Waiting for Godot

drift wood on beach

I only saw him only once. Sitting cross-legged on the concrete abutment as I was coming down the ramp off the highway. He was not one of the regulars holding up a piece of ragged brown cardboard with anything will help scrawled in black uneven letters that greeted us each morning as we drove into the city. He looked like Jesus. Oh, not the Hollywood version of the man from Nazareth, beard trimmed, just washed hair, without the forelocks, clean flowing robes, leather Italian sandals. Although in all fairness to Hollywood, they were not the only ones who get the likeness wrong. This person could have been the same age. He could have been two thousand years old, a displaced itinerant with nowhere to lay his head. His clothes are oversized, old, worn.  Scrapes from a basket. I cannot describe what he was wearing. I see only his face, and those hands. A real person. Simply sitting there. I wanted to look and not look.

A few days before another man with a scruffy brown beard stood at this same place in a rain, covered in a dark trash bag from head to toe, its top torn like a hoodie to cover a beat-up baseball cap, his beard soaked as he peers out of his makeshift body bag. He stands without moving, only his sign and his eyes beseeching. It always makes me sad, and not a little guilty, as I drive past. I have my own near homeless and struggling family members to care for I console myself. But there was something haunting in that face that haunts me still. Perhaps because in some way it was familiar, a not-so-cleaned-up version of the holy card man. The question written in ghost-marker on that remnant of cardboard where were you…The question scrawled across my consciousness?

Today the man who greeted us on our way to work was younger, tangled hair to his shoulders, unkempt beard, looking like he had just risen from a palette of rags. As I waited for the light to change, I notice he wasn’t moving. I wanted to look and not look. I assume it makes it more difficult for both of us. But the stillness of this gentleman, so quiet I kept my gaze upon him to see if he moved at all. He didn’t. It was even hard to tell if he was breathing. He appeared to be one of those art sculptures, encamped in our public spaces. But when the light changed and I drove past his eyes followed me. A painting whose eyes follow you as you move about the gallery. His eyes made its way into my soul. What was curious though was that he held no sign. He held no cup. His hands were resting, one easily cupped atop the other, his gaze distant yet piercing as I eased my way forward at the green light. What was he waiting for?

One of the first live theater productions I ever saw was Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Beckett’s two-act play is simply a conversation of an evening that takes place while two vagabonds wait for someone named Godot to come. In the process they carry on a dialogue that wanes and waxes theological/philosophical. Eventually a young boy appears and tells them that Godot is not coming. They ask the boy if Godot has ever come at all. There is no answer to this question. So ends the play as the two go off to find shelter for the night.

What was he waiting for? There was nothing remotely meditative about the city scenery blogged with construction and detour signs. Perhaps he too was waiting for Godot? The diversion of anonymous passersby? For me he was a reminder, a reminder and a challenge as I drive past on my way to toil in Pharaoh’s glass pyramid, then hurry back through interminable slow moving traffic to a gated communities in the ‘burbs. He was simply being. Being there. Waiting to wake us from our benumbed commute. Wanting to remind us we are Godot.

 

 

 

 

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Passover with Jesus and disciplesIn This Room

Today is called Holy Thursday. This is remembered as the night when Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples. It is the Seder Supper that Jews all over the world celebrated a few nights before.

This is one of my most treasured days in the Christian calendar year. The other is Pentecost. It occurred to me that both these events took place in the same place. In an upper room. Places Jesus chose to meet with, dine and pray with his companions and friends. And even his enemies, we are told.

