Taking Note of God in Our Stories: Reflecting on Mark 1:4-13

Mark is the brief and immediate Gospel. Jesus appears and things happen.  Immediately something else happens.  The story moves at a rapid fire pace; this week’s lectionary reading is particularly that way.

John the Baptist appears on the scene.  His appearance preparing the way for the Lord was a sign of great news.  God was moving and bringing comfort to His people.  As John is baptizing in the Jordan, Jesus shows up. The one who will baptize the people with the Spirit of God — not just water. And Jesus himself is baptized by John.  Surfacing from the water, Jesus looked up and saw the Spirit of God descending upon him like a dove.     The Spirit descended, and then a voice from heaven declared, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  And then boom, the Spirit sent Jesus out into the desert.  Jesus stayed in the desert 40 days being tempted.  

Mark notes that Jesus sees and hears what God is doing.  Luke’s version of Jesus’ baptism reads more like an observer’s perspective. Luke describes the events from the perspective of an onlooker instead of the perspective of Jesus (Lk 3).  With Mark’s version, who knows if anyone else saw what Jesus saw or heard what Jesus heard.  For Mark, what is important is that Jesus saw and heard.  

I think this matters for us, too. We are God’s beloved children, too.  Through Jesus, we have been given the right to be called children of God.  The experience of God’s affirmation is not just for Jesus.

We need to notice those moments where God descends upon us.  To pay attention to those moments where the sacred intersects in our stories.  Make a note of those encounters that change us — be it a solitary experience of hearing God’s voice or the experience of God’s love through community.  These are powerful moments.  But we only truly give these moments power as we pay attention and weave them into our life story.  

This is why I like writing.  It allows me to frame my life through the lens of encountering the sacred.  Suddenly small moments in a week add up to God encounters.  And then, as I look back on previous writing I can see lines connecting dots in blogs, papers and journals.  As I step back and see these connected points, suddenly a bigger picture about my story is revealed to me.  

But in saying this, I’m not saying everyone needs to get out and write more; that’s not everyone’s gig.  I totally get that.  But, if it is your gig, well — get on that. Whatever it looks like. And if you blog too, leave me your link.

What is your gig?  What helps you pause and take note of your life?  What helps you open your eyes to God moving?  To God’s affirmation of you?  To know that you too are loved deeply by God?  

Grasp tightly to it.  It is your lifeline. Resting and trusting in God’s goodness and love for us is crucial.

Journal, Coffee, and Nouwen’s Inner Voice of Love

God’s love for us can anchor us as we wander into the wild, unpredictable and dangerous world. Jesus’ experience of affirmation by God is followed by the wilderness experience.  Unlike other gospels, Mark doesn’t spell out the details of the temptation.  He doesn’t tell exactly what Jesus did to rebut the temptations.  Just that they happened, and that the Spirit sent Jesus out into the wilderness to experience them.  

God being pleased with Jesus did not keep Jesus from undergoing the wilderness testing.  Hardship and temptations are not necessarily a sign that God is not pleased with us. God’s pleasure in us does not mean we always live in a space of creature comforts.

Koyama writes, “Jeremiah and Jesus placed their trust in the forsaking God!  Theirs is no longer the faith built upon God’s obvious answer.  They believed in God even though God did not answer… In spite of all cruel odds, they believed in the invitation of God to walk with him, even though their agonizing questions were unanswered (No Handle on the Cross, 75).” 

God’s being pleased with us does not mean we always live in a space of comfort.  It doesn’t mean all our questions always get resolved or that our way isn’t paved with suffering and pain.  

And sometimes that sucks.  I like to be comfortable.  I have to be reminded time and again that God may have a bigger plan for my life than my sitting on the couch curled up with a book or watching some Korean TV. More on that another day — maybe on a braver day since I’m kind of sheepish about that one.  

Anyway, back to the point at hand.

When life is not turning out as I planned, I have options.  With the whole infertility journey, I see this  pretty clearly. I can choose to be mad that God’s not taking me up on my multitude of bargains and/or suspect that God’s withholding something from me because God is A) a jerk B) punishing me  C) hates me since life didn’t turn out the way I planned — i.e. biological children.

Or I can choose to dream with God and lean into a bigger life — trusting in God’s invitation even without knowing all the answers (or even any answers).  For the first time in my life, I feel like it’s getting easier to legitimately live out dreaming with God and trusting God in the midst of unresolved questions. 

A big part of getting here has been reflecting on my writing for the past three years.  I look back through things I’ve written and I see God’s love for me.  I see the journey come together into a bigger picture. A few years ago, through writing and life, I discovered God’s goodness and it was bigger than I ever imagined.  The first two years in seminary helped me lean into that.  

And now, If there’s a theme for my life journey this fall, it’s learning to lean into the knowledge that I am God’s beloved.  To own that I have value and worth just because I exist.  It’s not earned.  No one can take it away from me.  I don’t have to prove it.  I am God’s child.  There is rest and peace here. Thus, as I was preparing for this blog, I wanted to hang out in the affirmation part of Mark 1 the whole time.  

But, I’m also aware that affirmation doesn’t exist alone.  Affirmation and wilderness go hand in hand.  Affirmation is not a path to laziness and cushy, easy comfort.  As Koyama writes,  “The affirmed life must not become either a lazy life or a happy-ever-after, easy life.  …  To be affirmed by God means to live with danger and promise (Three Mile an Hour God, 12).” I’m beginning to see J and I moving into this scarier part of the journey.  

How about you?  How does your faith journey connect with Mark 1?  How has God’s affirmation in your life sustained you as you embarked into tough stuff? 

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