Tumbling in the Sand
“So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?'” – Mark 7:5
Every once in a while, I think about how much easier it is to care for plants than it is to care for people.
People are messy. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much you do to care for them, they don’t thrive. They choose otherwise. They don’t listen. They don’t respond the way you hope. They are far too easy to love and then they drive you crazy.
Plants aren’t like that at all. If you give them what they need, if you care for them just so and water and feed them and keep the pests off, they grow great. They yield abundantly. They reward you. And you never have to worry about getting too terribly attached.
And so, sometimes I retreat to the garden for a while, where what I can leave a pile of weeds and thriving flowers in my wake.
I wonder if that same impetus that drives me to the garden is what moves people to start worrying about washing pots and hands more than caring for human hearts. I wonder if it is that impetus that makes the church more interested in stained glass windows, how the altar is set, and buildings than about mission and relationship. I think that we would much rather pick the easy stuff like cleanliness and rules to work on rather than to work on the hard stuff of love and kindness and justice and care.
It’s not like these poor Pharisees and scribes are the only ones who seem to have made OCD into a religion (at least, that seems how Mark has described it). It’s not like the people James was preaching at are the only ones who need reminding that the heart of religion isn’t pretty words and rituals but about caring for the orphan and widow (code words for those at the bottom of the social ladder, those people in need). We are all in the same boat.
It’s just a little too easy to get caught up in things like the rituals, like the paraments and vestments, like the windows and steeples and arrangement of the pews. It’s just a little too easy to think that how we sing a hymn or how we say the prayers or what scripture we read matters a WHOLE AWFUL LOT. And getting caught up in all that, we forget about the people sitting next to us or the people who aren’t sitting next to us or the God we are supposed to love or that the point of all of this—the point of being church, the point of faith, the point of religion—is those relationships—those messy, hard relationships that we can’t so easily control. Who am I kidding? That we can’t really control at all.
But here’s the thing: while this is the hard stuff—the stuff we can’t control, the stuff that is messy—it is also where God is. It is also where grace is. It’s also where life is. And it is where God is inviting us to set down our rules and expectations in order to be. And so, I always find myself wandering back out of my garden to be with people that I love and the God that calls me to more.