patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Saturday, February 23, 2013

alone with you

In Capernaum on day—having spent the night at the house of brothers Simon and Andrew, who apparently lived together, along with at least Simon’s wife and family, if not Andrew’s— Jesus snuck out “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark . . . and went off to a solitary place” to pray (Mark 1:35 NIV).

The night before, according, “The whole town [had] gathered at the door” (Mark 1:32) for Jesus to heal their sick ones and rebuke their demons. Surely he was all prayed out by the next morning. I know I would have been. That he snuck out before dawn and chose a solitary place indicates to me, though, a different kind of prayer that what I usually think of when I use the word prayer. Not praying for something to happen or not happen. Not praying words that others will hear and possibly judge. Not praying words at all, but just being alone with God.

It’s an odd expression, an oxymoron: to be alone with someone. If you’re alone, that means no one else is there. But we use this expression often to mean sharing pleasurable time with someone.

“I just want to be alone with you,” I might tell my husband or a close friend. Occasionally, I enjoy being alone with one of my daughters—not just away from others (especially the other daughter) but having fun with just her. We are like different people when we're alone together. And, unless something goes awry on one of these dates (as, sadly, often happens), being alone together is magnificently therapeutic. All the ills of those other times we spend together, or apart, seem to get washed away by our being present to each other.

When I just want to be alone with someone, I have no other motivation than to be in that person’s presence. No motive or goal. No memory of some planned thing I want to say. No memory at all. No plan. No duty.

Being alone with God in this way, I must confess, is a new kind of praying for me. The “I just want to be alone with God” prayer. Not wanting anything from him. Not searching my mind for things I should be praying about. Not remembering any particular prayer-need of anyone else or even myself, perhaps. Just being with God, by myself.

That’s, I learned the other day, what meditation is. Or can be. Not emptying my mind of every thought—an impossibility, as it has always seemed to me—but just being present, by myself, with God. Available to him. Having no more holy purpose than to say, “I’m here.”

I’ve been doing this twice a day for coming up on a week, now, as part of a 40-day “defunking” project of my yoga class. We're supposed to meditate for five minutes every morning and every evening.

I was against it, at first. Strangely put off by—afraid of, even—the idea of not thinking, not doing something. Afraid of just being alone.

When I admitted this fear to my yoga class, my teacher said, “It’s not any different than praying. It’s just committing five minutes to being present to God. Available.” She gave me that language and, with it, not only a way to meditate, to get the job done, but a whole new approach to prayer, one of the great conundrums of my spiritual life.

And, while I can’t say anything has happened worth reporting on, this new way of praying has been curiously satisfying.

I make sure that Kris is occupied with some task or taking one of his 20-minute showers. Then I set the oven timer for 5 minutes, plus 10 seconds to get myself settled. (I’m rather pharisaical, as you can see, when it comes to following instructions.) I sit myself cross-legged on the livingroom floor and consciously breathe, the way I’ve been taught, tightly and loudly in through my nose and then shoot it back out, watching the tubular breaths in my mind as they move from outside of me to inside of me and back out.

“I’m here,” I breathe. In. Out.

Soon, I’m no longer seeing breaths or saying mind-words but just being.





And then the timer shrills, almost immediately, it seems to me.

“The timer went off!” Kris calls from wherever he is, then rushes into the kitchen to turn it off.

And just like that it’s over and I’m alone again with just me.

Friday, February 22, 2013

speaking of demons

In addition to healing people’s sicknesses, Jesus also gets rid of their demons. We know that, in at least some of the stories, they must actually have been demons and not simply the gospel writers’ way of referring to mental illness because, as a reader of this blog pointed out to me, in some of the stories at least, “the demons talk to Jesus!” Indeed, Luke summarizes many such cases when he writes that “demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah (Luke 4: 41 NIV).

My Bible’s notes and the sermons I’ve heard dealing with such stories are quick to explain that Jesus silenced them because he wasn’t yet ready to be revealed as the Messiah. We’re never told, though, why the demons recognized Jesus’ divinity in the first place. Maybe, because they were of the spirit world, they knew Jesus from there.

My question has never been why the demons recognized Jesus as God’s son, the anointed one, or why Jesus always went out of his way to shut them up but why just about every one of them announces Jesus’ identity. Why would Satan’s helpers want to let others in on the truth about Jesus and thus risk their believing? Or, to put it another way, how does publically identifying Jesus achieve their demonic ends?

