Shake the Dust From Your Feet

At our Mass at the retreat house this afternoon, I offered the reflection on today’s readings.  In today’s Gospel from Mark, Jesus gives instructions to his disciples, as he sends them off to proclaim the Kingdom.

In my reflection, I spoke about two aspects of Jesus’ instruction: His telling the disciples to take nothing for the journey and his instruction that “Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.”  Since I’ve written here many times about the first aspect – take nothing for the journey – I thought I’d share here some thoughts on the language I just quoted.

I’ve sat with this line a couple of times, because it always strikes me as a bit harsh. It is an instruction that I think can be easy to get wrong. Clearly Jesus is not suggesting that we walk away every time we encounter someone who disagrees with our efforts to proclaim the Gospel. The Gospel message is in many ways a counter-cultural one and people are not always going to “welcome” us immediately. (Jesus knew that; hence his ending the Beatitudes with “blessed are you when they insult you because of me.) So some fortitude, patience and endurance are necessary.

But I do read Jesus as saying here that sometimes we do just need to walk away. That we won’t always succeed in reaching people. I am not saying they are inherently unreachable by anyone, but they may be unreachable by me. (I am often reminded that Jesus let the rich young man walk away – he didn’t chase after him and force him to sell all he had.) Knowing when to stay in dialogue, and when to shake the dust from our feet is, I think, the challenge.

When we do walk away, we don’t do so in anger, seeking retribution, but with love. I was reminded when reading this instruction of the passage in Luke where Jesus’ disciples ask him if they should call down fire from heaven to consume a town that did not welcome them. Jesus rebuked them. And when the rich young man walked away, Jesus looked upon him with love. We ought to remember the final lines of today’s first Mass reading from Hosea, where God says he will not give vent to anger and will not destroy Ephraim. Instead, God’s heart was overwhelmed, his pity stirred.

How do we respond when we are rejected? With the same love?

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3 thoughts on “Shake the Dust From Your Feet

  1. Thank you Susan!
    You have given me a new love and perspective for those who “walk away” from our parish.
    I have been working on not feeling abandoned, or angry when another feels that they must go – and this explanation has helped so much.
    I now see that these beloved people are following their consciences and as they leave are doing the last thing they can do.
    Bonnie

  2. “I now see that these beloved people are following their consciences and as they leave are doing the last thing they can do.”

    So many tears flow while recounting moments like those Bonnie shared. . . Imagine the burden, and loss through separation, that accompanies – accompanies an individual or family that separates from parish, faith community, or an entire religion – a separation that may often close hearts from a faith home, the broader community, from spirit, from soul, from God. . .

    The tragic unfolding of loss (separation of life from loved ones) and gatherings (protests) triggered by events these past days in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas in ways different, though similar, also speak to some, “. . . doing the last thing they can do.”

    Father Beck’s homily this morning was inspired by Luke’s Gospel (10:25–37) that joins the Two Great Commandments with priest, Levite and Samaritan traveler all to robber victim – where strict interpretation of The Law too often promotes separation of neighbor from neighbor, parishioner from parishioner, faith community from faith community, religion from religion, often closing hearts to faith, from spirit, from soul, from God. . .

    The inter-faith prayer service Friday morning in Dallas inspired many more tears – messages similar all, voiced in tradition and faith different, offered in Love, pleading for Grace to heal and praying for God’s Kingdom Come. . .

    Closing our hearts, temporarily or permanently, during our short earthly journey has eternal consequences. Salvation is often claimed to be through ‘faith alone’ – though the place prepared for us in the next life is dependent upon our ‘works,’ upon how we love, how we have loved.

    Reflect upon your current encounters (in prayer and intercession) with those whom God has called home. How we loved is the ‘Gate Keeper’ of Heavenly encounters, of Purgatory’s reality – a reconciliation through separation (of our loved ones and each of God’s children) from God and from neighbor. . .

    If I may,

    I have struggled the past two and a half years with how is it possible to be closer to Irma Martens (1909–2007) the mother of Anna German – the ‘White Angel’ of song to Poles and Russians, than my own mother (1919–1999) or my aunts (born from 1906 to 1927) that I grew up with.

