Fishes and Loaves (Mark 6: 30-44)

Take the idea of abundance versus scarcity: how often do we see our cups as half-empty rather than half-full?   How much news is fear-based rather than love-based?   The nuclear crisis in Japan is no doubt horrific, but almost all the news I read, see or hear is about how bad things are, never about how brave are the people trying to contain the radioactivity, how amazing the world community is for trying to help.  It’s not that we ought to ignore the problems of the world, but rather we need to find balance and means to bring about positive change.

Parker Palmer, in his book, The Active Life, gave me fresh insight about the miracle of the loaves and fishes (Mark 6: 30-44).   I have always loved this Scripture.  Even before I became a Christian, it spoke to me of the abundance of God’s love, and the grace, and the mystery, but Parker Palmer, author of The Active Life, brings deeper meaning.

He says Jesus, who is the very one who refused to turn a stone into bread, is now creating abundance not simply of food, but of community.   When the disciples suggest the crowd be sent to villages, away from this gathering because it is getting late, and they have nothing to eat, they are acting out of scarcity.   They want to get rid of the crowd and let the crowd take care of themselves.   It never occurs to them they might do something more than direct the people.   When Jesus tells them “You give them something to eat,” they must have felt bewildered.   There were 5000 people on that hillside.   The disciple’s immediate response is to leave and buy food, but Jesus suggests they might want to see what abundance is already within the crowd:  “How many loaves have you?   Go and see.”

All the disciples can come up with is five loaves and two fishes.  I bet they felt stupefied.  They didn’t have a clue about the abundance of God’s grace because they were locked into a fear-based, scarcity-based world.  How on earth, they must have thought, are we going to take care of all these hungry people with so little bread?  Furthermore, they are acting out of us-versus-them mentality–which rarely gets people to cooperate.

What might the disciples have said to the people?  Jesus says for you to cough up whatever food you’ve got?  I imagine people hoarding their supplies–many may well have brought along their lunch, expecting to stay a while to hear and experience this marvelous teacher and healer.  They aren’t about to share their food because they want to take care of themselves first.  The disciples, in their defense, were a little further along.  They felt the heavy responsibility of the crowd weighing them down.  Silly people did not realize God’s abundance is always available and it is there for everyone all the time.

Palmer says Jesus teaches about community by dividing the people into groups, and then dividing the bread and fishes evenly, thus causing the people in each small group to start to talk to one another and become connected to one another, and perhaps produce and share their hidden resources with one another.  For Palmer, then, the mystery of the loaves and fishes is revealed as an act of explainable community action.  He makes the case of the importance of not merely spiritualizing Scripture, assuming God will feed everyone and therefore we need do nothing.  Rather, Palmer tells us, it is through human action that God’s grace enters the world and changes it.

Palmer quotes Black Elk, the Native American shaman, “Whether it happened so or not I do not know; but if you think about it you can see that it is true.”  Even as a child, I always knew this story was true and always believed it literally, but now I see it is a deeply layered myth resonating with meaning for all who have ears to hear and eyes to see.  As the saying goes, when the student is ready, the teacher will come.

Angels in America

I just finished watching Tony Kushner’ s Pulitzer prize winning play, made for HBO.  It is a brilliant depiction of the struggles of homosexual men in the 1980s at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic.

This play moved me deeply because of the truth it spoke at so many levels.  Brilliant writing, brilliant dialog, brilliant insight, disturbing and poignant.  It is an example of such fine writing, all those who aspire to speaking truth through their written words would benefit from watching this show.  It was six hours in length. 

One of the characters is a closet homosexual lawyer with a wife.  He does not admit his true feelings, and his wife, cheated of the intimacy and connectedness she expects from her husband, is a valium addict.

Ultimately it brings up the question for all people:  what do we hide that separates us from others, and what do we deny within ourselves which is the reality of who we actually are?

Often, it seems to me, since we are in a state of becoming, we plain don’t know who we are, we lack deep awareness, and yet the seeds of our nature are deeply planted, waiting to be watered by compassionate choices.

Contemplative prayer and meditation are ways we get deeper understanding of our nature, our motivations and our  attachments with the ultimate goal of becoming free to make wholistic choices of benefit not only to ourselves, but to others also.  Spiritual direction is one way to deepen understanding.

It takes courage to write as honestly as Kushner did.  His wisdom surely comes from a life truly examined at the deepest of levels.

Everlasting Light

This week, we said goodbye to a beloved pet, Princess Izabella Pinki. She was nineteen-years-old and always the ham who posed for pictures.  This photo was taken only a few months ago at Christmas.   It was hard letting her go, but though I am sad, I am peaceful too.

If you’ve ever lost someone you loved, be she or he a cat, or a dog, or a mom or dad, or sister or brother, friend or lover to the transition some call crossing the Jordan, or being grabbed by the Grim Reaper, or simply dying, then you’ll understand how much we need comfort at such times.  

For me comfort comes with the knowledge Philip and I loved this cat and treated her with absolute kindness.  She was loved, well-fed, free, and pampered.  Her long life is a comfort.

But something else gives me peace too, something more powerful than what we did or even how she lived.  This something can offer us comfort when our own treatment of the dead has been less than perfect.

Eknath Easwaran offered this comfort and spiritual wisdom.  He explained our physical lives, our conscious awareness is so much greater than our dreaming state which often seems confused and crazy.  So it will be, he says, when we or any of God’s cherished ones (which is all life) die, for they will look back at their physical existence with everlasting light and clarity, amazed at the confusion and the jumble of their past existence in the physical plane.

Blessed be the everlasting light, the kingdom of heaven.