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Living in the Divine Presence

by The Rev. James D. Findlay

James FindlayAs the warm days of late summer continue, we find that the Lectionary texts for the coming weeks are a somewhat “motley” mix.  They include a wide range of Psalms, from songs of praise to Wisdom and the beauty of the Temple to the celebration of a royal wedding.  There’s a discourse on the importance of Jesus’ flesh and blood in John 6 and narratives of conflict and healing in Mark 7 and commentary on the necessity of prayer in Ephesians and on the essential role of compassion and honoring of the poor in James.  Also included are admonitions to listen to Wisdom and to refrain from oppression in Proverbs; two prayers of Solomon – one for the reception of Wisdom and the other for divine blessing at the dedication of the Temple.  Despite the apparent differences in these seasonal gifts from the Divine Word, all offer us windows into various ways we can dwell in and receive the Divine Presence.

The Gospel texts appear quite striking in their divergence.  John 6 contains lengthy discourses by Jesus on eternal life and its relation to the eating of the true food, his flesh and blood (6:55).  Though this seems abhorrent on a literal level, and even leads to the departure of some of his disciples from his company (6:60), in faith we are able to taste and see that receiving Christ into our lives, through the liturgy of Communion and the communion of prayer, is essential for our journeys.  When we eat and drink spiritual food, whether in physical or spiritual form, in a joyous shared meal with family or congregation, or in contemplation of inner realities, we do find ourselves receiving Divine Life, living in eternity (6:54-58).

The narratives in Mark 7, though in a different literary form than John’s discourses, address the same spiritual reality: the Presence of the Divine in human life.  For Jesus in Mark, all foods are equally valuable, since all eventually exit our bodies (Mark 7:18-19).  However, our behavior shows who we really are, and comes from our spiritual and moral center within us (7:20-23).

The healing of the Syro-Phoenician woman and the deaf man (7:24-37) show that personal encounter, challenging conversation, and caring touch transform wounded bodies, and that Jesus’ power to heal can be experienced as the presence in our own lives, as persons and communities of faith in Christ.

Wisdom’s power and presence is clear in this season and its texts.  In Proverbs 9 she builds a palace and calls to all to join her at a sacred feast, with an admonition to live well:  “Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight” (Prov. 9:6).  Solomon prays to YHWH for understanding and discernment, two of Wisdom’s fruits, and receives all other good things as well when God notes his already-wise request (1 Kings 3:10-13).

The Psalmists and Solomon both praise God, whether in song or prayer, when speaking of the Jerusalem Temple and of God’s nature and deeds (Pss. 111, 34, 84; I Kings 8).  These joyous compositions express that God manifests the highest goodness: blessings for all from the Earth, and justice and care for the poor among the people.

The Temple is a manifestation in sacred territorial space of God’s Presence: its beauty reflects the Beauty of the Divine, and both birds and humans find their greatest joy and happiness there.  These prayers and testimonies show us that God does dwell in our midst; worship and praise bring us into intimate relationship with the Creator and Creation; and that our own lives, through contemplation, service, and spiritual practice, can be crafted into a dwelling-place for the Divine.

Finally, both Ephesians and James offer us further guidance and encouragement on the spiritual path.  After various admonitions to caring and faithful behavior (Eph 4, 5), the author of Ephesians urges us to be spiritually strong through prayer (6:18).  Prayer and singing, walking wisely and living joyously on the Earth in difficult times, are the sources, in our daily lives, of the power of God’s Spirit.

The military metaphor of the “armor of God” (Eph. 6:10-17), however, does not speak of violence or domination.  Instead, every part of the “armor” is the fruit of ongoing faith practice: truth, righteousness, proclaiming peace, living out salvation, speaking with spiritual power.

For James, our path is clear: live with love, show mercy rather than judgment, honor the poor, doing our faith rather than simply speaking it (James 1:22, 2:5-17).  As our spiritual journey is deepened and enriched, our faithfulness becomes a divinely guided ethical lifestyle: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Creator, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27).

May each of us, in all of life’s rhythms, continue to live out God’s will, cultivate our ongoing closeness to God, and become a witness to and dwelling place for God’s Presence in the world.  That, indeed, is living in the Divine Presence.

Note from author: Please feel free to contact me via e-mail at sleight_of_time@yahoo.com .  I wish to engender a conversation among us about how the Word and Spirit are active in our lives, and how we might nurture these gifts further. I also am happy to work with groups and individuals on how to nurture the Word and Spirit among us. Please visit my Facebook Page at   www.facebook.com/pages/Spiritual-Accompaniment-Services/219750211459838  as another way of being in this sacred conversation. I look forward to hearing from many of you soon!

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