pay attention, be amazed, tell about it

instructions for living: pay attention. be amazed. tell about it. — mary oliver

there is nothing so expensive, really, as a big, well-developed, full-bodied preconception. — e.b. white

all the people were beside themselves and filled with awe, they glorified god, saying, “we’ve seen unimaginable things today.” — luke 5: 26 

There is this strange story in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus is teaching some of his followers in someone’s home. Disciples are probably present as well as a number of social outcasts and even a handful of pharisaic critics and legalists surveying the inappropriate crowd and waiting for a chance to pounce when Jesus crosses the familiar, traditional terrain of their religion. And a crowd is pressing at the doorway to get in – some to hear better, others for a healing word or touch. And that’s when the ceiling opens up as some men on the roof decide to take it apart in order to lower their friend in on a mat so he can receive that healing word.

Jesus is impressed by the interruption, even amazed, and tells him, “Your sins are forgiven.” And that’s the moment the legalists were waiting for. “You can’t do that, you’re not God.” Jesus replies, “Would it be easier to say, ‘Get up and walk’? I’m saying the same thing, “You are not your past, your illness, your doubt or fear, your habitual, self-sabotaging ways. You are more than that… The Human One, the Source of Life in all of us says so.” And the guy is healed. And everyone is amazed and in awe of what they saw. And maybe the guy does jump up and run off like a scene from a Benny Hinn television Power Hour.

But that’s truly not what catches me up and troubles me about this story. In fact, this story troubles me in a way that I struggle to explain, but I will try.

I am troubled, and fascinated, with it because it illustrates two simultaneously real experiences for someone seeking to know God – the clever, mischievous, even somewhat desperate means some must go to to find consolation, healing, wholeness, or a deep connection to life… and the sudden, upending of one’s understanding of just how that all works, of how “wholeness” happens.

The various versions of the bible all translate this verse, Luke 5: 26, differently — one saying, “they were amazed”, another “filled with fear”, another says “awestruck” and yet another, my favorite, the Orthodox Jewish version says, “astonishment grabbed everyone!”  But I think the Common English Bible gets closest to the meaning of the Greek word “ekstasis” in vs 26 — “all the people were beside themselves”. There is something about finding wholeness and healing, and God, that involves “being beside oneself”. When you look at the etymology of the word “amazement”, its earliest root meanings had to do with “being upended, a displacement of reality, exposing delusion, experiencing bewilderment”. And it’s as if you could see this story might be suggesting that a path for connecting with wholeness involves a willingness to take apart our assumptions about who we are, and who others are to us, in order to see our deeper, sacred, wholeness with one another… we are all part of this Human One.

This Sunday, August 11, in eleven:eleven, we continue the series, Are We There, Yet — a Spirituality of Place, as we look at the idea of how our travel and even our daily encounters with “others” invite us to experience amazement.

I hope to see you then!


Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven

Memorial Service for Larry Anders

August 18 at 12:30 pm
Historic 512 Ballroom
Reception and light meal to follow.

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