Reflections to start the week
Monday, March 24, 2014
Rear view mirror
As I think about my own spiritual journey, as I’ve had the privilege of talking with others about their spiritual journeys, I’ve come to believe that sometimes the best way to make sense of the present and to move forward into a future is by looking in the spiritual rear-view mirror, seeing where we’ve been, how we’ve been led, how God has acted. The power of that perspective came to mind this past week, prompted by readings suggested for each day in the Book of Common Prayer. That lectionary takes us these days to the book of Genesis, and the story of Joseph, a novella found in chapters 37-50. This is Joseph of amazing technicolor dream coat fame. Indeed his story is so engaging that it provided fodder for an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. If you’ve never done so, take the time to read Joseph’s story. It’s a roller coaster journey for sure.
It’s been said that the Bible is just a story of sibling rivalry. There are many examples of how that is true, beginning earlier in the book of Genesis with the struggle between Cain and Abel. It’s definitely true of Joseph and his brothers. As a boy, Joseph the dreamer annoyingly, cloyingly paraded his favorite-son status in front of his 11 siblings. It made them want to kill him. Instead, they sold him into slavery in Egypt. A low point. Joseph rose as a slave to a position of prominence. Joseph ascendant. But then was falsely accused of a crime and thrown in prison. Joseph on the skids. In prison, his gifts as interpreter of dreams caught the attention of the Pharoah. Joseph back in the game. He was elevated to become C.O.O. of the nation, wisely guiding the country through a time of famine. Then his brothers show up, asking for help because their nation was in the grip of famine. They don’t recognize their brother. Joseph knows who they are, and has it in his power to exact revenge. Instead, he rescues his family from starvation. At the end of the story (sorry if I’m ruining it for you), Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers. They freak. Will he treat them as they treated him? Joseph takes a look back at his own journey, how the twists and turns have brought him to this moment and says to his brothers: “You meant it to me for evil, but God meant it to me for good.” A crazy journey marked by head-spinning highs and lows, which Joseph would not have chosen, which no one could have predicted, but which gave meaning to his life, with all its challenges. It led to new life.
Lent, this season of self-examination, is a time for the retrospective view. It’s an occasion to do what the children of Israel do throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, which is to remember how God acted on their behalf. It’s a season to do what we do every time we gather for eucharist (a word which means thanksgiving), thinking about the grace and goodness we have received because Christ came to live among us and gave himself for us. The retrospection is not nostalgia, harping back to good old days. It’s not resentment, feeling again the slights that have come our way. Instead, it reminds us of who God is and how God acts, when the changes and chances of life sometimes cause us to forget that. In other words, it helps us move forward.
The present moment can seem perplexing. Perhaps that’s how you feel this Monday morning. The future can seem uncertain. We have no idea what will happen in the next five minutes. In order to move forward in the journey with strength and courage, with love in our hearts, we need to be reminded of the ways God has acted with grace and generosity in our lives. Take some time to look in that rear-view mirror, to write your spiritual autobiography. (Bullet points are fine.) Has God been at work in your life, in your choices, in the things others have done to you, for good or ill? How so? Have you been led? What (or who) were the instruments of that guidance? Can you identify even the slightest divine intervention? I’m guessing it’s been there. Give thanks for these moments. Let the experience of those moments provide the energy and the guidance you need to move forward faithfully today.
And check out the story of Joseph. It’s a good read.
– Jay Sidebotham
| But Joseph said to his brothers, Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.’ In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them. So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s household; and Joseph lived for one hundred and ten years.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.