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City on the Hill

I’ve started attending a contemplative prayer gathering. The process starts with twenty minutes of silent meditation on any devotional word that comes to mind. Then we read a passage from the Bible three times, allowing time between each recitation for it to settle, until a single word or phrase stands out from the text. After sharing our personal reflections, we close with reflections from the greater church on the passage, allowing us to project our personal focus against the longer backdrop of Christian experience.

This week’s passage was Matthew 5:13-16, the famous “You are the salt of the earth.” Most of the reflections celebrated both the salt and the light. But before the incongruous image of the city on the hill, I heard a contrast in Jesus’s assertion:

But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

This was the condition of the people – their kings and priests had sundered their bond with God, and the Romans arrived to trample them underfoot.

I held my tongue, though, as the gathering celebrated the qualities of salt, only after the meeting had ended calling the facilitator over to engage her in discussion. When I suggested that Jesus was offering a metaphor on the condition of his people, I felt truth cementing our connection. She did not repel it, as so many do when confronted with a contradiction of received wisdom, but bowed her head and said “Yes, that is how it was.”

So I continued, as I have never been allowed before, observing that Jesus was proclaiming that they were no longer salt, because he was making them a light to the world. He, the lamp lighter, would not hide their light, but send them forth to inspire faith in God. And she simply continued to nod, saying  “Yes, yes. Brian, you have a gift.”

We talked further, affirming each other. The things she said were so terribly confounding. I have decided to move out to Port Hueneme, seeking to find simple people with open hearts who don’t ask “What’s the price?” when they are offered a gift. It is a form of withdrawal from the world, which has given me some deep wounds recently. But I woke up this morning, and realized that nobody in my life had ever said what she said to me, an affirmation that sums up to this:

Brian, people need you. They might not realize it; they may even act frightened of you. But keep on doing what you are doing. They need to hear what you have to say.

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