“You’re a sweetheart,” I tell my daughter. I tell her this at least once a day. I think it sinks in. I wonder how many other moms are telling their thirty-six-year-old daughters the same thing when their daughter is sitting on their lap or lying down next to her on the couch? Not too many, I’d guess. But life with Temma is always different. Every time I tell Temma she’s a sweetheart I look into her eyes, that are often darting back and forth, is it with seizure activity or that’s just what her eyes do? Her eyes are a blue color, and, when she’s not sleepy they seem to radiate a sense of wonder. Wonder at what’s going on. Wonder at where that voice sound just came from. Or maybe they are reflecting my own wonder about her. What are you thinking? How are you thinking? Who are you? How does your brain work?
We do some reflecting back and forth to each other. Her reflection back to me of my dignity is something I’ve recently come to name as one of her gifts, a gift that enables me to live into that dignity and give it to others. Temma seems to live every moment of her life in the present. There is no past remembering or future expecting in her world. There is only the now. And in the now there is a dignity, she lives a complete and full innocence. In her presence there is a dignity that is the center of our home.
There was a time I wanted to escape her world, put her away somewhere where I did not need to know or remember her. There may come a time when I may not be able to sustain the care of her world along with her small team including her dad and our friend. For now, I am an intimate part of her world and she of mine. I’m grateful for that.
This summer I’ve re-entered a short season of preaching every Sunday. Here is one of my sermons, part of a series on Developing Soul Traits, adapted from and expanded on a Jewish curriculum called Tikkun Midott. The Hebrew word Kavod is one of the soul traits that can be translated as Dignity.
This morning’s small piece of Scripture written by Dr. Luke (Luke 10:38-42) is another one so familiar to us that makes it difficult to see with fresh eyes and hear something new. Ironically, it has often been used to keep women oppressed and in their place serving and tidying and preparing food in the kitchen. Jesus enters into their world, what the academic Carol Gilligan calls women doing good and feeling bad for it. I don’t know whether to be glad for this small snippet of Scripture, or to rue the day that Dr. Luke wrote it and the decision was made long ago to keep it in our Testament. The reading and translation of it has given women a lot of woe. It has been used as another way to keep women pitted against each other, keeping us diverted from the real truth, that none of us has known any real dignity in our soul for who we are, who God has made us to be. Given choices over our own bodies, shown honor and respect through equal pay and equal education.
Oh…so let’s enter that home with Jesus this morning in the light of the soul trait of kavod, translated as respect, honor, or dignity. When we ask “Who is dignified?” it does not mean, “Who is made dignified by other people,” as is the common understanding. What value is there in being dependent on other people giving you dignity? Rather, “Who is dignified? One who knows her own dignity and gives dignity to all people. Kavod is teaching that the gaze of one person to another is like glancing in the mirror—if her face is dirty she will see in the mirror a dirty face. So it is the same when a person looks at the other—the amount that she is holy and healed internally, so she will look more generously upon the other and see good attributes.
Kavod is less about fame or recognition and more about an inner soul awareness of one’s holiness. Kavod is another soul trait—like hitlamdut and anavah—that is shown in external behaviors that come from the soul, a deep inside understanding that I am holy, you are holy, and the world is holy. The prophet Isaiah records a vision of the angels calling out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Divine Host, the entire world is filled with God’s Kavod.” We call it the Great Thanksgiving in our communion service. “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your kavod, Hosanna in the Highest, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”
When we understand our inner holiness, our significance, we will act with Kavod. The word Kavod comes from the Hebrew root word meaning heavy or weighty. Its opposite, koala or curse, is a word meaning light or insignificant. When I relate to someone with due seriousness I honor her, and if I treat her lightly it is as if I curse her. Honoring others is a kind of diagnostic. Someone who can recognize the holiness in the other is one who has a connection to her own holy soul. When we need and seek recognition from others it is a sure sign that we lack a deep sense of our holiness and Kavod.
Back to our story. Jesus, writes Dr. Luke is on his way to Jerusalem. He’s stopping at villages and cities along the way with the message that the healing, restoration, the hope of God’s kingdom is close at hand, the healing of our souls and the healing of our world. Dr. Luke writes that when Jesus enters this village, Martha greets him and invites him to her home for a meal. Maybe she has heard what happens when Jesus is invited not your home with dignity and honor. Jesus accepts. And no doubt many of his followers enter Martha’s home with him. This is a generous invitation. Martha’s sister, Mary also shows Jesus dignity. She welcomes Jesus in and offers the space for him to give his message, sitting at his feet with the other disciples.
Martha comes into the room from the kitchen, pulls Jesus aside and says something like, “Would you please tell Mary that I need her help. There are a lot of people here and if they are all to be fed, there is a lot of work to be done.” Rather than rebuking Martha or going ahead and rebuking Mary, Jesus looks at Martha and recognizes the weariness in Martha’s soul. Jesus here is offering Martha kavod. He is not rebuking her. Rather he is lifting her up, wanting to take the burden from her and give her freedom and dignity. I think Martha’s soul must have been tired. Her anxious work and resentment that Mary and Jesus are not equally anxious and working comes from a tired soul, a soul out of touch with her own dignity and respect. What could have been Martha’s offering of a meal with dignity and honor has instead become a means of anxiety. How many of us have experienced anxiety over what could have been an opportunity for offering dignity? Oh my, even me, experiencing anxiety over writing and preaching of this sermon that could be an opportunity of offering dignity to each one of you!
I’m reminded of Jesus’ other story of the prodigal father who lavishes a feast on the son who returns home while the elder brother is living anxious and resentful outside the house when he could have walked right in and joined in the love party. “Why are you giving this ungrateful brother a party,” the elder son asks when the father goes out to speak with him. “Oh, my son, everything I have is yours. Com in, join the party with dignity.”
Ah…but you may say. Who would have fixed the meal if both Martha and Mary were entering into the talking and learning and spirit-gathering? I don’t know. Maybe they all would have prepared the meal together! Maybe there would have been a child in the crowd ready to share his fish sandwich with his neighbors. Martha, come in and receive rest and healing for your soul. Remember who you are, a beloved, holy woman.
Jesus recognizes Martha. It’s not that Jesus is telling Martha to stop her housework, that sitting and learning and listening from a teacher is any better than manual labor. It’s that the work or the study comes out of a sense that all of who we are and what we do is a reflection of God’s holiness. That both the kitchen and the study are filled with God’s holiness.
When you’re practicing the healing of your soul by offering kavod, you begin to know and see the holiness of God in yourself, not dependent of anyone else’s approval but the holiness of God. Offering Kavod is a creative act. Ideally it flows from a recognition of the holiness of the other. It can be as simple as having a warm smile, but takes practice to develop. Each person’s soul is different. What might seem like Kavod to one person may be insulting to another. Practicing it on a regular basis can help us see what works well. The more we refine our own souls and know our own value, the easier it becomes for us to value the other.
The whole of Jesus’ ministry was to establish a community so convinced of their Belovedness to God that they proclaim the Belovedness of others. You are called and chosen is for the sake of letting all others know they are chosen too! Kavod is a massive act of owning and accepting your humanness as a gift from a God who deeply loves you. As we adjust our thinking of this work as rehumanizing those who have been dehumanized, Belovedness, holiness is essential in our work as a church. Which is why non-anxiousness, non-fear, non-violence that comes from our soul is the way. when we imagine ourselves as part of God’s Kin dom, we are instantly called to bring about its presence here and now.
This is the way of the Beloved Community:
Claim your Belovedness: love God, love self.
Then give it: love others, love the world. . . .