The Taser's Edge

Saint Matthias

Psalm 15
Acts 1:15-26
Philipians 3:13-21
John 15:1, 6-16

A Reflection
I love this particular image of St. Matthias, because he has his hands extended with palms up and cupped, the posture of those willing to receive whatever God has for them – whether Bread of Life or a dirty foot needing washed (not that these two are always different things) – in openness, humility, and expectancy (not to mention that it’s the posture we take when receiving Communion each week).  Truly (and literally), this is the picture of a saint.

The account of the choosing of Matthias is a moving one.  It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in the way that Peter reads the Psalms in a way that most of us wouldn’t think of reading the Bible, and we may find ourselves wondering what it means that the Church “cast lots” to discern God’s will for its leadership.  Those details, however, while perhaps worth our time at some other time, should not distract us from what is at work here in the early (so early that we might even call it a pre-Church, because the Spirit had not yet been poured out) Church.

Let’s set the scene.  In the preceding verses, Jesus has just told his followers to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Spirit and then ascended “out of their sight” into heaven.  Those dazed folks (the disciples, Mary, several women, Jesus’ “brothers”, and apparently several unnamed others, for a total of about 120) returned to Jerusalem together “devoting themselves to prayer” but surely wondering just who or what the Holy Spirit was and how soon Jesus would come back out of the clouds to set up his kingdom on earth.

Truly, if we know that Spirit means ‘Breath’ (and in Greek it does), this community is a newly born and helpless infant, and it’s not clear yet if it will survive, let alone thrive.  The time between the Ascension and Pentecost (and in the church calendar, all the time is happening all the time, including Ascension and Pentecost this day in Epiphany) is the time waiting for a newborn to draw its own first breaths of outside air, and those brief moments seem to be taking weeks.  When we are remembering Matthias, that is what we are remembering.

Here, God, by leading the selection of Matthias by the believers, restores the believers’ hope that God is with them, has not and will not ever abandon them, and will fulfill Christ’s every promise to them.  The choosing of Matthias is the infant Church’s whimper, the promise of God that the full-throated wail of Pentecost is soon to follow.  Thanks be to God!

Collect for the Day
Almighty God, who in the place of Judas chose your faithful servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve: Grant that your Church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be guided and governed by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Ocean of Words by Ha Jin

One of the best books that I’ve read in the last several years was Waiting by Ha Jin.  Something about the way that he writes has that beautiful quality I also admire in Sarah Orne Jewett or Wallace Stegner: stillness, silence, peace.  I think part of the reason I like those things in fiction is hereditary.  My mom introduced me to Jewett in high school or undergrad with a beautiful edition of Country of the Pointed Firs, which is prefaced by a collection of black and white images of coastal Maine.  Several years later she recommended Waiting (which we had both recently and separately picked up in thrift stores), while I introduced her to Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, still possibly my favorite novel, sometime in high school.

 This morning I finished reading Ocean of Words by Ha Jin.  It’s his first published book of non-poetry, from 1996, a collection of short stories about Chinese army life on the border with Russia in some tense years of the early 1970s.  I have long known that the majority of my knowledge of history (and plenty of other topics) comes from reading fiction, and it’s been proven once again by the fact that I had no idea that Russia and China were at the edge of war in 1970.  This certainly puts Nixon’s visit to China in a different light.  (The fact that we have traded with China and overlooked its human rights violations for decades begins to make sense, when trading with China is part of war with the USSR.)

 As regards Ocean of Words and history, I would guess that there is a lot of history to be derived, as the author actually served in the People’s Liberation Army of China for six years, beginning in 1969, and coming to the US in 1985.  Checking out his Wikipedia entry makes me realize how much of his work I have yet to read.

My hope now would be for a ridiculously good director to make a movie out of this book.  Too bad Altman’s dead.  Just to see, I did check out imdb for Ha Jin, and there is a movie version of Waiting being made (starring Ziyi Zhang!).

p.s. I added a new tab to the top of the page so you can see what I’m reading and recommending.