Jesus Does Improv: Holy Distraction in Ordinary Time

Jesus Does Improv: Holy Distraction in Ordinary Time July 20, 2018

Image via Pixabay/CC0 Creative Commons

This week, Jesus gets distracted.

What? Not Jesus! Jesus was a man with a plan! Jesus knew what He set out to do, and then He did it!

Not this week, friends.

Our lectionary text this week is Mark 6:30-33 and 6:53-56. Jesus and His disciples are on their way to rest. But they don’t make it. Things change on the way.

He said to [the disciples], ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd…

“… and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things” (Mk 6:30-34).

Jesus changes directions.

What is Mark trying to tell us here?

To throw our boundaries out the window and sacrifice our solitude?

To be doormats?

To stop resting?

I don’t think so. It’s important to read passages in the larger context of the book. In Mark, Jesus is always making space for solitude and prayer, and that space often fiercely protected (Mk 1:35; 6:46; 14:32).

So what is Jesus doing in this passage?

Jesus is doing improv.

The Sacred “Yes, And.”

I took an improv class last summer. It’s an understatement to say that it was a stretch for me. I’m a checkbox person with endless lists. I thrive on predictability.

Improv is not very predictable.

Improv is about the sacred “Yes, and…” 

You can’t plan improv. Bless your heart, you can try! But someone will step into “your” scene and do something bizarre that you couldn’t predict, and in that split second you have a choice – cling to the preexisting plan of “your” scene, or laugh, change course, and allow “your” scene to become “our” scene. Improv is spontaneous precisely because it is relational.

Improv can be sacred, because improv is rooted in the holy act of seeing the Other.

Improv forces us to encounter the unexpectedness of people, and to shift our own expectations to meet them exactly where they are. We’d prefer to live in a closed room, only responding to our own stimuli – my boxes, my lists, my to-do’s.

But the soul doing improv trusts that what we can make together in this shifting moment is better than what I can make alone, with a plan and a checkbox.

But I’m Not Good At Improv!

Most of us operate under a “fixed mindset,” the belief that our skills, character, and abilities are set in stone. Psychologists, though, say that a  “fixed mindset” isn’t nearly as healthy as a “growth mindset.” A growth mindset says that “we are what we practice.”

A “growth mindset” says that everyone can learn how to improvise.

We can learn how to toss our plan out the window, belly laugh, and do the new thing that bumping shoulders with the Other has made possible. Improv comes from the gut, and we can learn to silence our noisy “head voice” and cultivate a wise gut that can tell the difference between a sacred distraction and just an ordinary one.

Resilience – the root of improvisation – is a spiritual discipline, just like the faithful practices of community and courage that we’ve been working through in this Ordinary Time series.

Wait, Improv Is a Spiritual Discipline?

Some of us wince when we hear the phrase “spiritual disciplines.” We imagine rigid, hard practices – getting up early, praying for long hours, reading through the Bible in a year, tithing, working harder and longer and with less joy.

I baptized my inflexibility and called it a “spiritual discipline” for a long, long time.

I thought that growth meant becoming more rigid.

That isn’t what we see in Jesus, though.

Jesus moved from His gut, constantly responding to the Other even when it meant changing directions. Jesus’ ministry was itinerant and constantly moving, guaranteeing that He never slept in the same place twice. And while Jesus’ final purpose wasn’t shaken, on His way to Jerusalem He is flexible and creative. Jesus stops to see who touched His cloak, decides to eat at a tax-collectors’ house, changes water into wine on the fly at a wedding.

When Jesus encounters the Other, He shrugs, laughs from His belly, and does improv.

And the Spirit blesses that resiliency.

Let’s look closely at the lectionary text again. It’s in two hunks this week: Mark 6:30-34 and then 6:53-56.What happens in the middle of these passage, after Jesus gets distracted in 6:34?

Oh, just the feeding of the 5000 (Mk 6:35-44).

Just one of the most iconic miracles of Christ.

Jesus was so attuned to the moment, so ready to enter into the Spirit’s creativity, that God blessed His holy “yes, and” in an extravagantly beautiful way.

When we say “yes, and,” God makes the world explodes with joyful possibilities.

Instead of seeing our own mistakes and interruptions from the Other as failures and distractions, let’s accept them as holy invitations to participate in the jazz music of creation.

There is unexpected glory when we cultivate resilience and keep our eyes open for sacred detours that our encounter with the Other calls into being.

Say “yes, and” to the sacred improv that the Spirit is inviting you into this week!

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