Imagine. A city filled with festival-goers, come to Jerusalem, as they are this week, to celebrate Passover, and for Christians, the Easter season. Our Jewish friends are celebrating Passover and Christians are commemorating the week of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Jesus and his disciples are also in the holy city to celebrate Passover. Both celebrations as they continue throughout the years are intimately linked in the person of Jesus. On this night he sought a place apart, away from the crowded city, to a more private place away from the limelight where supposedly a large crowd gathered to put palms down for his passage into the city. Throughout his life, we often see Jesus going off to secluded places, away from the crush of the crowds, some who wanted to end his message, mission and his life, and others who wanted to make a king of him, but most who just wanted to listen to him and be in his presence.  In the end the epithet King of the Jews would follow him to the cross, as a mockery and warning to anyone who even appeared to challenge the authority of the Romans along with the authority of the priests, the Jewish Sanhedrin.

The Jewish people where under the rule of a foreign power again. Into this hornets nest came a man who would show them another way of looking at and living their lives, even in their current situation, captive to the long arm of Rome. With his carpenter hands, he was making something new.  With his carpenter hands, he points to another way. He would be that way. He was a man who walked out among the people and told stories that turn their hearts to him, and away from petty prescriptives and a long list of ridiculous rituals and rules.

On both this night and on the morning of Pentecost Jesus gives us a great gift. The gift of himself. He gathers to him those closest to him (for their protection as well as his) in a room where he gives himself without reservation, body, heart, mind and spirit. With his carpenter hands, he makes something that will not rot or crumble, decay or disappear. Mary’s son presided over a Passover meal where he recites the story of the Exodus of his people from slavery to freedom. It was a meal in which to remember who carried them to freedom, who they were, whose they were. And whether he knew it or not, it would mark his own passover to a new life as he makes his exodus from the captivity of death to the absolute freedom of the reign of God.

His spirit lives on – carried down through the centuries to us in the body of believers.  Because he left us his spirit this passing over to new life is ours as well. On this night, he gathers to us himself and gives us a place at the table with him.  (A table surely set by the women.)  He hands to us the gift of himself. The gift of his life. A gift without walls or barriers. A gift we can take to ourselves at any time, for the next time they gather in the upper room he gives the spirit of his life as well.  In his Spirit, we gather him to ourselves, and remember who we are. Whose we are.

Although likened to bread, a lamb, a king, a messiah, a rebel-rouser, or prophet, in this room was a man, who took the reign of God in his carpenter hands and opened the door for us that will never close.

Ephipany

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Once he came, walking the Judean roads. Over dirt and rocks, along sea shores, across the green hills down from Galilee.  Once he stopped along the road to speak words of comfort to those who were waiting for him. Many were waiting for him.

News spreads fast.

He went to the river just to see what his cousin, the wild man, was up to. But something more happened than just attempting for his family to stop John from his dangerous talk. After John, his own family would come looking for him for the same reasons.

We are told the heavens opened and a voice was heard, as he joined with the others in the water of new life. He went to rescue one but went on to rescue many. From the shores of the Jordan

News spread fast.

Have you ever wished for just one day that you could hear his voice, feel his touch, look into his eyes, hear his words, experience that presence. I have. And yet I also know

Christ comes to us in each moment of our day. His Spirit lives where we are. Rocky roads. I’ve seen a few. Quiet waters. Those too.  I only have to stop along the road, and listen for the footfall of God in my life.  I have only to Be. To Listen. Be still and you will know that I Am.  In every moment of every day, there is this still small voice speaking to us in our hearts. Look at the creature world, the world of nature and you will see not just the magnificence of this world, but feel the heart of this sacred heart, his Spirit, his wondrous wings beating with the rhythm of your heart beat and even in the cadence of your heart break.

 

 

 

 

Saved for Him – Following in the Footsteps of Jesus

footprints

We have given thanks. We have come before the altar of the Lord, figuratively or in fact. To acknowledge our blessings and share our gifts. Ourselves above all. We have listened to the angel trumpets and the sweet voices rising to the heavens to proclaim that the king of Israel still rules from valley to mountaintop. We are making a new beginning. A new year. Resolutions abound. As we take up the mantle of a new year, it is time to take the spirit of Paul with us, to walk the dusty roads of lst century Judea, and experience the man who inspired not just Paul and those who came within his orbit, but a world, one person a time.

