Daily Prayer :: Water

Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

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January 13, 2021 – Who am I?

This week we are praying through Howard Thurman’s 1976 book Jesus and the Disinherited. From the introduction of the 1996 edition, written by Vincent Harding: “Not too long before [Martin Luther] King’s assassination in 1968 Stokley [Carmichael] asked with mock innocence, ‘Dr. King, why do we have to be more moral than white folks?”(Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, Beacon Press, 1976, p. xii) Vincent will go on to suggest that Howard Thurman’s work answers this question, “the ultimate issue is not being more moral than white folks, but becoming more free than we have ever been, free to engage our fullest powers in the transformative tasks that await us at the wall” (ibid., xvi-xvii).

In his preface, Thurman asks a question many of us have asked, “Why is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion, and national origin?” (ibid.” xix). He goes on, “I am deeply convinced that in the general area of my inquiry is to be found the answer without which there can be little hope that men [sic] find in Christianity the fulfillment which it claims for its gospel” (ibid., xix)

Today’s Bible Reading

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”—Matthew 6:25-27

More thoughts for meditation

“Fear, then, becomes the safety device with which the oppressed surround themselves in order to give some measure of protection from complete nervous collapse” (ibid., 30).

“It is clear, then, that this fear, which served originally as a safety device, a kind of protective mechanism for the weak, finally becomes death for the self. The power that saves turns executioner. Within the walls of separateness death keeps watch. There are some who defer this death by yielding all claim to personal significance beyond the little world in which they live. In the absence of all hope ambition dies, and the very self is weakened, corroded. There remains only the elemental will to live and to accept life on the terms that are available…

“…Did Jesus deal with this kind of fear? If so, how did he do it?” (ibid., 36).

“The core of the analysis of Jesus is that man [sic] is a child of God, the God of life that sustains all of nature and guarantees all the intricacies of the life-process itself. Jesus suggests that it is quite unreasonable to assume that God, whose creative activity is expressed even in such details as the hairs of a man’s head, would exclude from his concern the life, the vital spirit, of the man himself. This idea–that God is mindful of the individual—is of tremendous import in dealing with fear as a disease. In this world the socially disadvantaged man is constantly given a negative answer to the most important personal questions upon which mental health depends: ‘Who am I? What am I?’” (ibid., 39)

Suggestions for action

Thurman suggests that fear is a common experience among the oppressed, and that segregation itself compounds this fear. First it is a survival mechanism, but it will eventually kill you. He thinks that Jesus felt this fear too, but overcame it by realizing that even he was a child of God. Consider today’s question, “Who am I?” And find reassurance that you are a child of God. From that vantage point, the dispossessed can find hope.

January 12, 2021 –  To resist or not to resist

This week we are praying through Howard Thurman’s 1976 book Jesus and the Disinherited. From the introduction of the 1996 edition, written by Vincent Harding: “Not too long before [Martin Luther] King’s assassination in 1968 Stokley [Carmichael] asked with mock innocence, ‘Dr. King, why do we have to be more moral than white folks?”(Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, Beacon Press, 1976, p. xii) Vincent will go on to suggest that Howard Thurman’s work answers this question, “the ultimate issue is not being more moral than white folks, but becoming more free than we have ever been, free to engage our fullest powers in the transformative tasks that await us at the wall” (ibid., xvi-xvii).

In his preface, Thurman asks a question many of us have asked, “Why is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion, and national origin?” (ibid.” xix). He goes on, “I am deeply convinced that in the general area of my inquiry is to be found the answer without which there can be little hope that men [sic] find in Christianity the fulfillment which it claims for its gospel” (ibid., xix)

Today’s Bible Reading

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”—Matthew 11:28-30

More thoughts for meditation

“In the main, there were two alternative faced by the Jewish minority of which Jesus was a part. Simply stated, these were to resist or not to resist. But each of these alternatives has within it secondary alternatives.

Under the general plan of nonresistance one may take the position of imitation. The aim of such an attitude is to assimilate the culture and the social behavior-pattern of the dominant group. it is the profound capitulation to the powerful, because it means the yielding of oneself to that which, deep within, one recognized as being unworthy. It makes for a strategic loss of self-respect. The aim is to reduce all outer or external signs of difference to zero, so that there shall be no ostensible cause for active violence or oppression. Under some circumstances it may involve a repudiation of one’s heritage, one’s customs, one’s faith. Accurate imitation until the facade of complete assimilation is securely placed and the antagonism of difference dissolved—such is the function of this secondary alternative within the broader alternative of nonresistance. Herod was an excellent example of this solution” (ibid., 13)

“The other major alternative is resistance. It may be argued that even nonresistance is a form of resistance, for it may be regarded as an appositive dimension of resistance. Resistance may be overt action, or it may be merely mental and moral attitudes. For the purposes of our discussion resistance is defined as the physical, overt expression of an inner attitude. Resistance in this sense finds its most dramatic manifestation in force of arms” (ibid., 15).

“The longer the mood is contemplated, the more insistent the appeal. It is a form of fanaticism, to be sure, but that may not be a vote against it. In all action there is operative a fringe of irrationality. Once the mood is thoroughly established, any council of caution is interpreted as either compromise or cowardice. The fact that the ruler has available to him the power of the state and complete access to all arms is scarily considered. Out of the deeps of the heart there swells a great and awful assurance that because the cause is just, it cannot fail. Any failure is regarded as temporary and, to the devoted, as a testing of character” (ibid., 16).

Suggestions for action

Thurman describes the Way of Jesus as the verse above does, easy and light, for the weary and the burdened. “[Jesus] recognized with authentic realism that anyone who permits another to determine the quality of his inner life gives into the hands of the other the keys to his destiny” (ibid., 18).

