Awareness Is a Very Slow Process
St. Paul's Episcopal Church | Louisburg, NC | April 23, 2017
I just turned 60. Half a lifetime ago Pat and I had just gotten married. We had signed a 30 year mortgage on a house on Sunset Ave. It was 1987. Some parts of my life were more chaotic, while other parts were much simpler than today. Pat was working too hard, going back to college, and I was stretched too thin, involved in public art projects that were too big and too far from home. We were sanding and stripping and tearing out and hauling away. We were pregnant. We were on the run and I was moving at way too fast a pace.
I was downstairs when the phone rang, our only phone, which hung on the kitchen wall. I didn’t recognize the voice that needed to speak with “Ms. Patricia Hinton please,” so I said, “Just a minute,” and laid the receiver on the counter. I went up only about three steps on the stair and yelled, “Honey, telephone!”
As I spun around to return to whatever I was doing, I missed the last two steps. It was bad. My left arm crashed through both the interior window and busted out the storm window. The glass went to here (points to inside of upper arm). The pace of my life slowed immediately. It is difficult to describe, yet we each have experienced this occurrence of linear time coming to a halt. I was pulling my arm out of the window as I was falling with my back colliding with the stairs. It was a cartoon, but it was not funny, you feel me?
I was wearing a tee shirt and shorts as I ended up half on the bottom step and half on the floor. My right hand rose up to hold my left upper arm, and my fingers disappeared into the warm dampness of a four inch gash. This is the initial memory which flooded my mind as I reflected on Thomas’s hand being led to the wound in the side of the resurrected Jesus.
Christ confronts Thomas. In so many words, our Lord urges Thomas to be Aware, to be Alert, to be Awake. Thomas is taken back. The pace of his life was brought to a screeching halt as he exclaims, “My Lord and my God.” What does it mean when Thomas, along with any of us become “Aware?” For me, here are five things it means:
1. We drop into a deeper level than the passing show of our day to day lives.
2. We calmly see ourselves in the situation.
3. We watch our actions as if someone else is watching us.
4. We are not susceptible to the emotional noise around us.
5. We leave our physical body to accept our holiness.
These things all happened to Thomas in that room a week after he saw Jesus crucified and to me also, as I sat still with a towel wrapped tightly around my arm and another around my cutup hand. Time had stopped for both of us, as the voice of Christ filled that room, as the flashing red lights of the ambulance filled the street, but these lights were for me, and I shared these words which belonged to Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”
Where had Thomas been the week before? Why had he left the 10 other Apostles? I hope it was because of the love and concern of his twin brother. That was a brave move for him to venture out of that hiding place where the Disciples were hiding, to expose himself to a throng of questioners. He went and returned to find he had missed the initial vision of Jesus. He stayed with the 10, and must have answered many questions from them concerning what folks were saying out there, out on the street.
I wonder how that week of time passed. I wonder if Thomas was impatient. I wonder if his waiting had turned to doubt. I think not. And when Christ reappeared on that 8th day, the pace of Thomas’s life must have been very slow as he accepted the invitation of Christ to place his hand in his wound. To place your hand in a wound is born of an acceptance of our own vulnerability. I get that.
Our Christian tradition echoes an older Buddhist teaching that we need three things to keep growing:
Thomas was supported by all three of these components. As the pace of his life slowed, he was humbled in the midst of the love of Christ. At some very difficult moments in my life I have been able to make this pivot. As we slow to this place of contemplation we meet as much reality as we can handle in its most simple and immediate form. This is the invitation of today’s Gospel. If we can set aside our judgmental mind, God has an opportunity to adjust our thoughts. Our lives will slow down when we are able to place our hand in our own wound, or the wound of another, matter less the wound of our Lord, for God’s sake.
Let’s try to put our finger on the pulse of waiting that Thomas is to experience in the Gospel of John today. There is a wisdom in waiting. Yet, without Faith in the unseen, the when, and why, and where can turn our waiting turn to doubt. And why isn’t he referred to as waiting Thomas instead of Doubting Thomas? Thomas, like us tried not to, but he was on the run, and the sacred, always catches us when we are on the run.