    Her daughter Anna’s songs introduced her mother to me. Irma Marten’s faith was often severely tested and her heart often closed during most of her life. Irma’s family were of Dutch Mennonite decent and were invited to Russia by Tsarina Catherine II. Her husband’s family were from the Low Country of Germany and settled during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the Ukraine.

    Irma’s father-in-law Friedrich Hormann (Hermann) was born in the village of Hoffnung (now Olgino, Ukr.) which was founded by his father in 1819. Friedrich was a pastor and studied at the Evangelical Seminary in Lodz, Poland. There Friedrich married and his wife Anna gave birth in 1910 to Irma’s future husband Eugene. In 1929 for the repression of his faith, Friedrich was arrested and sent to a labor camp. His son Eugene escaped the Soviet Union through Central Asia and Iran.

    Mennonite persecutions moved Irma’s family from her mother’s native home along the Kuban River to Ferghana in Uzbekistan, where Irma met her husband Eugene. Escaping from the NKVD moved the family to Urgench, where Anna was born (1936–1982). In 1937 during Irma’s second pregnancy her husband was arrested on charges of espionage, sent to a prison camp and executed in 1938. For years Irma brought food and gifts to the prison for her husband and his brother who was also imprisoned unaware for years of her husband’s death. At his death Irma’s husband was 28 (1910–1938).

    After her husband’s arrest, Irma, her mother, daughter Anna and her infant son Frederick were exiled to Kyrgyzstan where at the age of two Frederick and Anna came down with Scarlet fever; the disease claiming her young son’s life – Irma’s heart was continually being pierced by a sword, her faith continually tested, her heart closing tighter and tighter. . .

    Irma, a teacher of language, supported her family as best she could. She was blessed her mother was able to care for her young children, and cursed as her intelligence, attractiveness and her being without husband assured her of continual sexual harassment and assault from Soviet authorities.

    During afternoons, after her first year of school days, Anna continued to await her father’s return (from prison). She became a daily visitor to the train station, and in her angelic voice she used to sing out, “Hormann, Hormann, (Hermann) where are you?” One afternoon a young Polish man answered, “Here I am.” His name was Herman Berner.

    In 1942 Irma remarried. A year later, Herman, an officer in the Polish Army, was killed during the Battle of Lenino. Irma and her family felt abandoned again, and it was not until years later the family learned of her husband’s death. In 1946 Irma German-Berner, as the wife of a Pole, filed documents of repatriation and, together with her daughter and mother left for Poland. Initially, and in poverty, they lived in Nowa Ruda. In 1949. They moved to Wroclaw and had a small apartment on Trzebnika Street. Anna attended the VIII High School. Boleslaw Boleslaw Wroclaw, which she graduated in 1955. In January of 1962. Obtained a master’s degree in geology at the University of Wroclaw for her thesis “Photo geological surrounding the sinking (Ustronie)”. Anna graduated with honors.

    At the age of 24, Anna made her singing debut in 1960 in Wroclaw and soon became a world renowned vocalist – at the time (1967) becoming the first Polish artist to sing at the (XVII) Festival of San Remo, Italy. That same year, returning from a concert in Italy, she was in a terrible car accident northwest of Bologna. Irma was devastated by the news. Her daughter was in a coma, wrapped in a full body cast for months and struggled for three years to return to health.

    With the passing of her grandmother, Anna was cared for by her mother and her boyfriend of many years, Zbigniew Tuchola. After a fifteen year relationship, Anna and Zbigniew were married in March of 1972 in a Seventh-Day Adventist ceremony and were blessed with the birth of their son Zbigniew in November of 1975.

    Shortly after the birth of her grandson, Irma’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer. In the autumn of 1980, after returning from concerts in Australia her daughter’s bone cancer returned. While in the advanced stages of the disease Anna composed psalms and songs dedicated to God. After two years, she lost the battle with cancer and passed away the night/morning of August 25/26, 1982. Anna was laid to rest on August 30th in the cemetary of the Evangelical Reformed in Warsaw – survived by her husband, her 6-1/2 year old son and her mother.

