by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The readings for Sunday, July 22, 2012:
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The Gospel for this Sunday bookmarks two of Jesus' most famous miracles (but they're left out of the Gospel reading; we've already done them, or we'll do them later): the feeding of the great throng with just five loaves and two fishes, and Jesus walking on the water and calming the storm. As we ponder the Gospel for this week, it's good to remember that Jesus has been busy.
Notice that not even Jesus can stay busy all the time. The first part of the Gospel has Jesus trying to get away to a lonely place, and the last part of the Gospel shows the amazing things that Jesus accomplishes after he prays. These passages give us insight into our own care. Like Jesus and the disciples, many of us are living such busy lives that we don't even have time to eat.
The work of building God's Kingdom in our fallen world will wear us to a husk; it’s true of Christ, and it’s true for us. Notice that in these passages, Jesus doesn't find renewal in the Synagogue--he finds renewal in retreating and praying.
Most of us live such busy lives that we have built no time for retreats. Even on vacation, many of us are still working. We're still plugged in by way of our cell phones and laptops. And most of us don't take vacations with the aim of spiritual renewal, which is a shame. Instead, we spend obscene amounts of money going to theme parks or once-in-a-lifetime destinations--and then we complain that we can't afford a week-end retreat. We don't take working vacations, where we help the poor or clean up the environment. Instead we take vacations that leave us frazzled and exhausted--we come home needing a vacation to recover from our vacation.
Luckily, this Gospel also shows us a simpler way to recharge. It's one that you can do anywhere, at any time. Notice that Jesus prays. I find this interesting, because Jesus is one person we might expect not to pray. After all, isn't he part of a triune God? Is he praying to himself? Why would he need to pray? Isn't God even more intimately connected to him, and therefore more tuned in to what he needs?
Let's leave the Trinitarian questions aside for now. Look again at our objections to Jesus praying and consider your own prayer life, or lack of it. Aren't those the same objections we're most likely to use? Why pray? After all, God should know what we need, so why do we need to check in?
Prayer serves many purposes, but the main purpose is to give us an intimacy with God. Our friendships don't survive long silences. Likewise, our relationship with God thrives when we make time to talk to God.
Some of us aren't good at talking. Some of us feel a bit cowed at the idea of talking to God (some of us can't even talk to our loved ones, so it shouldn't surprise us that we can't talk to God). But you know what to do. Even if you can't use your own words, Jesus has foreseen that possibility and given you words to say: we know these words as the Lord's Prayer.
One reason Jesus came to us was to model the life we're to emulate. And if Jesus prays, we should take our cue from him. Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus praying perhaps more than any other spiritual practice we'll called upon to do. We don’t see Jesus tithe, and we rarely see him going to weekly services. Instead, his prayers undergird his spiritual life and make it possible for him to do the works of charity and healing that he does.
The ministry of Jesus has much to teach us, and one of the most important lessons is that we can't take care of others when we're not taking care of ourselves. Jesus prays, Jesus takes retreats, Jesus shares meals with friends--these are the activities that leave him ready to care for the masses.
Our mission is the same as Christ's. Like Jesus, we're surrounded by hordes of hungry people. Broken people need us (and perhaps we feel pursued by them).
Yet we will not be able to complete our mission if we don't practice basic self-care. The message of today's Gospel is that it's O.K. to take time to pray. It's O.K. to retreat. It's O.K. to eat a slow meal with friends.
Not only is it O.K., it's essential. Christ, the incarnation of God on earth, needed to take a break. So do we all.