Intentions of the Heart
This morning let me just cut to the chase. If my sermon had a title it would be "Do I Embody My Intentions?"
I didn't used to really understand this word embodiment and what it means to embody something. Like many concepts I experienced it, before really "getting it." And one experience that occurred to me was a teaching that stayed with me from my 20s. Back then I was pursuing a career in opera and in singing and a vocal coach suggested that I try on working with someone who would teach me the Alexander technique.
The Alexander Technique, developed I think in the early 19th century, helps actors,performers speakers, anyone interested really, learn how to use their whole body in sharing their voice. And one thing I was taught that has stuck was the teacher asking me to stand so she could see my natural alignment. Pull back your head, just a smidgen she said. And I did - and wow - could I feel the difference in being naturally aligned!
She told me that most of the time people are so focused on the future, on what we have to get to or do out in front of us, that we literally embody it by sticking our neck out. And if you pull it back just a bit, you are literally aligning with yourself in the present! That's a practice I continue to this day because I still am someone who lets my thinking get ahead of my present being.
Our way of being, in the present, is what I hear Jesus very concerned with in this morning's teaching. Of which there seem to be two. We don't usually hear the first section (you probably aren't used to hearing Jesus talk about the sewer) because it's considered optional. I wanted us to hear it because this first section is Jesus getting frustrated because the Pharisees,the religious authorities, are telling people what they do proves belief or not. Proves their worthiness.
Sometimes I'll be asked, "Arianne which candle do I light first? Or, what's the right way to make the sign of the cross, or kneel, etc." There are many parts of our rituals that are about embodying our belief. And that word - embody - is the key. If what you do with your body helps align you with your belief, helps strengthen your alignment with what is holy within and outside of you - then go for it!.
But if you are taking on a practice, overly concerned with whether or not you are doing it right, or because you see others do it, well then it's time to explore "why" of what you are doing. Often, we hear Jesus frustrated by piety for the sake of piety. Which is exactly what's happening this morning. And he reminds the disciples, the point isn't what you do it's the intention behind and within what you are doing. Because what comes from the heart leads to our behaviors. He points out the ones that are not good, that break our connection with our inherent goodness.
To set an intention of the heart isn't to set a goal. Its to create the context within which our goals can be discovered and ultimately declared.
The prayer practice that I find most often reminds me to do this is yoga. When you go to a practice or a class the instructor will invite you to set an intention at the beginning of practice. Maybe it is to cultivate gratitude or compassion. Maybe courage, maybe you want to push yourself in your yoga a little bit more. The hope being that if you practice it on your mat, you will be able to take it with you. For you've embodied and practiced and now, maybe it's in your being just a little bit more so you can take it into the world.
Jesus does a great job of talking about that. But then this Canaanite woman gets him to see he's not really living into that. When she first cries out to him, his response kind of breaks my heart. He ignores her. In a sense he embodies what the disciples
ask him to do - send her away - their constant refrain for dealing with people during Jesus' travels!
Jesus ignores her and then tells her she is not worthy of his teachings. So she embodies her intention. She kneels before him in an act of real dignity. She knows Jesus has all the power and she is giving up, she doesn't have anything to lose, and all she wants is mercy.
She doesn't even ask for Jesus to do something for her daughter she simply asks the intention or mercy be shared with her. And I believe that embodied presence along with her prayer is what got Jesus to see. To be moved to respond with surprise, and mercy.
So I encourage us today and into this week to get curious about our intentions. Are you taking time to set an intention for your day? For the important events and conversations in your life? Are you seeing or ignoring the people around you - those close and those who are strangers - seeking mercy? I encourage us to explore how we embody the mercy God has for all of us - in our receiving of it - and in our sharing mercy in our world. Amen.
In Christ's name amen.