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May 11, 2018 - A Spiritual Attention Span

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Scripture Readings

For many people (myself often included), life happens on a very short-term time scale. My days are cluttered with brief Facebook announcements, quick news tidbits and hurried hellos to friends as I rush to the next activity.  My thoughts and feelings are equally as short-term: how I feel about my life, my appearance, my job, politics, religion and so on are easily affected by a friend's Facebook post, or a sales clerk's mean words, or any number of other short, day-to-day interactions.  I can feel despair if someone doesn't smile at me, wondering all day why they didn't smile, what I did wrong, how I could fix it for next time.  My feelings about these short day-to-day interactions can last a long time, paradoxically.

The call to us from today's scriptures, however, is to take a much longer view than these day-to-day realities, even and maybe especially, in hard times.  In John 16:20-23, Jesus consoles his disciples who feel the pain of the fact that Jesus will leave them.  They feel the grief intently and they wonder, as most of us would, how long these feelings would last.  The difficulty with pain and grief is that in the midst of these kinds of feelings, a person cannot see or feel much else, and it can seem endless.  Whether the disciples find it helpful or not, Jesus is trying to tell them there is an end to the grief, that it won't always feel like this.  There's a longer, broader picture about what is going on.  

If today someone didn't smile at me, that does not mean I will never again hear laughter.  If "my" candidate or "my" issue doesn't win in the election, that does not mean that God and goodness and beauty and truth have disappeared from the face of the earth.  If someone says something that seems mean and nasty online, that does not necessarily mean I'm understanding it in the way he intended.  In all these instances, I can put myself and others on God's own timeline and take the really long, broad view.  That isn't just a matter of knowing that my feelings of pain or despair won't last forever, it's also a matter of learning to see others in my life with more compassion.

This broad, long picture isn't Jesus' only focus in this passage, though.  I wonder if Jesus is also trying to help his disciples get a bit of energy back.  Pain and grief sap a person of energy.  Yet when you know (as a woman in labor does) that the end to the pain and the beginning of great joy might be just around the corner, you can actually gain a bit of energy from the pain and use it to good advantage in giving birth.  Like the runner in the last sprint to the finish line, you find the power to do things you didn't know you could do.  This isn't about ignoring that the pain is there (nor is it about doing unhealthy things with pain).  Rather it is about being realistic about your present situation, but then using that present situation to be the best person you can be.

In other words, we can't change how other people will respond to us (smile or no), but we can respond in faithful ways ourselves.  This is what I think Paul is about in today's first reading (Acts 18:9-18).  He stays in Corinth for a while and proclaims the gospel, even when some people seek to persecute him.  He is faithful, despite whatever fears he might have about violence being done to Christians.

Today, let us place ourselves into God's timeline, and see life with God's long view.

- Jana M. Bennett