Jesus of Nazareth is more than a one-dimensional figure of history. As a human being, a man who was perhaps a carpenter or a stonemason, a man who worked with his hands and had a life we know little about for almost thirty years. We know he was a devout Jew who believed in the tenants of the Hebrew faith, and in his very life seemed to embody the journey of his people. From the gospel accounts of his life, we know that scattered across the pages of scripture are differing view of who he was and what he was about. Even his band of disciples were at odds as to what to make of him and even to his family he was a puzzlement. He often talked in riddle-speak, challenged the status quo and turned more than tables on their heads. In other words, he upset how others viewed their lives and their world-view.

Today, to some, his message seems clean, clear cut, pragmatic, prosaic. However, it was not then and it is not now. We are loathe to make it so today, lest we miss the man, his meaning and message.

If we do not know what to make of Jesus of Nazareth, we are not alone. Evidenced by the obvious: there are four separate accounts of the ‘good news’ of his life. One of those gospels does not conform to the style of the other three, expressing what he knew of his friend in more poetic language. The Word became flesh.

My aim for 2017 is to enter into the life of Jesus of Nazareth so that the Word might become flesh in my life and perhaps in yours. Whether we realize it or not, the spirit of St. Paul pulses throughout the gospels. We are not leaving Paul behind. But weaving his message when it’s the mark with the spirit and message of the evangelists. St. Paul, as well as St. John, wanted in their own ways to empower belief in Yeshua (which means in Hebrew simply Yahweh saves) of Nazareth so that others might know that in having Jesus they/we have everything; so that all might be ‘saved’ – saved for him.

[Note: Soon you will be redirected from this site to a blog site which may be entitled Following in the Footsteps of Jesus or simply Journey with Jesus.]

Happy New Year!

 

 

God is

sheet-music

As I watched a performance of ‘sappy songs’, very emotional in the enacting as well as in the singing, I realized how important music is in our lives. I was very touched by the stories being told in the songs. The rhythm of the music matched that of the heartbeat. The singer put his whole self into the music, voice, body, soul and spirit. The music became a sort of dance in itself. There was a sense of the divine in what was happening there, not in a sappy, sentimental way but in a way that touched something other, greater, more universal in sensibility. Song, poetry, rhymed stories are as old as time itself. Music as an art is older even than the oldest art forms. Here was something making a powerful connection with its audience. I felt it as an experience of love; again, not something sappy and sentimental or even romantic but something that uplifts and moves and connects.

Stay with me. It may seem I making a leap here…but hang on.

I’ve been thinking lately about what the spirit of Christ means in our lives. The Spirit he left with his followers, and us, at Pentecost. What is that spirit?

Perhaps it feels like beautiful music feels. How the sound enters your whole being when the singer puts himself or herself into the words and music. Like the rising orchestra, it swells in the cavity of your heart, where soul launches itself and takes in all that is real and beautiful and true. Music like no other art has a purity about it. It transcends language and even cultures. It becomes part, I believe, of that love that knows, recognizes itself in the world and in others. I think that is what God is.

God as given out into the world, all of himself, breath and motion and being. What draws us and ‘decorates’ us in nature. The variable delight of seasons that transform the landscapes and how we adjust ourselves to the changing weather. How we weather weather. God is the radiance, warmth and glow of the sun. There is a correspondence between music and math. And I see the sciences ‘act’, reveal themselves in the inner workings the way in which we human beings ‘work’; function. God is the moon glow, the rising in the darkened night sky, the light that illumines the darkest night and gives way to a quiet dawning as sun slowly reveals itself lighting the world and giving the flattened nighttime world form, shape, color, density. God is bird and blooming ever in us. And sometimes hidden like the notes on a page yet to be put to string, yet knowing it is there, ready to go out into the world. We are in the eternal now. Where every piece and person says holy, holy, holy. The music of love that awaits us. The sacred fingerprint and the unsung notes of a song we keep listen for and at the same time to which we are attuned. He is the music of the roar and thunder of things gone wrong. Being stronger than the pull of the moon. Like water and light that know no boundaries. Like music that travels across the empty spaces of the world. Insisting in its rhythm of life the beat of the human heart. The push and the pull. What is taken up and will be experienced in the great crush of life all about us. The God who said I am.

