Simplicity

Mark 10:46-52

“in light of each day’s questions,
I am never prepared.
Today, again, I have nothing
to offer but a handful
of old prayers, worn down
by relentless abrasion
of doubt, and a fragment
of dream that plays on in my head
only half-remembered. Still,
the doves coo and circle
through the pines
as they do when I pass
each morning. Their sorrow
is so nearly human, it rings
sweet with regret. By dusk,
the trees will bow down, and I, too, will
make my appeal, will find
again your mercy,
your solace.”

-Elizabeth Drescher

Elizabeth Drescher writes,
“I am never prepared.
Today, again, I have nothing to offer
but a handful of old prayers, worn down.”

Her words rivet me
as I wonder:
What if all we have to offer
is a handful of old, worn down prayers?

What if all we have to offer is the familiar?

I am fascinated by this question,
because, when we hear the story today,
all Bartimaeus, the blind beggar,
has is his old, familiar cloak;
that’s it.

The Scripture picks up as
Bartimaeus stands on his
familiar roadside,
when Jesus walks by,
Bartimaeus shouts out:
“Jesus … have mercy on me!”

Bartimaeus has nothing offer.
The people shush him —
C’mon now, Jesus has better things to do.
Yet Bartimaeus persists,
becoming louder,
“Jesus, son of David, have MERCY on me!”

Bartimaeus refuses to be silenced.

It is true that all Bartimeaus has
is his old, grubby cloak –
a cloak that hugs his shoulders on cool days,
a cloak that he spread out in front of him
to collect donations of coins.

Yet, even that familiar garment,
Bartimaeus flings off as he goes running to Jesus.

Bartimaeus comes to Jesus,
with nothing.

This story makes me pause in my tracks.

It strikes me that Bartimaeus comes to Jesus,
not with fancy words,
or after getting his act together.

Bartimaeus comes to Jesus,
simply saying: Jesus, have mercy on me.
When others try to quiet him,
Bartimaeus repeats his words:
Jesus, have MERCY!

A simple, worn-out prayer,
that is all Bartimaeus has to offer.

The people say to him,
“Take heart; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
Throwing his only possession aside,
Bartimaeus jumps up and goes to Jesus.
Jesus inquires,
What do you want?
What is your heart’s desire?
Bartimaeus replies,
“Teacher, I want to see.”
Jesus replies, “Go, your faith has made you well.”

What faith?

Bartimaeus comes and
all he offers
is the plea of his heart:
Have mercy.
I want to see.

Jesus responds;
Go, you faith has made you well

Jesus’ reply reminds me
that is something about
the repetition of prayer,
the continued rhythm of spiritual practices
that shape us
and prepares a place in our hearts
to hear the calling of Jesus.
Simple, concrete actions
open us to God’s presence,
actions like
prayer and pleas, worship and service,
gratitude and wonder translated into love,
paying attention to what is and trusting God.

With so many disasters and injustices in our world,
it may seem like, what is the point
of simple spiritual acts?
What is the point of doing something small,
when it seems the world’s problems loom large?
Yet,
without these rhythmic, familiar practices,
we risk contributing to the flow
of hostility and fear that threaten the planet.
With them,
we find the strength and love to see and be
the kin-dom of God.
Turning toward the Source gives us
strength and love for sustained action.

I was reminded of this reality
the other week
when I met with my spiritual director.
Do you know what a spiritual director is?
A spiritual director is someone
who meet with 1:1
on a monthly basis,
and they listen to you
and together you listen
to where the spirit
is at work in your life.
They help you to open yourself
to the presence of God,
and listen to God.
The other week,
I sat down with my spiritual director,
who is a dear companion to me on my faith journey
and who is a vowed monastic
who prays multiple times a day.

As we talked,
I began to tell her about my experience
running and training for a marathon.
I said to her:
I am not runner.
I just read a book about running,
and thought,
maybe I could do this.
I wasn’t sure,
but I signed up for a marathon
and decided to see what happened.
It requires months of training.
Everything was hard,
but August was especially hard.
I started to do long runs
– 15, 16, 20 miles –
And I would come back exhausted,
like I had the flu.
It would take me days to recover.
I thought: What kind of life is this?
One day, when I ran 4.5 hours by the causeway,
I passed a fisherman and hours later I passed him again,
and he looked at me and said, “Still running?”
Yes, I replied.
The sun would set, the stars would show,
the street lights would turn on
and there I would be, running, running, running.
I thought to myself:
I don’t want to be here anymore.
Maybe I should quit.

