When ground is not ground and hope is not hope.

Mary Magdala Community

“When Ground is not ground and Hope is not hope.”         Thoughts on 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  July 16, 2017

by Rev. Jim Ryan,  jimryan6885@gmail.com

On this midsummer Sunday we have a philosopher’s delight.  Instead of completing the Crossword Puzzle on a beach plying appropriate amounts of sunscreen, we have word play nonetheless.  Here’s why.

Take the word “ground.”  In today’s parable, Jesus speaks of good ground which is the most receptive as well as the most fruitful medium for the seed that is sown.  I imagine it is likely that we look at this ground as a foundation.  The fruitful, productive capacity may further be interpreted as a sign of ethical ground and the good virtue that is applied.  But, the ground is already good.  Isn’t that the sign of a well-lived life?  Remember, Christians came late to ethics.  Two thousand years before Jesus was born the Chinese lived ethical lives apart from Christian seed.  Five hundred years before Jesus it was Socrates who set the scene for the ethical good among his Greek contemporaries.  So, good ground and its fruit must not be about ethics.

Neither is good ground about foundation.  At least that’s the thought I would like to explore here.  Perhaps we hear this parable from the standpoint that good ground is about “getting things right.”  I’m sure you know what I’m getting at.  How many of us were brought up with the notion that getting through life is about learning lessons well – especially of the biblical type – and then applying them to how to live life well.

The foundation, in other words, is that unshakeable ground of certainty which the institutional church claims to possess, and which it dispenses to the faithful authoritatively.  Yes, it’s ground as foundation.

Here’s where I ask, “What if ground is not ground?”  What if life’s most challenging moments are actually more like being/feeling groundless?  It turns out that for the past 100 years or so this very question has concerned no small amount of philosophers and other thinkers.  This is so because it has become increasingly clear that our experience of life – particularly in its most challenging moments – is more about ground-shaking events that present open choices before us.  And our decisions that have worked best for us, more than likely, are the ones, admittedly informed by resources and previous lessons learned, that involve a vision of the future.

This experience of life’s moments as groundless events is what the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger called Dasein (being there).  It is the experience of waking up one fine day only to ask myself, “How the _____ did I get here?”  And, “How will I move forward?”  Perhaps we acknowledged in that experience that moving forward may not be about applying grounded foundations.  When ground is not ground, it is more likely an event that shakes the ground at our feet.

This event that is good ground, which gives us the gift of the future, requires hope. Which leads us to the second part of this word-play on life.  It is the insight we gain when hope is not hope.

So, here goes.  Hope is a workhorse of a word.  It is like the word “thinking.”  We use the same word (thinking) to refer to meal planning, how to make change, etc.  This is the same word we use to describe the experience of gaining the deepest insights and revelations.  It’s all thinking.  The ancient Greeks recognized differences in what the word indicates.  At its highest (or, deepest?) they taught/believed that when one thinks then that person shares in what the gods do.  Thinking is the divine experience.

Hope is like this.  For example, I hope I’ll get in the shortest check-out line at the grocery store.  Or, I hope I don’t lose my keys.  Or, I hope I won’t forget so much.  At the same time we have a hope that completely surpasses these other “hopes.”  Our hope, as the Letter to the Romans says, is in the “glorious freedom of the children of God.”  This hope is not our smaller hopes.  This hope looks to the future, the great unseen future, and says, “Yes!”  This hope says, “When I die, I want to be surprised, not assured, about what’s next for my life/spirit.”

How does one live out this event – called life – that looks to a future of new ground and new hope?  Romans give us a couple of guideposts (Romans 8:18-27).

One is the struggle between subjection and freedom.  We can choose to be subjected to “foundations” of antiquated grounds.  Or we can choose freedom – choose to keep as direct a relationship as possible between hearing the Word and acting upon it.

A second guidepost is the struggle between groaning inwardly or interceding with the Spirit’s help and her wisdom.  Turn your groanings into prayer.  Intercede for the future that, while yet unseen, is possible.

With such guideposts we are well positioned to live actively and positively in the face of groundlessness and hopelessness.  When ground is not ground and hope is not hope it’s then that our vision expands and we anticipate, even embrace, the unseen.

There lies the hundredfold (Matthew 13:1-23).

It’s also where a philosopher’s word-play just might provide a language to share in our gathering in the Spirit – wherever and whoever she is.

A Prayer  (JR)

May we help the ones who need us, O God.

May we serve the needs of those who do not pray here, or maybe anywhere.

May your Spirit remove our inward groaning and replace it with hope.

In all our prayer may we reach beyond limited visions

in order to act with confidence in your future that calls us forward.

You are Creator, Redeemer, and Holy Spirit of all we cannot see,

yet in which we still believe.


Rose Margaret (Doyle) Ryan, July 16, 1919 – January 7, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mom!

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