UNMANAGED SPACE

I am sure we would all agree that Jesus has many fine qualities, but based on today’s gospel we may be forced to conclude that being a project manager is not one of them.  At this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ ministry is coming together and he enlists the disciples directly in the effort to spread the Kingdom.  He sends them out two by two.  Herein lies the problem.  There is no strategy and barely a message.  There are no targeted donations to gain influence, no use of family or tribal connections and no resources to help the disciples stay on message.  In fact, Jesus takes away their credit cards and other resources.  They only get to keep their walking sticks and sandals.  Is this any way to run a railroad?

We know from our experience, and other gospel readings, that preparation, practice, and planning are critical in the spiritual journey.  But tonight we confront an older, deeper space – unmanaged space.  This gospel asks us to consider the often scary movement in our lives from managed to unmanaged space and the spiritual richness that resides there.

Empty Space can be Liminal Space

The disciples were sent to “be with” people, forced to accept their hospitality.  The disciples also did not have a preconceived idea about what the work would be.  They were not in the healing business, but if someone was sick they went ahead and healed them.  They were not in the expulsion of demons business, but if someone needed that they went ahead and did it.  Some folks might need a hand around the house, or just someone to talk to.  Jesus, in effect, said go “be with” people and see what happens.  The premise for this strategy is that the kingdom of God is at hand and it is abundant!  Being “with someone” knowing the kingdom is at hand, in the moment, can lead to all sorts of grace.

We know from our experience the critical transition from planning and managing to “being with.” We can plan an afternoon with a three year old but unless we at some point “become with” the child we will miss the abundance.  We can read books and go to parenting classes but sometimes we need to just sit with a teenager going through transitions and wait to see what happens.  In fact, this act of “being with” is the cornerstone of really listening to each other (a/k/a “active listening”).  We can’t listen if we are already full of our own opinions, needs and goals.

Our tradition often speaks of this “being with” as emptiness.  In the famous text from Phillipians 2, we are told Jesus did not count equality with God as something to be grasped, rather he emptied himself to be Emmanuel, “God with us.”  It should then come as no surprise that to approach the Divine with intention means to do what Jesus does – empty ourselves.  In prayer and meditation the Divine is close by when we stop managing and empty ourselves of thoughts, desires and the need to perform or control and listen for the Source of Life.  In community with each other we perceive the Divine when we empty ourselves of performance, control and power and are present and vulnerable with each other.  In service we can sense the Divine when we empty ourselves and are truly present with those we seek to serve.

Practicing Emptiness

Sometimes we need a hyperbole, or exaggeration for effect to help us see the point. This happened for me in the person of Chris Rosati, a man who has ALS, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This is a fatal disease of the nervous system where gradually the patient loses control of various body functions. Amazingly, Chris’ basic message is how lucky he is!  For him emptiness is a way of life and he testifies the spiritual blessings are large. He interviews others with ALS who make similar points. They live their lives with such heightened spiritual awareness because they do not need to rid themselves of “management.” Their disease does that for them. While they want a cure to be found, Chris and his friends go so far to say they are not sure they want to live any other way. It is hard for me to get my mind around that, and it may be an exaggeration, but what a testimony to the power of emptiness!

Yet most of us are like the disciples, we need to be sent to unmanaged or empty space. Our world constantly lies to us about where real meaning lies – in efficiency, productivity and management. Our lives are like a radio station that can never go silent for a moment for fear others will change the channel.

Thus, the key for us to be formed as disciples is to engage in intentional acts, indeed to practice these acts over and over, that create unmanaged or empty space in our lives. Here at Sts. Clare & Francis we talk about the three-legged stool of spiritual practice- prayer, community and service. These core practices are indispensable because by their very nature they take us to a place we cannot control. We can, of course, “manage” these practices, but if we stick with it prayer and meditation cannot be directed like a play. Sharing faith with each other in a truthful manner that includes doubts and fears cannot be managed.  To step out and risk emptying some part of ourselves in service to the world is a liminal act.

This liturgy is itself a parable about this journey – our liturgy tonight is highly managed as folks have prepared and practiced to lead us. Yet the hope and prayer behind all this preparation is that we would find glimpses of emptiness in the liturgy to “be with” the Source of Life and with each other. May this movement from managed to unmanaged space be the pattern of our evening together and the pattern of our lives.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Homily – Sent to Unmanaged Space

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Liturgy for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Saturday Evening, July 11, 2015

Focus text: Mark 6: 7-13 (Jesus sends out the disciples)

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