The Buddhists say that dissatisfaction is a threat to a happy life. Jesus invites us to consider the lilies of the fields and it is the saying which I most long to be able to do and the one I am least able to do. Forgive me but being a lily in a field is not that hard. It sprouts, it grows and it sits there. Big @&!*^%# deal. Jesus’ admonition that I let life simply exist and not strive for anything is a hard saying. I feel caught between a gentle God and an ambitious culture. We clergy have learned to call such sayings “hard sayings” because the other alternative names for them are rude.
It is very Hallmark-Greeting-Card to consider the lilies of the fields. I live in a society which, though democratic, is also over- caffeinated, over-stimulated and has, forgive me, but has the centered mindfulness of a field-mouse on crack. The Episcopal Church is facing a massive downturn as Generation X and Millennials come to church at 10% of the rate their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents came to church. So as older generations are dying of old age, younger ones are not replacing them in churches either in body or in pledges. 50% of churches will close in 10 years and The Episcopal Church’s population, which has hemorrhaged by 25% in the last ten years will loose another 40% in the next ten. Those pressures, mostly subconscious (since clergy are given to pretending that all is well as an act of counterfeit spirituality, or laziness or both) are creating financial and relational pressures while increasing envy, suspicion, and financial anxiety at an alarming rate. Effective clergy are triangulated between ecclesial downturn and a society which is preparing to starve the institution. When I say these things out loud I am am invited to have a cup of tea with plenty of sugar, or a nap. Or both.
The desert is harsh. It is unforgiving and it is a place, not unlike the 21st century church, in which the strong will survive regardless if the strong are good or kind. And only the strong will survive -it’s a biology thing. My generation of clergy could easily be and feel (there is a difference) dissatisfied with the church, the country and the planet we are inheriting from the boomer generations (there are two it turns out) but in the harsh light of the desert, dissatisfaction is not only an affront to a God who gives us all we have, it is a slippery slope to weakness at a time when weakness will not serve us well.
I came across this rock shelf alongside of which 10th century native americans had built a wall for their pueblo. I loved the contrasts. I love the smooth lines of God’s work and the methodological placement of stones by the indian people from whom Europeans stole this land in order to create capitalism. The two live side by side – man-made and God-made. The co-creativity seems invited by a God who is willing to work with us to make life.
Lent if a time in which to look past what we see. Lent is a time to look past failing marriages, past imploding churches, past lost life-savings, past betrayal, past grief, loss and cruelty to God who waits for us in the desert. God waits for us to stop worrying, stop bitching, stop posturing, stop grabbing, stop racing around. God sits out in the desert in the silence, in the beauty, in the stillness, pats a stone and gestures me to consider the lilies of the field, or the stones of the desert. God seems not so much to be asking me to see that life is simple or easy. God seems to be asking me to see that life is beautiful. And God seems also to be reminding me that to do so is a choice.