This is the message I gave two weeks ago at Camas Friends Church on Mark 13:1-8.
This past summer I found myself feeling drained, exhausted, uninspired and generally not myself. I felt like everything was slipping through my fingers, time was moving too quickly, things felt lifeless and draining to me. I didn’t know why.
Have you ever felt that? I don’t know about you, but in these times my prayers that are offered are also uninspired. They often feel like words that fall flat onto the floor like dead weights. In these times we struggle to connect in any meaningful way with ourselves, let alone with others.
Looking back I can now identify a number of things that happened that left me feeling anxious and isolated:
- In a short time our third – and final child was born. Our family was growing.
- We learned that the home we bought going to become a serious financial burden on us.
- A number of my close friends moved or transitioned to new jobs.
- I found myself again at a cross-roads in my dissertation.
- And my work was going well, but had clearly shifted from being new, to thinking more about longevity.
None of these are tragic, a number of them are very good but even good things can leave you feeling bemused.
An insightful friend was initially the one to point out that I was leaning into a significant life transition. He told me that I had come to a point or moment in life when everything that was once easily marked by short deadlines – like college, grad school, start a family, get a job, get a house…all achievable goals that were in the past (minus the dissertation). Now I was now facing a wide-open life that was less about arriving at certain deadlines and more about patience, longevity, and endurance.
Here is a helpful definition of “life transitions:”
In the simplest terms, transition is change. In a broader sense however, transitions are life’s way of asking us to reexamine our present way of being. These transitions can be predictable such as a child leaving for college or marriage, or they can be unpredictable, such as the sudden death of a loved one or a traumatic accident. Whatever the degree or intensity of the event, every transition we experience has one thing in common. It forces us to make changes to our existing life. And with change, comes resistance. A major life transition literally closes one chapter of our life, and starts a new one, putting us in a new place and direction that we have not walked before. Link
Just as was my experience, a change is forced – but not always welcome. Often we resist these changes, these transitions and you may be surprised by how long some of us can hold out. But in the end, transition takes place. And it’s better to learn how to work through it. Otherwise it can leave, as one person put it, temporarily formless, [like] person soup Link. Not only can it make us “person soup,” it can zap us dry of our energy, our imagination, our spunk. It can even begin to wreck those relationships closest to us, damaging bonds with our erratic behaviors.
The Temple Will Fall
Through the lens of significant life transitions is one way that we can read the text of Mark 13. Mark 13 is what bible scholars refer to as “apocalyptic” literature.
- “apocalyptic literature stems from a worldview that believes that everything happening on earth represents and correlates with a larger, heavenly struggle between good and evil.” (Sojo)
- It deals with a cosmic framework, all of life is consumed in this, and it is often immediate and urgent.
- The Mayan prediction of the end of the world next month is apocalyptic — impending.
- The book 88 reasons Jesus is coming back in 88, and it’s less successful successor, 89 reasons why Jesus is coming back in 89, are apocolyptic applied to pop-fiction.
- In the bible apocalyptic is highly symbolic, which means it can often be read – and misread – in many different ways. But the central importance to apocalyptic literature is not so much about predicting the future – as it has often been taken as – but more about providing comfort to the community during a significant life transition.
This passage in Mark 13 is considered Jesus “little apocalypse.”
Jesus says that the stones of the temple would be thrown down. The temple, as you know, was the central symbol of ancient Judaism. Jesus, in classic prophetic fashion, warns that the temple will be thrown down, as we discussed last week, because of the failure of the temple leadership to care for the most vulnerable and truly practice the greatest commandment of God.
The crumbling of the temple – a majestic structure with stones that measure up to 40 feet across – by outside powers would inaugurate a serious, and traumatic “transition” in the life of all people bonded together by its existence.
In Mark 13, Jesus encourages his disciples again to “watch,” “see,” “be on the look out” or beware, that this traumatic event, does not throw you into person soup. Do not be caught off guard by these events.
Significant transitions are dangerous to those who resist or are unaware.
- It is easy in these times to be given over to fear and anxiety.
- It is easy in these times to be led astray.
- It is easy in these times to be caught warring with one another.
- It is easy in these times to lose the bonds of human love.
[In fact, when we see these things happening, we might assumed a transition is underway]
- Instead — wait, and understand you’re not alone
- Be watchful — he end has not yet come.
- See that only, this is only the beginning of transition.