Imagine what the 1st day of Easter would have been like. The tomb was empty and where was the body of Jesus? The shock of the morning had given away to the heat of the afternoon and the darkness of the night. He had told the disciples of his resurrection but what context did they have to believe him in? They stayed hidden behind locked doors, trembling in unison.
Where was Thomas?
The disciples were waiting. They were scared. Minutes turned to hours as they huddled. Did they dare hope, or had their hope turned to doubt as they were shrouded in darkness?
Where was Thomas?
Had they started their scapegoating, the classic response of the insecure when something goes wrong? What had their love of Jesus cost them? What could they do but wait? And how much of their collective waiting had turned to collective doubt when Jesus materialized in front of them and said, “Peace be with you.” An awe of realization must have filled the room. Imagine the sigh of relief in this dark room as Christ showed them the wounds. They rejoiced as Jesus says again to them, “Peace be with you. As the father has sent me, so I send you.” He breathed over them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus makes no mention of missing him, but
Where was Thomas?
Personally, my wait turns to doubt as fear and greed make their way into my perspective. I tend to become impulsive and do not trust my own wisdom. We all lose our humility as we get tired of waiting and choose to doubt instead. But Christ had answered the prayer of the waiting disciples. But Thomas, what must he have felt, and why was he not there?
I believe he had gone to check on his twin brother who he was worried about. He had walked with his fear to leave this locked hideout to check on his twin, no matter how vulnerable the situation was. I wonder if he felt his twin was at risk of repercussions just as his brothers through Faith, the Disciples had been afraid of retribution also. We only know that when he returned, the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” He responds that, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” I don’t read this as a statement of doubt, but instead a commitment to continue to wait on Thomas’s part.
One week later, Thomas’s wait would be over. Jesus comes in among them through a locked door and offers them his blessing of Peace. Then he turns to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” Thomas responds simply to this to this resurrection gesture with these five words, “My Lord and my God!”
As any good teacher would do, Jesus frames this lesson to Thomas, and to us in the form of a question, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” How can we see ourselves in Thomas?
Three weeks ago we read of Thomas challenging his fellow disciples to follow Jesus to the grave of Lazarus, to taste the smell of death and see the light of resurrection. He had heard Jesus ask Mary and Martha, “Where is your brother?” You understand I feel that Thomas had asked himself the very same question three weeks later and that is why he was not among the Disciples when Jesus appeared on that first Sun. night. He risked his safety to answer the simple question, “Where is my Brother?” There is an energy which connects twins that I can only imagine. I teach a twin this semester in my drawing class and he has shared with me, that he is much more aware of his twin brother when he perceives danger, not success.
Is this story a message of how we should feel a connection to a greater number of the sisters and brother in our lives? A first step is to live in such a fashion that we surround ourselves with folks who have the integrity of Thomas; who are brave enough to leave the hidden seclusion of their fear, and return to be told they have missed out, yet stay engaged until they we see the truth themselves.
Our good Lord, please teach us the patience of these, our unanswered prayers.
This story is too complicated to wrap up in a neat package. Take the “unless.” Thomas says, “Unless I see…..I will not believe.” Earlier in John, Thomas had asked Jesus, “Lord, How do we know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus responds metaphorically, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Now Thomas needs the shocking experience of actually seeing him. Jesus meets him in the physicality of his questions. And when he meets him there, Thomas’s Rebellion is turned into Revelation. Jesus as teacher, is the role which always touches me since I am one too. We see a divine momentum take place in Thomas as he exclaims, My Lord and My God!
Believing is always a process which does not follow a straight line. You have to lean into your Belief in this broken world we live in. There’s a lot of turbulence outside those red doors. Teilhard de Chardin, French priest and philosopher prayed this, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.” This happens when we prayerfully live in the present moment. And today’s present moment is the 8th day of Easter. Stand up alongside Thomas. The world is out there, waiting on us.