Returning recently from a retreat/study week in Malibu, I found my family in a bit of disorientation. 3 of my four children were too sick to return to school and the 4th child was sniffling and sneezing. The house was picked up, but laundry beckoned, the bathroom floors needed a scrub. This is normal everyday activity that greats even the most “enlightened” soul.
So where do I proceed from here?
I am attempting to integrate some of the daily disciplines learned over a three year period into the role that I find myself playing most often: a maternal mundane mystic. There is a part of me that longs for quiet and places to reflect and reconsider the ways in which I move from the inner to the outer life. YET- these thoughts are quickly punctuated by the need to change a diaper, replace a battery in a toy, prepare breakfastlunchdinnersnackbottlesnack. So in the midst of these varied and variable activities, I purpose myself to take regular intervals throughout the day to check in with God, to check in with my children and husband, and to listen to what is being said, sort of my own book of hours being created on the spot.
Today I had an opportunity to let my children tell me what they thought about a short little passage in James… you know… the one that says we should be quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to anger. My 11 yr said “Wow. That’s a strong word”. It really is and the four of us felt the weight of it because most of the day up to that point had been spent in opposite behavior… quick to speak, slow to listen, quick to anger and blame one another. Well, I read bits of the passage as they asked more great questions and then I skimmed over a little line that said something about a person who doesn’t control their tongue, then their religion is worhtless. My 8 year old couldn’t move passed it. “Mommy, I feel bad. I don’t always control my tongue, is my religion really worthless?” Well, is it I wondered? Is it of any consequence that we raise our hands and sing praise to God and speak out of our mouth that we LOVE God and yet we cannot keep our mouth in line when it comes to the many ways we tear apart other people, some of whom we live under the same roof with?Is it any big deal that I say really mean things to and in front of my children? I know the answer is YES, but how does that relate to what James is saying about me and my religion.
Upon further examination, James points out that our thrēskeia will be in vain!! This Greek word describes our ceremonies, our external religious worship and religious disciplines. This makes more sense now. James wants us to be very clear that we can apply our every effort to our religious practices in public places of worship (think Sunday church services, giant revivals, Christian concerts) yet these practices will be counted as mataios (devoid of force, truth, success, result, useless, of no purpose) if we cannot restrain and keep in check our organ of speech.
The next verse gives me challenge and comfort in its description of pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God (1:27). I find comfort in knowing that katharos is used to describe clean and pure in the physical, a levitical, and an ethical sense. This purity is the result of fire, cleansing by pruning. This I can accept. There are parts of my nature that are pure and parts that are not. Thankfully for me and for my children, the renewal and renovation comes in gradual stages until what is left of us will be most like God and less like our un-renewed world.
I pray that my life will become more of an invitation for those who want to look more intently and inspect with curiosity the things of God.