“The basic facts that Christianity as it was born in the mind of this Jewish teacher and thinker appears as a technique of survival for the oppressed. That it became, through the intervening years, a religion of the powerful and the dominant, used sometimes as an instrument of oppression, must not tempt us into believing that it was thus in the mind and life of Jesus. “In him was life; and the life was the light of men’’(ibid., 18-19).

We don’t need to acquiesce to the powers that be to survive—what Thurman calls nonresistance. Nor do we need to arm ourselves as we allow the powers to harden us and turn us into them. But pray today that you find Jesus, and learn from him. May we take his yoke so that we might face our oppression.

January 11, 2021 – The poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed

This week we are praying through Howard Thurman’s 1976 book Jesus and the Disinherited. From the introduction of the 1996 edition, written by Vincent Harding: “Not too long before [Martin Luther] King’s assassination in 1968 Stokley [Carmichael] asked with mock innocence, ‘Dr. King, why do we have to be more moral than white folks?”(Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, Beacon Press, 1976, p. xii) Vincent will go on to suggest that Howard Thurman’s work answers this question, “the ultimate issue is not being more moral than white folks, but becoming more free than we have ever been, free to engage our fullest powers in the transformative tasks that await us at the wall” (ibid., xvi-xvii).

In his preface, Thurman asks a question many of us have asked, “Why is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion, and national origin?” (ibid.” xix). He goes on, “I am deeply convinced that in the general area of my inquiry is to be found the answer without which there can be little hope that men [sic] find in Christianity the fulfillment which it claims for its gospel” (ibid., xix)

Today’s Bible Reading

But if he is poor and cannot afford so much, he shall take one male lamb for a guilt offering to be elevated, to make atonement on his behalf, and one-tenth of an ephah of choice flour mixed with oil for a grain offering and a log of oil; also two turtledoves or two pigeons, such as he can afford, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.—Leviticus 12:21-22

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”—Luke 2:22-24

More thoughts for meditation

“It is urgent that my meaning be crystal clear. The masses of men [sic] live with their backs constantly against the wall. They are the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed. What does our religion say to them? The issue is not what it counsels them to do for others whose need may be greater, but what religion offers to meet their own needs. The search for an answer to this question is perhaps the most important religious quest of modern life” (ibid., 3).

Thurman finds the beginnings of this answer in the person of Jesus. First in the fact that he was a Jew:

“We begin with the simple historical fact that Jesus was a Jew. The miracle of the Jewish people is almost as breath-taking as the miracle of Jesus. Is there something unique, some special increment of vitality in the womb of the people out of whose loins he came, that made of him a logical flowering of a long development of racial experience, either ethical in quality and Godlike in tone? It is impossible for Jesus to be understood outside of the  sense of community which Israel held with God” (ibid., 5-6).

Second, the fact that he was a poor Jew:

“The second most important fact for our consideration is that Jesus was a poor Jew…

The economic predicament with which he was identified in birth placed him initially with the great mass of men on the earth. The masses of the people are poor. If we dare take the position that in Jesus there was at work some radical destiny, it would be safe to say that in his poverty he was more truly Son of man than he would have been if the indecent of family or birth had made him a rich son of Israel. It is not a point to be labored, for again and again men have transcended circumstance of birth and training; but it is an observation not without merit” (ibid., 7).

Finally, he was a minority .

“The third fact is that Jesus was a member of a minority group in the midst of a larger dominant and controlling group. In 63 B.C. Palestine fell into the hands of the Romans. After this date the gruesome details of loss of status were etched, line by line, in the sensitive soul of Israel, dramatized ever by an increasing desecration of the Holy Land. To be sure, there was Herod, an Israelite, who ruled from 37 to4 BC; but in some ways he was completely apostate. Taxes of all kinds increased, and out of these funds, extracted from the vitals of the people, temples in honor of Emperor Augustus were built within the boundaries of the holy soil. It was a sad and desolate time for the people. Herod became the symbol of shame and humiliation for all of Israel” (ibid., 8).

“The striking similarity between the social position of Jesus in Palestine and that of the vast majority of American Negroes is obvious to anyone who tarries long over the facts” (ibid., 23)

Suggestions for action

Contemplate the person of Jesus. Close your eyes and imagine who he was, what he looked like, where he lived, how he survived. This may connect you with Jesus, or remind you that those who are oppressed are connected to him by virtue of his humanity.

 

January 10, 2021 — Jesus blesses the waters

This week sits between Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord. We’ll be reflecting on aspects of these two special days which are all about the revelation of Jesus as Lord and Savior to the world and to us. 

Today’s Bible reading

Matthew 3:13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

More thoughts for meditation

Today is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, aka Theophany. There is a ritual in the Eastern church on the day of this feast (which for those churches took place on January 6) to bless the waters nearest to them with prayers and by casting a cross into the water. It is an act which recalls that Christ’s entering into the waters of baptism foreshadows his entering the grave. 

In the Ancient Near East, water was a symbol of chaos, and many creation stories feature a victory over those waters as a central element. The imagery is found in the Judeo-Christian account as well, but with some key differences. In Genesis, creation is not forged through battle, but as a result of God’s voice speaking all things into existence. 

Jesus entered the water, not to win a victory over the water, but to bless the waters and transform them. In the same way, he became flesh, not to destroy it but to make it capable of receiving a blessing. There are no agents of chaos that stand outside of God’s providential love. There are only those things which are awaiting their transformation.  

Suggestions for action

When Jesus entered the water, a voice spoke and revealed him for who he was – the beloved Son of God. When Jesus enters the waters of our own experience, he reveals us for who we are – a beloved child of God. Reread the passage above, and when you get to the last line, say it out loud, replacing “this” with your name, and son with son/daughter/child. Like:

“______ is my son/daughter/child. With him/her/them I am well pleased.” 

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