In September,
I gave up on my training schedule,
rested as needed and ran when I could.
Would I complete the marathon?
I didn’t know,
but I plodded on.
Race day came
and I showed up,
no watch, no music, nothing,
Just me and the road.
The distance was also in kilometers,
so I never knew where I was..
I just kept pressing on.
For the first half of the marathon,
I ran with a flood of people,
The crowd shouted energetically to all,
Don’t give up! You are a champion!
One woman had a sign that said,
I am a stranger and I am so proud of you.
People handed me water and said,
because my name was on my bib,
Keep going. Don’t give up, okay Joy?
I took the water and said, okay, as I ran on,
never knowing the outcome,
not even when I turned the final corner,
until at last I looked up and saw
the race clock: 4 hours and 36 minutes.
Tears came to my eyes –
because, wow,
because, awe,
because sometimes we don’t think things are possible
and they actually are.
The love and grace of the people that day
surrounded me like a warm blanket
I never knew I needed.

This, my spiritual director said to me,
is what the faith journey is like.
We have the discipline of practicing something
over and over
– whether it is prayers or worship,
songs or service,
care for ourselves or others,
generosity or forgiveness.
We keep practicing,
and some days, and years,
might feel like my August,
like the dark night of the soul,
like the destination we so long for
might not be possible.
Yet, the Good News is that
that moment of transformation will always find us.
Always.
For Jesus is always calling us,
always coming to us,
even if we do not have ears to hear or eyes to see.
Nothing is required —
your worn out prayers,
your deepest and most despite desires:
they are enough.

Jesus, have mercy!

My spiritual director continues
I pray everyday.
I sit in a chair in this space
, and say my daily prayers, every day,
and some days I really don’t want to,
and some days I would rather be anyway else,
but I keep going
because it leads me where I want to go.

Start somewhere, she urges,
with a small prayer you say daily,
or a practice that brings you to the present moment,
or a reading you do regularly,
or a one-minute pause you make in your day,
or a companion you meet with regularly,
because it is through these small, concrete actions
that we open ourselves up
to the changed and changing life
God calls us to.
One small step at a time.
Moment by moment.
Somedays we’ll come up short or forget,
but try again the next day, keep at it, she says,
because it is in the practicing that we are transformed.
It is in the showing up
that we become something new –
literally born again
as our brain creates new neural pathways.

Jesus, have mercy: We want to see!

As we press on,
stories from the news come to our ears,
and we may think, what is the point,
how will we ever get out of this dark moment of humanity?
Yet, as we continue on,
moments come,
like Lauren’s baptism,
when we walked out on the water,
and sang in the bulb there is a flower,
in a tree an apple seed,
and tears came to my eyes because it is really true,
because awe, because wonder.
Or I think of Mark’s live liver donation,
or the ways we have helped strangers,
or the ways strangers have helped us.
As we gather each Sunday,
I find these days
suddenly a song will speak to me,
or a story move me,
or an encounter encourage me
and then suddenly, tears,
because, wow,
because, amazement,
because I who was blind, now fleetingly see that
sometimes life is hard
but sometimes it is more beautiful
than we could ever imagine.

And maybe,
it is true,
in this race we run –
there are not people packed
by the road cheering us on –
but let me tell, from me to you –
even just showing up today –
even on the days you think,
I don’t know what to do,
or this hard, or maybe I am stuck –
even those days,
I am here, holding up signs –
Lache pas! Vous etes champions!
Don’t give up! You are a champion!
We hold up signs for one another.
I may or may not be a stranger to you,
but I am so proud of you,
because sometimes being a human
takes everything you’ve got
and you inspire me just by being here.

So keep going, okay? Take heart.

Hold onto your old familiar prayers,
nothing fancy is required.
And even that you can fling off,
because Jesus has been here all along,
simply waiting for you to come.

Amen.

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