I am human; I am what a human being is as well. Moments of mindless transport, forgetfulness in creating, in touching, in the dance of praise and self-expression. The pull of attraction, the desire to be, to be near, to touch, to belong, be part of something bigger. Yes, there is a universe in a grain of sand, a tree from a mustard seed, a whole being in a tear, the single note a bird sings in the morning. The sparkle of the star upon the water. The ceaseless flow of rivers. Leading us on. Carrying us across. The alpha and omega of the great rivers. The constancy. We have rivers and seas within us.

In the soft brown eyes, the touch of lips, the embrace that enfolds our being if only briefly, the smile at this moment, things lost and things found, so that one day we will know that we have been found at last. The absolute freedom of birds and bats, the wild we seek to tame, yet destroy, because this too is part of the human and the sacred, that seeks, and is ever, and always alive. I am. Which we are given not only to name but also to tame and can end. This fierce unfathomable power. The bad things that yield to the good; those things meant to get our attention if beauty does not. Things can go wrong. Things can be made right. The indomitable, intractable mystery, that remains like the echo of music, the beckoning beyond like notes we follow. So we keep pushing up through the earth, like a new shoot reaching for the light, gentled by the night, the rain, the quiet fall of snow. The unpredictable gift of this mystery. I am. The unforeseeable miracle, where the deity does deign to show us life is not as we think it is. It is more. I am that more.

Like the egg, the day, the night, our lives are ever breaking open to the new. Because, Aquinas and Aristotle, the sacred is not unmovable. The sacred became and becomes something, someone right before our very eyes. Someone who felt as we do, loved as we do, disliked power for powers sake, as we do; spoke truth to power and who died as we will. Lest we forget, shows us dying is not the end. The music goes on. Fluidly moves with the spirit to that something, the endless, unyielding rhythm of life.  Every season shows us this eternal return. The God who seems to hide himself upon the mountaintop or in the darkened cave of our hearts is there, composing the symphonies that crisscross across the rise and fall of the wind; the impress of life is upon the world and us. What each thing does is who God is, what God does. What nature is, God is. What we are, God is.

And we have only, only to be ever and always mindful of this presence. It is the music of the universe. The song God sings each morning to an awakening humanity; that hums through the day and hushes day’s end.

Why I Do This

brillant leaves

Someone recently asked me why I do this (i.e. write this blog). Well, it began as an exercise in reading the letters of St. Paul and putting down in writing for forty days of Lents a journey in Christ with St. Paul.

Why I’ve continued, however, is a rainbow of reasons. One is my need to share with others; especially when I find something I am passionate about. And I am passionate about the scriptures. And the person of Jesus Christ. If I could just convey to others what a difference he makes in our lives. And the absolute unswerving power of faith. And for me the center of this is in the scriptures, in the Word become flesh, in the person of Jesus as the Christ. Too, I search. And this is how I search. For what it means to be a Christian. How to live life in Christ.

Also, because at heart I’m a teacher (i.e. sharer). The bible is a great piece of literature. Every human experience is written there. As I watch the characters’ lives unfold, I am gain insights into the drama of my own life. I believe these stories help me understand life, help me grow and above all find God at the best and worst times of my life. I believe we are inherently oriented to grow, like living plants reaching for the sun. I know people are changed by hearing the stories of other people’s journeys. Yahweh and Yeshua of Nazareth live today in these pages. So you may see here too that I am fiercely committed to the importance of the story of Israel in understanding the story of Christianity; for the story of Israel is the story that Jesus carried with him as he entered the synagogue each Sabbath morning to read from the sacred scrolls.

