Build a Shrine or Fall Asleep?

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How does one properly process deep spiritual experiences? Those experiences are often exciting; but they are also scary!

Matthew 26:40-41a          40 He came back to the disciples and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you stay alert one hour with me? 41  Stay alert and pray (CEB)

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]
[Image: “Creative Commons 2014 – Vancouver – Sidewalk Siesta” by Ted McGrath is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

Matthew 26:40-41a

Yeshua found the disciples asleep. “Can’t you tarry with me for a brief time? Rest with anticipation and be in tune with God.”


Yeshua’s* disciples (then and now) have had two different reactions to Yeshua’s* life experiences — build a shrine (Mount of Transfiguration) or fall asleep at the switch (Garden of Gethsemane). Numinous events (which we call “mountain-top” experiences) are scary, they take us to deep places within ourselves, bringing us to the threshold of transformation. Rather than be re-constructed, we tend either to construct external artifacts (churches, theologies, dogmas, boundaries) or to anesthetize ourselves (drugs, alcohol, consumerism, religion).

These two reactions prefigure a couple of metaphors for the process of faith formation — namely, journey and home. Journey spirituality recognizes that faith must constantly be on the move, engaging new experiences, reflecting in new ways, opening the imagination to new creation. Home-based spirituality is really about “coming home,” much as the prodigal son returns to his waiting father (Luke 15:11-31). Home is about resting, abiding, living in familiar territory.

A friend and I just finished reading Walter Wink’s The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of the Man (Fortress Press, 2002). Our dialogue with the Human Being (the book, the author, and the One behind the book) had been deeply rooted, touching our faithing, our thoughts, and our lives. Our question at the end of such reading is usually, “What’s next, Papa?” (Romans 8:15-16, the Message). This time, however, we decided it is time to tarry — to rest longingly with anticipation, “adventurously expectant.” A “tarrying” spirituality is prefigured in the Emmaus experience — journey with Yeshua* for a while; come to a resting spot; see deeply Yeshua’s* pilgrimage with us; Yeshua* disappears from our eyes; we are now left to debrief the experience and discern “What’s next?” Tarrying is mid-way between the journey and the return home. To tarry is to find a thin place and inhabit it for a brief moment before it fades away. Tarrying is the recognition that we do not own and therefore cannot possess the experience.

Wink suggests that tarrying with Yeshua* is not a uniquely Christian phenomenon.

“That means that the transformation Jesus triggered is not exclusively Christian. Anyone can be drawn by the attractive power of Jesus. … If we claim that Jesus lived authentically, that he is exemplary, that he is the human face of God; if we see in him the son of the man, and that he is the firstborn of many sisters and brothers; if we assert that he was like us in every way, being an imperfect, wounded, sining human being… [then t]he Human being has the capacity to make humans humane, whatever their religion or lack thereof.” (p. 250ff)

And, in the twinkling of an eye, Yeshua escapes from the grasping of the church and makes Wisdom’s Child (the son of man) available to the whole world — without dogma, without ritual. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this religionless Christianity.

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