It occurred to me, in thinking about it this time around, that maybe the demons can’t help themselves. Maybe they, already in some other realm, are proof that, as God promises in Isaiah 45:23 in a passage Paul paraphrases first in Romans 14:11—“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God’”—and then fleshes out in Philippians 2:9-11:
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
The demons say it because they have to say it. Paradoxically, though it’s not Jesus’ will for the word to get out quite yet, it’s nevertheless God’s will that, in his kingdom, every tongue—even the tongue of a demon—will proclaim the good news of the One God Sent.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

more on jesus' healings

I want to take you today to Matthew’s one-sentence summary of Jesus’ initial healings: “and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them” (Matthew 4:24 NIV). He healed, in other words, people suffering from severe pain, demon-possession (arguably mental illness in modern terms), epilepsy, and paralysis.

Interestingly, there’s no mention of the more dramatic healings—for observers, at least—of the blind or deaf. And no bringing of dead people back to life, as we will see later on. Nevertheless, on the basis of these healings, Jesus’ fame quickly spread throughout Syria, we’re told, and he accrued followers from all over: not only Galilee, where he began his healings, but Jerusalem, Judea, Syria, the largely Greek and Roman cities of the current day Jordan area known as “The Ten Cities” (The Decapolis), and even the region beyond Jordan.

Just for fun, let’s go to two of the earliest English translations of this same summary sentence. In Wycliffe’s 1382 translation of Jerome’s Vulgate Bible (itself, I should emphasize, a translation from the original biblical languages into Latin), he writes, “and they brought to him all that were at mal-ease, and that were taken with diverse languors and torments, and them that had fiends, and lunatic men, and men in palsy and he healed them."

I don’t know about you, but the language here evokes the modern condition rather than what I imagine the illnesses of Jesus’ time—or the late 300s CE, when the Latin Vulgate was written or even Wycliffe’s time—to be. Languors, torments, and fiends all suggest, to me, mental rather than physical illness. They’d also be less impressive healings than, say, the sores of leprosy or a withered hand.

Tyndale, writing a century and a half later, translated directly from the original Hebrew and Greek texts, and here’s what he came up with for the same sentence: “And they brought vnto hym all sicke people that were taken with divers diseases and gripinges and them yt were possessed with devils and those which were lunatyke and those that had the palsie: and he healed them.”

Gripinges, devils, and lunatykes—again, people suffering largely from insanity rather than physical ailments that would have been more observable in the healing.

Of course, not only the English language but also medical understanding and terminology have changed in the centuries since any of these translations were made. Still, much, it seems to me, might be understood about the similarities between those times and now. Then, as now, our most compelling grievances were mental rather than physical.

Heal my daughter of her griping and malaise, my son of his debilitating languor and lack of motivation, my wife of her perpetual rage, my husband of his many demons, his porn addiction, his alcoholism, his gambling, I imagine them pray-worrying in those days as they left their homes in pursuit of this purported healer, just as many of us pray-worry to Jesus now. Heal us all of our unhappinesses, our inner struggles, our stress.

And Jesus began what he began by addressing, first of all, these most essential human troubles.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

healing stories

I love the stories of Jesus’ healings. The specificity of the ailments. A shriveled hand. A spirit that tosses a boy into the fireplace. People with sores and paralysis and a guy so depressed he tears at himself with rocks.

And Jesus’ interaction with these sick ones is so alarming. When Simon’s mother-in-law (Peter did have a wife!) had a high fever, Jesus “bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her” (Luke 4:39 NIV). He sticks his finger in a deaf guy’s ear. Rubs spit mud in a guy’s eyes. Tells a woman who’s had her period and been secretly unclean for twelve years to explain the nature of her issue to him in front of her neighbors.

“Stand up in front of everyone,” he commands the guy with the withered hand (Mark 3:3). And then “Stretch out your hand” (Mark 3:5).

(Which, reading it now—forgive me—reminds me of Jodi Arias’s defense attorney telling her to hold up her broken finger for the jury to see.)

And the people watching complain and doubt—one whose authority? and what, he’s working on the Day of Rest?!—and Jesus gets enraged. “He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts” (Mark 3:5).

And I’m thinking, what good stories! I want my students to write stories with so much happening! So concrete! So much conflict!

And then the miraculous result:“He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored” (Mark 3:5).

And no, I didn’t make a mistake. One numbered verse, Mark 3:5, contains all that rage and commanding and stretching and restoring.

Best stories in the world. I mean.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Here’s how Matthew sums up what Jesus began: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them” (Matthew 4: 23-24 NIV).

Teaching, preaching the good news, healing.

There are two things to think about that are new for me.