This past summer a much loved professor, mentor and friend passed away. He was an ‘Old Testament’ scholar. I went to grad school enthusiastic about the Word. And Ben Asen fired my love for the Hebrew Scriptures permanently and forever. He was a great teacher, passionate about the bible, its poetry and its prophets. He gave me a great gift. I would like to pass that gift on if I am able.

The biblical characters in many real ways are still alive in us today. Alive in how we mature, or don’t, alive in the journeys we make in faith, the challenges we face from within and without, our heroism, our pluck and pint-size attempts to live more fully realized lives; alive as we wrestle with angels, cross barren deserts, succumb to our fears and doubts, try simply to survive in a foreign land, or set out from Egypt with Pharaoh on our heels; where we are often not led by the better angels of our nature but those that hobble us and leave us limping through life, when we feel or are marginalized, until upon the rough seas there appears one who will overcome the forces that toss us about and rage against a fuller life, where our sight is restored, our dis-ease becomes a better facility to navigate the shoals, where we stand taller and walk straighter, and fine we are led by the hand and heart onto that safe place, where the good news he brings prevails and no earthly force has been able to kill it.

 

 

Who Do You Say That I Am?

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The question asked by Jesus’ disciples after the calming of the storm is the theological question all our theologies, ministries, life commitments and searches for meaning bring us to: Who is this? Who is this Jesus? He asks us Who do you say that I am?

In the three gospel accounts each writer frames the story and the question in his unique style but in such a way that the disclosure takes on a deep significance, for the witness of his life. They ask questions about sign and the event foretells another in which their understanding of who their Lord is will be sorely tested once more. In the death of their leader, left adrift upon the storm-tossed seas of political agitation and social upheaval in Jerusalem, not to mention a radical new way of seeing the old covenant turning into the new, their faith will undergo its greatest peril. And it will carry them across the greatest divide. In his death, Christ’s final ‘crossing over’ occurred. As the Mark and Luke stories are framed around images of seed and of spirits, so the Passion event of Jesus is about the seed, like the Word, slumbering in its depth, in order to awaken, overcoming the natural phenomenon of death and once for all freeing his disciples from the fear giving way to a holier (and more whole) more confident Spirit.

Upon the seas they could not run away; but from the rocky slopes of Calvary they ran, their fears keeping pace with them.  They went into hiding.  They still were unable to answer the question that shadowed/dogged their retreat: “Who do you say that I am?’  This question rings in each gospel story we read, in each explicable and inexplicable moment of our lives, in our approach to the holies of holies and in our flight from the invitation before which we feel ourselves unworthy. Even with a captive audience the Lord who commanded the seas could not command their understanding.  But he had captured their hearts and would return to be present to their sinking troubled spirits.

We study theology two thousand years later still trying to understand, asking questions of faith, searching the history, the stories, the artifacts, the language, the silence and the events of his life over and over again, from this perspective and that, just as the first disciples did after retreating from what they believed was the end of everything they believed, our own hearts captured just as theirs had been and our imaginations caught up by the risen Lord who is present in our little boats upon the thalasse and lailaps of theology and our searching with us.

 

 

 

 

One for All

St. Tim's stained glass window

Jesus of Nazareth is a puzzlement. A paradoxical figure who does not become clearer to us the farther we are from lst century Palestine. The farther we get from the first more approximate witnesses to his life. But Jesus’ importance lies precisely in this strange, often off-putting man whose family thought he was crazy, posed a threat to the religious and political establishment, and was a devout Jew who worked on the Sabbath and went around with a ban of fishermen, and with any and everyone who came to his table, and even kept company with women! He not only upset the tables outside the Temple but upset everyone’s apple cart. We shy away from this Jesus. A man who stood everything his fellow Jews believed on its head. If we pay attention to his whole story, not just the parts we are comfortable with, that carry more sentimentality than truth or have been emphasized to the exclusion of others, we are faced with a person whose image cannot be sprayed with fixative or content ourselves with neat or systematic pictures of this man. And by wanting to assert his divinity – his extraordinary closeness to God – much of him and his reason for living and dying have been eclipsed.