    Irma’s faith was now completely shaken to its foundation, and her heart was now completely closed. She became even more over protective and until her death in 2007 relations were often strained with her son-in-law and most difficult for her grandson who often felt smothered and unable to breathe on his own. We can only imagine the condition of Irma’s heart upon her death.

    Depression and various levels of alcoholism closed the hearts of my mother and my aunts and to this day their reconciliations of love continue in Heaven – restricting love shared and Heavenly encounters in manner similar to how they loved on earth – a purgatorial process continuing very gradually.

    I can still recall the evening we moved into our first home that was not a rental. My maternal grandmother, like Irma’s mother, became a widow at a young age, lived with us, was a blessing and was influential in our lives, and as children in ways not initially understood. I was eleven, found my grandmother sitting on our new front steps, house dress somewhat disheveled from the move and unpacking, stockings detached and rolled down to her ankles, holding a piece of cardboard as she fanned herself when I leaned close and whispered, “Grandma I don’t want you to take the stairs each day, please have my room and I will sleep in the hallway.” (Outside my sisters’ upstairs bedroom) Until her passing twelve years later, I did. As a child, we were most inseparable.

    When visiting home on weekends from college, I always arrived early Friday afternoon. “Why do you come home early and want to spend time with an old woman?” she routinely asked. A warm embrace always followed her questions. . .

    My grandmother and Irma’s mother share so much in common, and their historical family roots are from the same region of Germany. In some unknown way a dear friend of mine born in the Ukraine, whose voice was compared to Anna German’s when she entered university in Moscow a month before Anna passed away, thought I would enjoy Anna’s CD’s.

    Anna, through the Holy Spirit, introduced me to her mother, and the same Spirit I believe brought Irma’s mother and my grandmother together and the two of them through their heritage introduced me to the side of my heritage least known – my great-great grandfather Frederick Christian who was also born in the Low Country of Germany.

    Through my daily prayers of thanksgiving and reflection Irma’s heart appears to be opening and in love she is beginning to share that which she has guarded for so long – as if saying to me, “Why do you want to spend time with an old woman?”

    The introductions Perpetua has made on my behalf since I was four years old continue. My Grandfather on my father’s side who was an Anglican deacon, who was loved and respected by the Mennonite and Ukrainian Orthodox communities of Saskatchewan – and who was a carpenter for the railroad has become my link to Irma’s grandson. Dr. Zbigniew Tucholski is of the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of the History of Science. Railroad history is Zbigniew’s passion and railroad history is bringing us together.

    In time, I Pray Zbigniew’s heart may also be ready to more fully open – opened slightly more through an unexpected new encounter. A simple thread of railroad history joined to families whose initial encounter occurred in Heaven, where hearts often closed are continually seeking to be more merciful and loving – slowly opening and touching lives yet to be joined eternally to theirs in Heaven.

    “Clearly Jesus is not suggesting that we walk away every time we encounter someone who disagrees with our efforts to proclaim the Gospel.”

    What Gospel are we called to proclaim? Do doctrine and tenants too often separate more than unite – do they move too many to despair?

    “I now see that these beloved people are following their consciences and as they leave are doing the last thing they can do.”

    In “. . . doing the last thing they can do,” they often separate (leave) themselves from their earthly brothers and sisters. They often close their hearts and leave – shrouding themselves in despair, often a despair many shepherds proclaim only faith in God can relieve.

    Healing the heart cannot be left to God alone, or to ‘Purgatorial Reconciliation’. It is we who are called. Called to, “Love each other as I have loved you.”

    Until we do, more and more hearts will continue to be closed, atrocities and protests like Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas will continue and become more and more frequent, too many will enter into eternal life with hearts closed and may struggle until the ‘Second Coming’ attempting to wash away the mind’s collective experiences that have shrouded the heart’s ability to love. . .

    Open hearts are open to the intercession of Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit that continually works in the most unexpected of ways. . .

  3. It is difficult to know when to walk away and sometimes even more difficult to actually do it, and do it without condemning to person who rejects my message. I’ve reflected often on how Jesus didn’t condemn the rich young man who walked away; he let him go. I’ve also wondered if the rich young man came back later, when he was ready.

    I seek to look on those who reject me or my message with love and understand that it’s not about my hurt feelings, but about where the other person is in their journey.

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