Love comes first

I just have to say, I love the new Pope. Even though I am an Episcopalian, I am so delighted to see a man who follows in the footsteps of the fisherman and truly understands, knows and lives what Jesus was all about. Truly he has opened the arms of the church wide to all. Like Jesus before him, everyone is welcome at his table no matter what you have done.

St. Paul says we are God’s work of art. In Genesis all that God created he said was good. We are all on the potter’s wheel. And God is not an extra-terrestrial task master. He is the I Am Who Am who identified himself as the personal sacred Reality of our lives. The God who pitched his tent among us, and continues to journey with us, to ensure that we get home safely. The churches’ emphasis on sin has kept many people from approaching its doors, let alone its altars. St. Paul says love comes first. Then people can change. Its not the other way around. Change your life and I will love you. That wasn’t Jesus’s program and the church has done a great disservice to gospel message by often making this the focus of its preaching.  Jesus invited all kinds of people to his table. Jesus ate and went around with people from all walks of life, those his society deemed ‘unclean’ or outcast. In a time when ritual purity was so important Jesus looked past this to the person, to their hearts and saw that it is the heart that counts.

Perhaps the churches can turn their focus and follow in another fisherman. Let us know we are God’s work of art. We are created in image and likeness. We are good because what God has made is good. That first and foremost we are loved. No matter what we do. For who we are is more important to Jesus and his Father.

This is how the kingdom comes. In love. One person loving the other. Then another. Until all humankind finds itself in this embrace and the kingdom has truly come to be in our midst.

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The Blooming Season of the Spirit

  Day Lily open

I know that my Savior liveth and he shall stand as the light of day upon the earth, and even though this body be destroyed, I know that I shall see him for myself and not as a stranger.

July is upon us. And my day lilies are in bloom. But they only last a day. That is why they are called day lilies! But while they bloom I want to capture their beauty. I have a lot of watercolor paintings of day lilies, trying to do just that. I have to be quick. As soon as they go into an arrangement I start the drawing. I do take photographs for reference to paint from after they shrivel up and fall off the stem. But when I look at the photographs, it just doesn’t quite capture what I see with my naked eye. And I have a really good camera. But when I look at the flowers directly or anything for that matter, I see things the camera doesn’t. Nuances of color, subtlety of shape, the lines within the petal that seems to be a pathway into the flower and off to its edge. Even the edges are more pronounced. With the actual flowers in front of me I can get a panorama, and a much better sense of the relationship of one flower to the others. And I love the pods. There are so many. Which rather off sets their short flowering, because the next day there will be others popping into view. The trick is devoting a couple of weeks to the adventure and challenge of trying to capture their beauty on paper. I think that’s why artist like to paint flowers. There is a beauty in them that we just have to replicate. Take with us. Make them ours for more than just the blooming season.

I think our soul life, our spiritual life, imitates nature in this way as well. We have ‘blooming’ seasons, when the self seems to open to the Spirit. The light of the Son falls upon us and we reach for its radiance. We bloom. We are in the state of becoming and growth. Open to the greater possibilities life offers, when we take the time to just look. Life in full bloom is a life lived in Christ. Open to his Spirit shining in our lives.

Others may hold pictures or image of the story of Jesus, of the Christ life, up to us, for us to look at. There are so many views; from which angle do we make our approach, to capture or convey something that is so real yet often so elusive? St. Paul tried to do it in his letters. In Philippians he says to put on the mind of Christ. I think it’s in the mind’s eye, in the heart’s eye, our own, that we see for ourselves the truth and the beauty of his flowering in our lives. To look directly and squarely at the gospel stories and let our eyes find what only we might see there. To get a better sense of the relationship from one parable to the next. In this direct gaze, which seems to ever be beholding a blooming season that never ends, we might be able to capture a truer likeness. And in that radiance better see our own flowering there.

 

 

 

 

Under the Rainbow

rainbow over water  I often wish I had the spirit of Georgia O’Keefe, so I could paint beautiful close-up images like hers that take over your entire view when you look at them. Or the spirit of Walt Whitman in order to create a sustained homage to nature. Of course, I can imitate other artists, looking long at an O’Keefe painting or reading Whitman’s poetry hoping to catch the spirit from which their work sprang. Artist and poet look at the world more intensely, with more intentionality, so that every day things like a piece of drift wood or even the tiniest blade of grass come to life in a way that allows us into their singular vision, and enlarges ours. Mary Oliver meanders through the woods early in the mornings with her notepad, watching and waiting for the deer to come down and drink at the pond, or the flower to open at the first light of day. I often read her poems of a morning as I would the psalms, wanting to enter into the spirit of the world that she has been able to capture in well-chosen words. Her poetry also brings with it a sensibility for the sacred and the blessed in our world.  As the artists opens other worlds for us, we glimpse this world with more truth, beauty and grace.

