow humor to lighten the burden
Of your tender heart
In a society dark with cruelty
To let the people hear the grandeur
Of God in the peals of your laughter
To let your eloquence
Elevate the people to heights
They had only imagined