Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Spinning in the Vortex

Our Lectionary Readings for this Sunday, which is technically our last Sunday of Ordinary Time (!), are Isaiah 65:17-25, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, and Luke 21:1-19. You can read them here (though you'll notice that I added four verses to the beginning of the Luke reading...not because I didn't think there were enough verses there, but because I think they are somehow important to understanding what Jesus is talking about here! But more on that later).

So as I was reading our texts for this week, an image came to mind. It was the image of those spiral vortex things that always used to be around the checkout areas of restaurants when I was a kid--those big, yellow plastic funnel contraptions you could drop a penny into and watch it spin its way to the bottom (see picture at right if you have no idea what I'm talking about). I was fascinated by these things--how the coin would spin slowly at first, then faster and faster and faster as it moved towards the narrow part of the funnel until it became a noisy whirring blur and finally dropped to the bottom, where it became still.

Why is this the image that came to mind here? Well, see if you can follow this logic: I like to think of the church year is a cycle, a spiral of sorts. We move through this long, long season called Ordinary Time from early summer to late fall, five to six full months of time to meander through a gospel (in this year's case, the Gospel of Luke) and dawdle about in some Old Testament stories (in this year's case, those fun guys called the Prophets). This is where we've been since I arrived at Broadneck in June on the second Sunday of Ordinary Time--just moving through these stories at a steady pace, but really without an end in sight. We're with Jesus on his long road to Jerusalem, and with the Israelites on their long road into exile, so to speak...a journey that is far more tortoise than hare, that's like the endless time the coin rolls around the top of the funnel before it drops, time that tests both our endurance and our gnat-like twenty-first century attention spans.

Now, however, suddenly we've hit that narrow end: we are spinning rapidly, rapidly, rapidly towards our final Sunday of this Church year (Christ the King Sunday next week), and then beginning a new Church year with the first Sunday of Advent the following Sunday. We're spinning so fast that, in this week's lections, it is almost like we've lost track of where we are--for this week's readings, in many senses, seek to keep us not in our present Ordinary Time for one more week, but to launch us prematurely into some sort of Extraordinary Time. In the Old Testament reading, we suddenly encounter a new heaven and a new earth that God is creating, where it seems that the Book of Revelation is suddenly thrust back into Isaiah's prophecy. In the New Testament readings, people are looking ahead to things to come, spinning rapidly and sometimes acting foolishly out of their hopes of God finally putting all things under the reign of Christ. The themes that will emerge in the coming weeks--Christ's kingdom beginning to be established on earth, God breaking into human history to do something new--seem to be bursting in upon us a little early this that coin spinning down the spiral, we are being launched out of this slow journey we've been on into something new altogether, something disorienting in its difference.

As we encounter these texts this week, however, here's a question to ponder, one that has been on my mind this week that can perhaps help us think around how these texts that seem to speak of future other worlds might ground us in our present realities: when we dream about, talk about, and consider the new future God is working to bring about among us--what is our role in that process as God's people, and what rests in God's hands alone? How can we be faithful and passionate participants in God's future without trying to become the god of that future? It could be an interesting exercise to read these texts this week with these questions in mind...questions that, maybe at least a little, can slow down the rapidly spinning spiral and help offer some perspective on the journey.

In the meantime...I love the irony of the fact that, in the midst of this spinning coin imagery, our Gospel text opens with the reading about the widow giving her two coins. Somehow I think this could be part of the grounding we need to dive into these texts faithfully this week...

See you Sunday for a time that promises to be anything but ordinary!

Sidenote: not familiar with the seasons of the church year? Check out the diagram below for a refresher on this worship cycle in which we as Christians dwell...


Jeremy said...

I think that there are all kinds of great ideas and actions that can come out of your questions, Abby. What, if anything, is up to us/people in these passages? In Isaiah and Thessalonians, building, planting, and living seem to be in our court, but where, what and how that living and working takes place seems up to God. Hmm...

In the Luke passage (and to a lesser extent, Isaiah as well), we are called to endure (Luke 21:19). As part of this, we are encouraged to think and, perhaps, meditate on our call(ings) and desires (before they call, while they are speaking, God answers them, putting the emphasis on the premeditated thought/motivation). Thinking comes into play with not being led astray (although, that involves intuition, too, I think). But then, in the last bit of the Luke passage, the most disturbing thing of all:

Luke 21:14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance;

Putting aside a thesis defense, this seems to go against the thinking bit earlier. Or maybe it's a different kind of preparation that is referred to here (i.e. different meaning of the Greek words). I'm lost on this one.

As to how we can be passionate about all of this (great way to think about from Abby) without "becomig the God of that future"...oh boy. This relates to our meditation two Wednesdays ago on some prayers of Mother Theresa. I questioned one of them that said, we have only to say yes to God. If it is that easy to say "yes" to God and have things just happen! After all, I still have to make little decisions (to move from room to room, to eat, to continue to live, etc.) but the decisions get larger and involve more people even as I move from place to place (living room to basement, home to the grocery store) and as I need to communicate. There seems to be quite a bit of agency/free will involved here on our part - even in my quick, silly examples above! And though I'm happy to have those choices (as a stubborn and independent guy), it makes this all so much more very complicated/interesting/depressing/mind-boggling. As someone I know sometimes says, it makes me wish I was a cat. Everything is straightforward and simple as a cat.

Abby said...

Jeremy, I do love the fact that the "do not prepare your defense in advance" passage comes in this week when you're preparing to defend your thesis:) Sometimes the lectionary really gets it right!

Thanks for your challenging responses to those questions...cats would be easier, indeed.