It is my great privilege to include this guest blog by my great friend and mystic, Thomas Telhiard:
“I was at prayer in the city of Joppa when in a trance I had a vision, something resembling a large sheet coming down, lowered from the sky by its four corners, and it came to me.”
As we move into the 4th week of the Easter season, Spring is brimming over and rushing forward with the Good News Joy of the empty tomb and beyond. Seeds planted in the earth break the ground and blooms take their turns at glory in the Sunlight, coloring the waking earth that shakes the drowsiness of death from its eyes. All that has been bleak and bland, dormant and reclusive, now bursts forth with vigor. The protecting mulch both nourishes and uncovers new beauty’s rebirth.
It’s amazing how fast-paced the Acts of the Apostles is, recounting the seedling Christian church that struggles and flourishes in somewhat equal proportionality, through the efforts and openness of Peter, Paul and many other disciples. In today’s first reading, (ACTS 11: 1-18), we hear the description of how Peter was enlightened through a trance, wherein a revealing tapestry drops down from heaven and he must cast away the prejudices that he might have regarding the particular manner in which we can participate in the Good News story. At question is the holiness or cleanliness of that which we can consume or eat. Peter, in the dream, is invited to partake of food that is considered “unclean” in the Jewish culture. In correction, he is told outright, “What God has made clean, you are not to profane.”
We discriminate by nature. Our conceptual mind allows us to do so, and this is an important faculty that permits us to operate in our lives on a daily basis. But the odd thing is that it is precisely the discriminating nature of our mental faculty that can lead to destructive forces in our relationships. In a world of diversity, we struggle to allow and tolerate, much less embrace and celebrate, the differences that we have as cultures, societies, and even families and individuals. Peter was criticized for eating in the household of uncircumcised people in the Acts story. It took not only a heavenly screen in front of his eyes, but the company of strangers that enabled him to grasp the value and necessity of, shall we say, meeting people where they are and walking and talking with them, i.e., MERCY…
“Just then three men appeared at the house where we were, who had been sent to me from Caesarea. The Spirit told me to accompany them without discriminating.”
It was in the company of these strangers as well as others, that it was revealed to Peter, a most important lesson…”If then God gave them the same gift he gave us…who was I to hinder God?”
Life is nothing without the diversity of giftedness. Paul called this the body of Christ. Yet, we so often unjustly treat the lives of each other in a way that dishonors, demeans and dehumanizes the precious particularity that we have all been given. In doing so, unwittingly, we are disrespecting ourselves. Why would we be given a gift not to share? We poke fun at re-gifting presents that we have received, but I am amazed at how at white elephant or dirty Santa parties, a gift that did not mean much to one person truly ended up surprisingly enough to be precious to another. I think this says something about discrimination and discernment, mercy and giftedness.
Just as Peter was instructed to accompany these men without discriminating, so are we led to accompany each other in our differences that can cause us skepticism, irritation and even pain at times. If we can bracket our seemingly natural powers to discriminate and walk far enough along in the company of differences, my experience has been that the Spirit of openness begins to stir. Appreciation is born from patient journeying. To sit long enough with something or, more importantly, with SOMEONE, grants a gift beyond measure. The gift of realizing that, as the Scriptures say, is that the Holy Spirit “falls upon” all of us without discrimination. We simply must have the eyes of compassionate discernment to see that there is nothing that God has created that is profane – nothing unredeemable!
Ironically, the most beautiful experiences in life are oftentimes birthed from pain, suffering, and something perhaps what we would initially consider ugly or unreasonable. If you have ever spent time with someone who is nearing death, you may have witnessed what I am speaking about here. It’s the letting go that leads us home to each other and empowers us to replace discrimination with participative mercy. Again, we have the image of the Body of Christ that feeds us – our selves as community.
Interestingly, in the Gospel story today (JN 10: 1-10), we have the image of Christ as the Sheep Gate. Coming off of yesterday’s celebration of Good Shepherd Sunday, we now have the image of Christ as not just the Shepherd, but the gateway that provides care and protection. I love the image of Christ as the Shepherd who lies on the ground across the opening in the hilled-in areas where the sheep can rest peacefully within. Though, I wonder if the thieves and marauders that the ‘Christ gate’ is protecting us from could actually refer to our own attitudes toward ourselves and others. Could Christ as the Sheep Gate be referring to the Holy Spirit’s field of openness that can pervade our hearts and minds so that we can, not so much look beyond differences, but actually look into them, celebrate them, let them speak to us and bring out the graceful and specific giftedness of ourselves in a way that would otherwise be unimaginable.
The tapestry dropped down from heaven before Peter’s eyes becomes present in the strangers who became his companions in the sharing of the Holy Spirit. This is the way in, the Christ opening or gate where the only strangers that can harm us are those attitudes of death that trample the precious uniqueness that always returns in the Spring and blooms in our gardens of Mercy!