Every follower of Jesus knows that he often taught in paradoxes. He turned things upside down.
The first will be last. The giver will receive. The dead will live.
Many of us struggle to understand these apparent contradictions central to our faith. Paul expresses one of the most difficult, in the 12th chapter of 2 Corinthians, where he describes his struggle with "a thorn in his flesh," an unidentified affliction that he pleads with God to remove. He writes:
But God said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Difficult to understand... until we experience the troubles that come to all of us.
In a previous blog, I shared with you the battle dear friends are fighting with a rare form of Non- Hodgkins Lymphoma. Bob has now entered a clinical trial in which some of his white blood cells were removed, bio-engineered to attack and kill the cancer cells, and then reintroduced into his body.
This is called CAR-T Cell Immunotherapy. Many believe that this treatment may be our best hope for curing cancer. It sounds miraculous. And certainly, the results of the trials are promising. But the process itself is long and difficult.
Bob's trial is in Houston, at the MD Anderson Cancer Clinic, where he and his wife Katie have lived in his room for nearly three weeks. After the cells were reintroduced, I sat with her for several days, as the side effects ravaged Bob's body and mind. Fever and pain were followed by confusion and difficulty in focusing. I watched him--in spite of the weakness of his body and mind--fight for his life. I watched her--even as she suffered alongside him--fight to stay positive, to focus on the outcome instead of the process.
And I kept thinking about Paul's words. When I am weak, then I am strong. I witnessed God at work, Jesus sitting beside them, the Holy Spirit present in the room, strengthening them to make it through to the other side of this horrible time.
If you're interested in exploring this relationship between weakness and strength inherent to our faith, you have a wonderful opportunity this weekend.
Beginning at 2:00 p.m. this Friday, the 2018 CONSPIRE conference will be live-streamed in the Friendship Room of our church. This is the annual conference of the Center for Action and Contemplation, founded by Richard Rohr in New Mexico. Rohr is an author and speaker, a Franciscan friar whose wisdom crosses denominational boundaries.
The theme of this year's conference is The Path of Descent Is the Path of Transformation. Presenters include:
Barbara Brown Taylor: "I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light."
Brian McLaren: "Comfort and power can become great enemies of true spirituality, which explains why we often say that the prophets come not only to comfort the afflicted, but also to afflict the comfortable."
Barbara Holmes: "In the beginning there is darkness. It is the womb out of which we are born. Darkness may be the blessed dimming of ego-driven striving, a destination and condition of safety and repose. In this state of trusting refuge, the light of divine revelation, which pierces but does not castigate the darkness, may finally be seen. This is a mothering darkness that nurses its offspring."
Mirabai Starr: "Everything we thought we knew feels like it is unraveling and we have nowhere to turn but into the center of radical unknowing. Like a physical desert, this seemingly barren space teems with spiritual energy. God lives here, hidden under every stone, flaming from the harsh sun, concealed by the crescent moon."
Richard Rohr: "We need to deeply trust and allow both our own dyings and our own certain resurrections, just as Jesus did! This is the full pattern of transformation. If we trust both, we are indestructible. That is how Jesus 'saves' us from meaninglessness, cynicism, hatred, and violence--which is indeed death."
There is no cost for attending, and you can come and go at any time. You will find the schedule at the end of this blog.
I hope you will find time this weekend for contemplative teachings, practices, reflection, and conversation, as we explore the transformation that often comes from failure, suffering and woundedness... the path of surrender.
Lou Ann Karabel