- Be patient and refuse to get caught up in the warring
- Do not give over to fear, the birth of new life, a new world, is taking place.
- Endure to the end, if you do you will find their lives saved.
Winston Churchill said famously, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never, in things great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
He also offered this advice in the darkest days of World War II: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
This saying is an apt summary of the good news that is to be found beneath the pile of fears and famines, pains and persecutions of Mark 13. It is a call to not give up, nor to blame cast.
I want to suggest the normative structure of temples that fall – whether they are larger than life or temples falling in our own lives. We all will face serious transitions. My own experience this past summer was all normal moments in life. Just as is sickness and health, success and failure, new life and death. These are all normal aspects of life – not put in our way to test us, or crush us, so much as already being an inherent part of the fabric of human life.
The question for us is will we allow God to transform us through these moments or will cower and be crushed by fear and anxiety.
Will we, as Jesus encouraged, “watch,” “see,” and endure through a process of transition?
Because one of the most threatening things about transition is a loss of identity and/or relationship with ourselves and others, I think it is fitting to refer the process of coming out of transition as reweaving: Reweaving the bonds of human relationship, reweaving our own identity in light of these transitions, and reweaving our relationship to God.
Reweaving the Bonds
Quaker Elise Boulding writes:
Reweaving webs of relationship is our main business in life. The process begins with the great separation that is birth. The ensuing bonding/reweaving between parents and newborn child is no simple process, because the individuality and conflict needs of each asset themselves almost at once. All through life we go on bonding across differences, because we need others to make us whole. The tension involved in that bonding is part of the human condition, and we ignore or underestimate it at our peril. Loving isn’t easy (111).
This is written in the context of human sexuality and the many bonds that need to be crossed in working through our differences, but the same can be said of any serious life transition.
- Reweaving webs of relationship is our main business in life.
- It is a complex process that begins at birth.
- We need others to make us whole.
Transitions challenge, confound, and sometimes totally reframe these issues of bonding for us.
Love isn’t easy, especially in the deepest moments of change.
And yet, this is what Jesus calls us to in Mark 13, and throughout the Gospel texts. We are called to endure, to change, and to love.
Have you considered the ways in which you personally, as a family, and even Camas Friends corporately are going through serious transition?
As marked by our upcoming celebrations of Christmas and Easter, God’s most wonderful work is done in the greatest of transitions. God’s main moments with us are in those times when the temples fall – or are falling. It is then that God’s work as the master weaver takes effect.
There is an unweaving of life, “Not a stone will be left” that gives way — if we let it — to a reweaving of our lives.
I came across this project by Margie Davidson titled “Measuring the Year by the Minute,” in which she knitted a stitch to represent every minute of every day. Tags with the dated are tied in to mark each day’s progress. She was influenced by the color and texture of the seasons – the cycle of budding, blocking, fruiting, harvest and fallow, which can be tracked in the fabric. Despite its heroic scale, the piece has the intimacy of handiwork and is at once a meditation, a prayer, and a celebration of life in all its seasons.
We can imagine our lives are like this woven fabric. And God is the like the woman knitting it together. Each minute, each day, each week and year are marked by our progress, our trials, our sufferings, our transitions and our resistance to the movements of time.
And yet, God continues to weave and reweave our lives back together. No matter how loose or worn we may become, our lives are like this long woven fabric. Beautiful in its scale, majestic in its the changes and growth that are possible over a lifetime.
No matter the transitions we face, or the bonds that have been broken. It is the work of Jesus, working with us, to reweave the bonds of relationship – to him, to ourselves, and to one another, often in the of temples falling.
Let us allow God to do this work. Let us not resist. Invite him into this process of change, accept these moments of transition as great moments of reweaving our souls and our relationships into a beautiful wholeness that Jesus intends for all of us.
Quakers believe that it is in listening and silence that God can minister to us and either begin or continue the work of reweaving in our lives. Let’s take time to reflect on where we are and where we need God’s work now.
If you feel led to share out of this experience please stand and share with all of us.
Let us move towards God in transitions.
Without fear, without resistance.
Let us open ourselves to you Oh Lord.
May we be free from self-doubt, resentment, and self- hatred.
We confess these sins of self to you.
For the help to endure our temple falling.
For strength to not be led astray by fear and anxiety.
For the ability to hold on and let go.
Help us to know you walk with us, and desire to bring us into wholeness, constantly reweaving the bonds of human life.