One thing we can say with some certainty. He provoked change. He invited transformation. He stood at a moment in time between the faith of his fathers, the patriarchs of Israel, and a faith that would follow him and gather together, take up faith in the God of Life, Yahweh, and transform how we would now see, know and experience God, because now God has a human face. As the echoes of Isaiah gather about him, he brought once more the good news, now in his person, where God’s cause became his. Where God’s promise might yet come about.

He took up the cause of the marginal and dispossessed, of outcasts and of sinners, of lepers and prostitutes, the disfigured and the demented. Because of this he would be betrayed, betrayed so that he could become the one through whom (like Joseph) the betrayed and outcasts, the slaves and the homeless, could be numbered among the elect.

The history of the world collapsed on Calvary, as Jesus secured a place in the kingdom of God for those who were believed to be set outside this kingdom. On that hill he held the history of the Jews in himself, their suffering and their cries to their Lord, their beliefs and hopes, their sense of forsakenness and the deafening silence of false gods. All of history that would follow culminated there as well, in him who would stand for, live and die for all who would come after and follow in the footfall of his people through the vast wilderness of plenty and loss, suffering and chaos, hardship and the endless renewal of life which would rise out of the collapse of the world as he breathed his last. In him Israel would rise. In him all that have come after would rise as well. Rise to the possibility and promise of life saved, redeemed and whole.

He came for many. For many he lived. To many he taught. And for many he healed. But in the end he died for all. He died, not for sins, but for all, so that we might become healed and whole, and experience in him the reign of the Holy One of Israel in our lives. For he too could say, echoing the words of Joseph, you meant it for evil, but God – my Father – meant it for good. And Jesus was and is that good.

 

 

 

You Meant it For Evil…

Day Lily open

At the end of Genesis is the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph goes on a long and arduous journey, sent out from home, betrayed by his brothers, taken as a slave in Egypt where he rises from the lowly shepherd-servant to the great vizier in Pharaoh’s court, second only to Pharaoh in power. Joseph grows from wounded to wisdom. If you read the story carefully you will see that Joseph’s journey mirrors our own. Each event in his life is a place that we too pass through on our own journey’s to wholeness and maturity. This is a very human paradigm, which coincides with the passages that we make in this adventure called life. In Joseph we see the sacred design we are enacted in the drama of this one person’s life as the story of creation closes.

Because Joseph is in Egypt and in charge of the management when a famine comes, he will be able to send for his family and save the ones who betrayed him from starving to death. Save the family of Jacob-Israel to become a nation with a far reaching destiny. Like our lives too, Joseph’s life is informed by dreams, dreams Joseph knows how to interpret. For he is not only shepherd, but also the wise dreamer. Near the end of the story when Joseph’s brothers finally recognize who he is, they are fearful that he will retaliate for the evil they did to him. But, now knowing that it is the hand of Yahweh that has led them all to where they are, he tells them: You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.

There is another well-know story of a journey, that ends with much the same words Joseph spoke to his brothers. It is the journey that Jesus makes and the words the risen Christ echoes to those he met along the road, by the lakeside in the Upper Room. For God sustained and journeyed with Joseph throughout his life. It is this same God, the God of Israel, who sustained and brought Jesus beyond (even) death. At the close of Genesis, out of the garden, from tree of life, to the tree of death, to another garden, at the close of Jesus’ earthly life, we are reminded once more, that the gift was not lost when we left the garden, but continues in unhampered freedom as the good will of God to all of his creation, to all of us.