Friends,A little bit ago KB from Romping and Rolling in the Rockies said something to me to the effect "just put one foot in front of the other and life will eventually get easier". I like to call it, “Living As If.” While in the desert I had the opportunity to meditate on this, this living As If.
It’s the rare child who makes it to adulthood without having to participate in some kind of “science project.” Do you remember yours?
I remember mine, we would cut a milk carton in half, filled it with dirt, poked a hole in the bottom for drainage, planted some kind of seed in the dirt, and perched it on the window ledge of our classroom so it could get light. After a couple weeks of watering—-WOW, a miracle. A small green sprout appeared. This fragile, pale green, miraculous morsel of growth pushed its way through the milk-carton dirt and reached out for life.
Those “show-and-tell” plants almost never made it to the point where they were able to actually produce any crop. But they definitely produced. They produced a sense of wonder. They produced a sense of mystery. They produced a sense of curiosity and inquiry. Those first little sprouts gave all of us a glimpse into the beautiful mystery of life, of unstoppable, creative powers that were not in our control. A seed in a milk carton, on a window ledge, in a class room, is a tiny, but completely clear, peek-hole into the mystery of God’s creative power.
The mystery and miracle of a dried up seed birthing a brand new plant is a joy every gardener, every farmer prays for and appreciates as a new season of grace. In the twenty-first century, we know all about the science, the combination of nutrients, moisture, heat, and light that make the transformation from a dried bit of seed into a green and growing plant possible. But the moment that transforms a dormant seed into a new, growing creation, is still a mystery. The gift of life is always and every time, a gift. The when and where is never wholly predictable. The why, is why we have faith.
In Gospel of Mark, Mark 4:26-34, Mark gives us the now familiar image of a growing seed, a crop in progress, and of the disparity between the small size of a seed and the harvest it can produce.
Mustard seeds were great animations of the miracle of life and hope and growth. From something small, came something large, and something that continued to grow. The parable of the mustard seed is all about an unbelievable growth toward the future. The mustard seed shrub Mark envisions houses the roosting places of all sorts of other creatures. It’s a newly envisioned home, created by faith in the kingdom that is Jesus and the kingdom Jesus is promising, that gives a “roosting place” for a reborn faith in God’s kingdom.
Sticking a dead-looking, desiccated, wrinkled thing into the dirt, and expecting the growth of new life, of a new plant, is ludicrous. Yet it works. We get a new crop every year. Poet and Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry, asks this question: “What is the greater miracle?” Is it turning water into wine, or is it the miracle of the dirt, the ground upon which we walk, being graced with the ability to take tiny seeds and through the magic of the elements produce vines, and fruit, not to mention the ability of humans to make wine out of that fruit. They are both miracles. Life is a miracle.
But the miracle of life takes time. Biologists make a big deal about elephants taking 22 months to give birth. That’s so NOT a big deal. How many of you have children over the age of 18 living with you full time? The cost of apartments, the cost of college, the cost of life-—we are once again, and it is NOT a bad thing, a land of extended family living. For elephants, pregnancy lasts 22 months. For human moms and dads, giving birth lasts forever. We are forever family.
Being forever family means being forever living in an “as if” mode.” When you are a Mom or Dad you know you operate on an “as if” mainstream. Okay, maybe things are not going too smoothly––some bills are overdue, somebody needs braces, you lose a loved one, there is a letter from the IRS. But there are people and purposes that need us to respond “as if” they were going smooth as silk. Their growth and health depend on our “as if” living.
“As if” means you respond with grace and good will. “As if” is prophesying your way forward (profif) in a profit world that tries to plan and program its way forward. “As if” is nothing less than “faith.” And that’s a hard thing to maintain on a day-to-day basis. Even for the saints and reformers.
Take John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. Wesley found himself in a funk. He began doubting everything, and no longer had the faith to preach with conviction. He confided his lack of faith to his Moravian friend, Peter Böhler, and confessed that he was thinking about leaving the ministry. Böhler counseled otherwise. “Preach faith till you have it,” he advised. “And then because you have it, you will preach faith.”
Wesley was not the first to come to this conclusion. Throughout history, the caution to “Act as if you have faith and it will be granted to you” has been a staple of Christians moving forward. Behave with grace, and your life will reflect that grace. Aristotle wrote that we learn about being virtuous by being virtuous. Shakespeare had his hero Hamlet declare that we should “Assume a virtue if you have it not—-for use can change the stamp of nature.” In other words, acting good will eventually help us to be good. Doing becomes being. But we need to remember that our very “doing” is also a gift of grace.
During the civil rights movement in the 1960’s (and let’s not kid ourselves—the 1970’s and 1980’s), change was not voluntary, it was mandatory. Lunch counters, schools, public transportation, and even drinking fountains were forcibly integrated. Opponents said that such forced new behavior was pointless. People would not change. But guess what? After a few years, people got used to sitting, sipping, and slurping together. Actions, a change of behavior before there was a change of attitude, made a difference. If you live it, you learn it.
Cognitive research scientists have now discovered this ancient truth is exactly how the brain works. G. Elton Trueblood was right: “It is easier to act yourself into a new way of feeling than to feel yourself into a new way of acting.” Action precedes thought.
You want to feel sad? Turn your mouth down. You want to feel upset? Frown. You want to feel happy? Smile. You want to feel determined? Clench your fists. Actions create actuality.
This is the power of ritual. Ritual is subjunctive, not subjective. By your actions, you are prophesying your way forward, acting as if something were true, and in so doing making it come true
When you pass someone in need, don’t just think nice thoughts about them. Smile at them. Shake hands with them. Help them. “Mindfulness” is spinning the wheels. Get some traction with hopefulness, cheerfulness, and faithfulness that expresses itself in goodness and righteousness.
The miracle of the mustard seed is that actions outweigh actuality. The smallest looking seed brings forth the largest, most pungent, most fragrant shrub.
Nazareth was small stuff. Jesus was small stuff—-a small town rabbi with no big-time entourage of followers and scholars. And yet his message of hope and redemption saved the world.
A good life is not just of good thinking or good feeling but of good living. For your actions create actualities.Blessings,