Drawn on to Wholeness – Br. Todd Blackham

Br. Todd Blackham

Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 51:1-11
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

Recently, I was sorting through some corn we grew this year up at Emery House.  I can’t tell you how much it has meant to me to watch this stuff grow all season.  Br. James had started the seeds in little bio-degradable cups that Br. Keith and I put in the ground once they had sprouted.  Then we watered and waited and those stalks got taller and like magic the ears of corn showed up.  And then, one sabbath a few of us grabbed some of the prettiest corn I’ve ever seen and brought it in for lunch.  It was magnificent.  I was pretty excited to harvest the rest and bring it back for the rest of my brothers and our guests.  So, I started shucking and let’s just say not all of those ears of corn were as pretty as the ones I had for lunch that day.  Let’s call them “artisanal.”  There were some pollination problems with some that left little holes where the kernels hadn’t developed, and some corn bores had gotten to others and eaten their way through the rows.  It was a mixed lot.

The truth is most of them had perfectly fine kernels of corn on them but not all of them were exactly “table ready.”  At first it was easy to keep the ones that looked good, and toss the ones that had hardly developed at all.  Some of them just needed the ends cut off and they looked fine.  But some I really struggled with.  I might have been fine eating them but I’m not sure I’d set it in front of a guest.  It would have been nice to have a strict standard by which to measure them, but my heart really wanted to salvage as much as I could.

In part, I can understand why the pharisees and scribes were grumbling that day. They were operating under a very specific assumption about God.  Namely, that the rule-breakers had forfeited their place in family of God by transgressing the Law.  It was all pretty crystal-clear to them.  And, in fairness, it would have been excruciating work trying to assiduously observe the ever more granular requirements of the commands of the Law, like they tried to do.  So, the parables that follow are Jesus’ way of revealing a critical aspect of the character of God.

Seeking, searching, scouring, to gather each and every one of his own.  And then, rejoicing!  Thrilling at the return of the lost one!  Joyous that what was incomplete is now whole again.  Jesus is pointing out that each sheep, each coin, has an intrinsic worth that can’t just be replaced, nor is the remainder complete without it.  The heart of God is set on bringing all of His created beings back into the fold.

If you have every felt that warming of the heart that tells you God has brought you home, you know what it feels like to be found.  If you’ve ever been able to reconcile with someone whom you had wronged, you know the joy of grace and mercy.  Sometimes there are lightning bolt moments of conversion and repentance that leave an indelible mark of before and after being found by God.  The apostle Paul is a great example of that kind of spiritual conversion.  He literally had a white-light experience and his life was completely transformed.

My story isn’t quite like that.  There isn’t a singular moment that I can point to but there are all sorts of incremental little nudges when God has called me home.  Even at home though, I wonder if I’m really all the way home.  The truth is, sometimes, inwardly, I feel like I’m a few pennies short of a dollar; a few lambs short of a whole flock.  There are unruly wills and affections that seem to pull me here and there all the time.  Truly like wrangling cats, my attitudes and dispositions in one area begin to line up with the love of God when pride, and greed, and self-centeredness rear their heads in another area of my life.  Just like the Hebrew people finally released from captivity, exulting in their new freedom, as soon as Moses’ back was turned, they were drifting away towards other Gods.  But the patient, persistence of God kept drawing them back.

That same seeking, searching, scouring God continues to wrangle all those wandering bits of me too.  Not only does God want to bring each and every one of us back into the fold.  God wants to bring each and every part of ourselves back into wholeness and completeness.  God is not satisfied to let one of us wander off.  Nor is God satisfied with only part of me, part of you.  God wants all of you!

The patient forbearance of God gives us every passing moment to recollect ourselves and draw nearer to God.  The wholeness, the totality of reconciliation of God plumbs depths that we can hardly fathom.  Always pursuing until every last bit is drawn into love.  Our founder, Father Benson remarked on this revelation saying, “He loved me and gave Himself for me.  From all eternity He loved me, and offered himself for me.  I am a creature, nothing, emptiness.  O blessed emptiness which can be filled with God!  O blessed nothingness which can be filled with His substantial glory!”

Can you sense that same rejoicing that Jesus talks about?

Benson goes on to say, “These revelations of God come into the soul gradually, and they require the gradual correspondence of the soul with God.  We do not bound into the depths of God at one spring; if we could we would be shattered, not filled.  God draws us on.”[1]

God gathers us together into our entirety.  Patiently drawing us ever further, filling us more and more with His own self-giving love.

In this season of Creation, The Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglicans and Episcopalians join together praying and seeking renewal in our relationship with the Creator and all of the life and eco-systems that we are connected with.  It’s possible that care for creation seems like a side-quest, when the real work of God is all about saving human souls.  Or, the idea of facing our climate emergency feels so daunting and shattering that we are paralyzed by grief, denial, or exhaustion.  In any case, this season is about another nudge to bring us into the greater fullness of God.  God is giving us all an invitation to draw more fully into that eternal life where we exist in harmony and cooperation, trusting the goodness and provision of God.

That corn that I was sorting was one of the more recent works of God in my life to gather my scattered self.  It began when the nudging of the Holy Spirit began to seduce me with a few unused pots and some seed packets during the dark days of the Covid lockdown.  As plants began to grow, parts of my own spirit that I didn’t even know were lost began to find a new life and home.  I talk a lot about plants these days and sometimes I worry that the excitement and joy that has caused is becoming obnoxious but it’s practically impossible to resist.

Getting to share photos with my family of things we’ve been growing fills my heart with joy and connects us over the physical miles that separate us.  Being a little closer to the source of my food reminds me what hard work it is to grow and harvest those things that show up on our table.  And I find new solidarity with farm workers.  Struggling to keep certain insects at bay makes me understand why it’s so convenient to use a magical spray but the idea that it would hurt a brother or a guest who eats it puts things into broader perspective.  Understanding growing cycles makes me more concerned when bigger, more powerful storms, are followed by longer periods of drought.  My own situation within a changing climate has become more evident.  What I understood theoretically has been given the confirmation of experience.  I feel it in my mind, and my heart, and my body.

And I have solved practically nothing, but God has given me joy that I never would have expected and a greater capacity to love all the things God has created and that I depend upon.  This is the gift of the tender mercy of God ever drawing us more completely into the love of the Holy Trinity.  When it seems too big, too much, too scattered and impossible to bring back into order, I am drawn to Christ who has emptied himself utterly; offering all, every single bit of himself for me and for you.  The power of his reconciling love doesn’t just rest at the surface.  It permeates, saturates, and brings into wholeness every last fragment of a broken world.

May God increase in us gratitude when grumbling gets in the way.  May God grant us courage to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit that draw us into greater cooperation with all created things.  And may God grant us patience and loving forbearance with ourselves and others as we are gently drawn on being filled more and more with the substantial glory of God.  Amen.

[1] The Cowley Evangelist, March 1918, from a retreat given in 1873

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1 Comment

  1. Tony Reynolds on October 7, 2022 at 07:20

    Br. Todd: Thank you. You have captured the daily struggle of my soul and shown it the path to wholeness. I love the insight about restoring the pieces.

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