Reflections

Disciple, Tangiers

that light kept me a year in its grip first
my feet caught fire then my blood
we moved at the edge of endlessness
headless handless mouthless mind-

less sand (the face of god) figs
a night on the rug with the merciless
stars in our mouths drank
brackish water the camel milk

learned gradual as the sea of sand learned
to relinquish again again to cut
piety away and drift like ash like this
land that can stand to vanish to rise

Nancy White lives in Cambridge, New York, and has taught writing for more than 25 years. Her first book, Sun, Moon, Salt, won the Washington Prize.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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A Prophet Without Honor

The readings this month begin and end with stubborn preconceptions of who Jesus is. First, Jesus’ own community refuses to see past the local boy it once knew, and members close themselves to the work of the Spirit—to the point that Jesus, uninterested in forcing liberation on anyone, must leave. Three weeks later, the crowd has the opposite response. People are so overwhelmed by the freedom he brings—from sickness, loneliness, exclusion, hunger—that they want to crown him king. Frightened by the crowd’s inability to understand that they must participate in the new reign, and thus in their own freedom, Jesus flees in desperation.

In between, the fate of the prophet is made all too clear by John the Baptist’s execution, and we are reminded that our own hands are far from clean when we confront the implications of discipleship in our own lives. The gift and burden of free will means that we can choose how to respond to the good news. Are we prepared, like Jesus, to welcome the lost, forgotten, and excluded, those who hunger and thirst for justice? Are we prepared to shepherd the suffering of the world, and one another?

Though we may not feel up to the task, Paul reminds us that we are not alone in the new and difficult responsibilities of discipleship, for the spirit of the resurrected Christ “at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

Michaela Bruzzese, a Sojourners contributing writer, lives in Brooklyn, New York.

July 5
Finding Power in Weakness
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

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Sojourners Magazine July 2009
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'Listen to Him!'

Over the next four weeks, Jesus’ public ministry begins to cause problems with both scribes and demons, and issues of knowledge and secrecy abound. The question of authority is turned upside down; the scribes lose theirs, and those you would least expect—a leper, Simon’s mother-in-law—gain authority and a place in the new reign. Jesus tries to keep the focus on the message, not the miracles, and tries to prepare us for the truth of his mission—salvation, yes, but through the cross.

In the midst of the confusion, Mark offers a little help by presenting Jesus as the Messiah and chosen one so clearly that even the disciples get it: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mark 9:7). The Transfiguration serves to remind us that Jesus has already conquered death and set us free. Knowing this, we can re-enter the chaos more fully, passionately, and freely to struggle for this reign that we dare to claim as our own.

Meanwhile, Paul has to confront his own demons—wresting “church” out of a few ragtag communities, and putting out fires that flare up when disciples try to translate spiritual beliefs and human limitations into community. Luckily, instead of focusing on his own power, Paul keeps us focused on Christ and on service to one another: “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corin­thians 4:5).

Michaela Bruzzese, a Sojourners contributing writer, lives in Brooklyn, New York.

February 1

Building with Love

Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

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Sojourners Magazine February 2009
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Voices of Truth

In the Northern Hemisphere, the short days and long nights of winter come with lectionary readings full of references to dark and light. Each Isaiah reading speaks of darkness and light: “Arise, shine; for your light has come” (Isaiah 60:1); “I will give you as a light to the nations” (Isaiah 49:6); “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2). Psalm 27 begins, “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” and Matthew 4:15-16 quotes Isaiah 9:1-2. In each passage, darkness indicates danger, fear, and occupation; light is associated with God, Israel, joy, and salvation.

Christians living in a racist world need to acknowledge this scriptural pattern and be aware of the harm it has caused, the ways it has been exaggerated and distorted in Christian theology and hymnody to say that white is good and black is bad. We need to reclaim and proclaim the many positive biblical references to Africa and Africans and the positive references to darkness. In the same passage where Israel is a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6), we find the beautiful dark images of a mother’s womb (Isaiah 49:1) and the shadow of God’s hand (Isaiah 49:2).

If, as the title of this magazine section implies, we are not simply to read but to live the ambiguous and contradictory word that is our sacred story, we must be challenged and struggle, and we must act and speak against racism when we encounter it.

Laurel A. Dykstra is a scripture and justice educator living in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is author of Set Them Free: The Other Side of Exodus.

January 6

A Disturbing Gift

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

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Sojourners Magazine January 2008
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