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Rising to a Higher Level!

Sister Doreen’s Reflections

May 9th – the 40th day after Easter – is the Feast of the Ascension, and most churches will celebrate this Feast on Sunday May 12th. The dictionary meaning of the word “rising to a higher level” is the title of this reflection, and I chose that to begin my own musing about the Feast of the Ascension. It was sparked by Jesus’ words in scripture, “and I, when I am lifted up, will draw all people to myself”.

It seems to me that the time after the resurrection, these 40 days, has less to do about Jesus than it does about me and you. If you think about the 40 days after Easter, it is a time when Jesus is giving the disciples, all his followers, a concentrated course, a semester of condensed truths and lessons. There is the message to the women in the garden, appearing to Mary Magdalene, Peter and John running to the Tomb, the Road to Emmaus, the appearance to the disciples gathered in the upper room, the charcoal fire on the beach, the casting the net on the other side and the catch of fish, the invitation to ‘come and have breakfast’, the question asked “do you love me?”. In all of these events and more “so many other things that Jesus did” wrote St John, as Jesus presented himself alive to them in many different settings over a period of 40 days. It was in these 40 days, in face-to-face meetings, that he talked to them about the things concerning the kingdom of God.

After their experience of the 40 days and following this day, they, the followers of Jesus, agreed that they were in this for good, completely together in prayer and in spreading the Word of God. Like them, today is a call to center our mind and our hearts on God and on the world and the work at hand. It is a call to be raised to a new understanding, of committing ourselves to a life of contemplative awareness. It is Jesus, catching up with Jesus, who raises our hearts and minds to God, who continues to tell us that he is the Way, and it is Jesus who shows us that the Way is a life lived totally involved in the world around us, totally attuned to the heart of God, completely consumed by God’s love for the world.

This is a day of new awareness, new insight, new consciousness of the power of God among us. It is a call to live out the teachings and truths of the gospel news.

Committing ourselves to a life of contemplative awareness, Joan Chittister made this comment in one of her Monastic Daily meditations: “To the contemplative, the entire world is sacramental. Everything speaks of God; everything unveils God to us. Here in the struggles, the dissensions and jealousies, the rejection and broken shards of trust, the contemplative sees the Jesus who showed the way beyond the crucifixion to the Ascension, beyond suffering to the glory of wholeness.”

In musing on these thoughts, I remembered a poem by the poet William Blake. He wrote a poem called “Holy Thursday” (a name given in England in years past for the Feast of the Ascension). It is a poem that has many meanings, but in general it is a strong and poignant poem that emphasizes the misery, the hard reality, of orphaned children and the necessity for society to care for and support these children. Blake’s own faith in God’s loving kindness and compassion speaks of his own desire, his own prayer, that these children experience and have joy and serenity. He sees them being lifted to a better place by angels who embrace them.

Blakes poem: Holy Thursday:

It was on a Holy Thursday their innocent faces clean
The children walking two and two in red and blue and green
Gray-headed [elders] walked before with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul’s they like Thames waters flow.

O what a multitude they seemed these flowers of London town
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own
The hum of multitudes was there but multitudes of lambs
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song
Or like harmonious thundering’s the seats of Heaven among
Beneath them sit the aged men wise guardians of the poor
Then cherish [care], lest you drive an angel from your door.

I could hear in my own musing about the Ascension the words of Jesus “unless I go away, the spirit will not come” and I know that unless I move on from here, unless I am willing to rise to a new level, the spirit cannot do a new thing in my life. And today tells us clearly, that a new thing is wanting to be done – and who are we to say no to new birth!

This is the day that is more about us than it is about Jesus. This is the day when it is made clear that we are given to one another to help take care of each other. To hear the words of Jesus, ‘do you love me – then feed my sheep’.  In his book “Catching Up With Jesus” Diarmuid O’Murchu writes in the section of his book called The Story (which is Jesus speaking): “Of all the notions I came up with during my earthly indwelling, probably the idea of the Kingdom of God was the most innovative. The key bit for me, then and now, is radical inclusiveness.” He goes on to talk about true liberation being offered to everybody. It means everything and everybody is included, that nothing is excluded anymore.

The Feast of the Ascension ushers us into a new time, with new challenges waiting for our commitment and devotion. We are invited into sacred space where everybody and everything has its place, a place of welcome, warmth, and hospitality – a place where possibilities unfold even in the paradoxical place we find ourselves in our world, that mixture of creation and destruction. We are invited into the enormity, the complexity, and the beauty of this fragile earth our island home – into complex diversity – where we have the opportunity to learn to live together with differences. I believe that it is in this diversity of light and shadow that we can begin to stand with a realistic hope of bringing new life to ourselves, to others, to the whole of creation.