My house is surrounded by perennial gardens. Old roses and tree peonies grow alongside ancient azaleas and shasta daisies. Like old English gardens, mine is divided by outdoor rooms, one a formal section, another a pond and sitting area, and still another a rock garden. Friends have heard me say, bare hands turning black dirt, and you cannot help but feel the heartbeat of God.
Gardening is physically challenging. When I was young, I would exhaust only at the end of a full day of hard work, but now just three or four hours will wear me out. In both instances, young and old, I would spend myself to collapse. Power would leave me.
Most clergy will tell you that leading Sunday services exhausts them to the point of collapse. When I was a new priest working for a rector near retirement, I would laugh under my breath when he would tell me how badly he needed a nap, usually following Sunday services. Once I became a rector responsible for Sunday worship, I learned that I, too, needed naps for regeneration. I appreciate Jesus’ words when he said, the power left me.
Jesus felt the power leave him when he healed the woman with the issue of blood. (Mk. 5:36; Lk. 8:40) Similarly, when he preached his sermon on the plain, power escaped him as he healed and helped people. Although Jesus used euphemisms to speak of Spirit, like living water, Spirit meant power – regenerative power. Jesus did not need to take naps.
Jesus spent his power on everybody. In his typically inclusive fashion, Luke reports that Jesus healed all who were sick. Not just some, but all. In fact, Luke suggests Jesus healed not only the sick, but everybody. Every person who reached out to him, regardless of physical capacity, Jesus healed. Come unto me all you who travail and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Lk. 7:28)
I sometimes ponder the esoteric religious question, What is salvation? How does a good Episcopalian answer the evangelical, when she asks, Are you saved? I once heard a bishop instruct a group of Episcopalians to answer unequivocally, Yes! A friend once told me his mother would answer the same question this way: Am I saved? Why no, and how unattractive of you to remind me.
The question itself is bad form. Incomplete. These days, I would answer the “saved” question like a politician to a reporter: I don’t accept the premise of your question.
What premise? The premise that salvation is about the afterlife, whether you are going to heaven or hell. Or somewhere in between. Why do we suppose that salvation is geographically based? Salvation is meaningless if it fails to address me where I live, here and now. If Jesus does not heal me when I reach for him, what value kind of salvation is that? Instead of the by and by, think of salvation as present tense. About today. Jesus saves. Not Jesus will save. He heals all in the crowd who reach for him. Power seeps from his every pore.
After Jesus healed the people, he turned to his disciples to explain. You are blessed, Jesus told them, when people hate you, revile you, and speak against you. When you are sick. When you are hungry. States of affairs and not prescriptions, Jesus simply described truths via negativa – that God meets people in the gap. Eternity is found in the gap. Holiness is experienced in the gap. Healing in the gap. God is tucked there. Invisible to the eye that looks to form over function. But visible to the one who reaches out to touch.
So yes, these days I take naps. To restore the power that leaves me when I work in the garden, or preach a sermon, or think too hard. On the other hand, there is this river that runs deep, it runs ever so deep …