First, the “demon-possessed” are not separated out into their own category and thus seem to be included under the heading of “every disease and sickness among the people.” That makes me a lot more confident in interpreting the demon-possessed as people with epilepsy and mental illness.

Second, news of Jesus spread all over Syria. Syria. I don’t know why this should surprise me. I mean, Jesus spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus. But somehow Syria seems distant from what I generally think of as where people started out believing in Jesus.

Monday, February 18, 2013

shut up

Okay, so Mark, whose account I’ve been neglecting a bit in my current journey through Jesus’ life, explains what Jesus began in Capernaum. (I like how, so often, the question I have reading one gospel is answered in one of the others.) He started teaching.

At Capernaum, Mark says, “Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach” (Mark 1:21 NIV). As always when he went into the synagogue, he amazed everyone present. Even as a boy of twelve “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46), he amazed “Everyone who heard him”—not least the teachers themselves—with “his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47). Now that he’s a man, what amazes them—Mark says the word twice, in this brief account, for emphasis—is not merely his knowledge about matters spiritual but his “authority.”

Mark writes, “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Mark 1:22). Teachers of the law—that is, the experts in what he was teaching—did not teach with authority. Which makes me wonder why not.

Were they, like me, too speculative? Trying to tease out layered meanings where the answers were simple and clear?
The account of Jesus confronting a man “possessed by impure demon” that immediately follows Mark’s authority claim demonstrates—a little comically, to my mind—the difference between the rabbis’ teaching and Jesus’.

The man with the demon (or, arguably, the demon itself; it’s always hard to sort the spirit from the person in these demon possession stories) cries out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

“‘Be quiet!’” said Jesus sternly.” (That’s the part I find funny.) “‘Come out of him!’”

And with that, “The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek,” and “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him’” (Mark 1:24-27).

Jesus’ amazing authority, like the authority of the Centurion with the sick servant whom we encounter much later, amounts to his ability to get others to do what he wants them to do. He tells demons to shut up and come out, and they do. He commands others to drop everything and follow him, and they do. That’s the difference.
Something in his voice and person commanded obedience. Commands it still.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

when he begane

Today’s discovery is that early on in Jesus’ three years of preaching and healing, he hung out not only with his disciples but also, on occasion, with his mother and brothers, too. After the wedding at Cana, which he attended with his mom and his disciples, Jesus went on what sounds like a family vacation with his disciples in tow: “After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days” (John 2:12 NIV).

Matthew describes Capernaum as “by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali” (Matthew 4:13) and quotes Isaiah as having called it “the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4:15). It was here, according to Matthew, that Jesus “began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God has drawn near’” (Matthew 4:17). The NIV translation refers to this p

I wonder what Jesus’ mom and brothers did while he was preaching. Hang out on the beach? Did they have relatives to stay with in Capernaum? And was it there, at Capernaum, that Jesus’ family had first suspicions that Jesus maybe wasn’t really doing God’s will but was crazy, as they would later say he was (Mark 3:20-21)? Was it then, on that family trip, that Jesus’ brothers began to be skeptical of what he was saying, as we find them later to be (John 7:5)? And, during this trip, where was Joseph, who, “it was thought” (Luke 3:23), was his dad? At home working? Dead, hence Mary’s travels with her oldest son? We can only speculate about these matters.

We do know that Jesus’ age at this time. According to Luke, “Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry” (Luke 3:23). That word ministry, though, is an invention of the NIV and several other translations, added, say the NIV translators, for clarity. The NRSV adds the word work. I hate when they do that. I’d rather seek my own clarity with what’s actually in the Greek.

Early translations, felicitously, leave it out. In Wycliffe’s translation of 1382, “Jesus himself was beginning as of thirty years." Tyndale, in the revised version of his 1526 translation, wrote, “And Iesus him silfe was about thirty yere of age when he begane.” Martin Luther’s 1545 German translation reads, “Und Jesus war, da er anfing, ungefähr dreißig Jahre alt” (trot: And Jesus was, when he began, around thirty years old.). The King James Version of 1611 and the Geneva Bible of 1599 on which the KJV was based both say, “And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age."
Jesus “began,” Luke wrote, and a flurry of modern translators, worried we’d not know what he meant, surged in to fill that gap with a churchy word never once mentioned in the Greek accounts of Jesus’ life that we toss back and forth at one another meaninglessly. Later, in Acts and Paul’s letters, the word commonly translated as ministry does surface: the Greek word διακονία (diakonia), which probably meant something more like service, as in servant, than what we mean when we say ministry, if we mean anything at all. From it comes our church word deacon.

But Jesus, at thirty, at the lake in Capernaum with his family, simply began.