Jesus left his Spirit with us in a very decisive and intentional way. Two thousand years later how do I come upon his Spirit? How does his Spirit enter into you and I so we might see more truth, beauty and grace in the world and in ourselves? Can I look at his life and his ‘work’, what is left to us of him, so I can enter into the Life of his Spirit? Shall I watch and wait for his Spirit to come down from Galilee to the river, or like St. Paul says, ‘walk according to the Spirit’ (Romans 8:4) looking for the day to open its broad petals across the landscape.

We are the people of Pentecost. On that day Jesus poured his Spirit out upon the world, like a rainbow of colors spilling down, transparent, washing over us all, the felt experience of his life. His Spirit is like the rainbow in Genesis that the Lord set in the clouds as a sign of his promise and blessing upon the earth and all the people in it.(Gen.9:13) Christ’s Spirit remains too as both promise and blessing. The promise of our becoming and the blessing by which we are touched by his Life in his Spirit. He is with us too in a reign of words that comes down to us in stories about him. Whatever he did and whatever he said, he was unforgettable. Surely some sacred Spirit created in those whose lives he touched the need to tell others what they knew of him, so that we too might get a glimpse of him from the distance of two thousand years and today enter into his Spirit, and into the timelessness of his presence as it remains with us.  Perhaps all I need do is stand under the rainbow and believe.

Freedom, a Secular and Sacred Trust

Pentecost red ribbons                                   4th of July

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

These are St. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians. In a few days we will celebrate the 4th of July, Independence Day. This country’s victory to gain freedom and pursue life, liberty and pursue happiness on our own terms. This is the American spirit.  It is also the gift we call free will. It is the ultimate freedom to choose. To choose who we are, how to lives our lives, and how to practice our beliefs. At the core, this is the freedom those who came here fought for and for which many died.

Having said that, I am also painfully aware of the history of this county which continues to spill into the present, where liberties were denied, freedoms are withheld.

          The interesting thing about spirit is that unlike the body its very nature is its ability to be at liberty. The inherently sacred nature of our humanity is bestowed with this spirit of freedom. Freedom is a sacred trust. Stories of faith are fraught with journey narratives where the protagonist’s/hero’s goal is freedom. The story of Israel which began with Abram/Abraham is such a story. A people seeking to be free of Pharaoh, free from Exile, of her oppressors. When Jesus came upon the scene, she wanted to be free of Roman rule. But the Galilean carpenter had another idea of what freedom meant. It was a freedom within, whose only rule was the reign of God. He told us stories so we too might make our own journey with more insight and understanding, and perhaps the awareness of the presence and experience of the Spirit carrying us to the new land of our truest and most free selves.

          Long before Jesus came on the scene, a Hebrew shepherd boy, who lost his home, his family and his country, and became a slave in Egypt, had something also to tell us about captivity and freedom. For Joseph, the son of Jacob/Israel, came to realize that in the most foreign circumstances nothing is foreign to the Spirit of the Lord God. Even in the prison of our lives a light can begin to dawn. In the darkest, deepest prison we can be most free because we carry our freedom within as a rescuing presence, a redeeming love. A love that redeems not just us but the circumstances of our lives as well. This is Genesis’ final revelation. Our humanity is shaped by a sacred design, endowed with a sacred spirit ever available to us.

          Life’s purpose is often hidden within the unlikely path, the unintended journey, the fall from the garden or from grace, the fall into the abyss as it appears to harbor the absence of God. We are a sacred design created for good, for well-being, that no prison can prevail against. In the midst of suffering and loss, in betrayal, alienation, captivity, in our most unfreedom, we are most free in the Spirit that journeys with us, the Spirit that is often seen by others rather than ourselves as we struggle with the daily round that challenges the awareness of Spirit dogging us to the awareness of the sacred in our lives. The Spirit of the Lord of Life is the way in which we are free, successful, whole. For it is God that is the definition of what it means to be whole. The deepest human bondage is no barrier for the sacred available to us, not instead of but along with all we carry with us into bondage and captivity. We have built altars to the processes that would care and cure the captivity and bring us release through self-understanding and insight; to the crumbling altars of our displaced hopes where we worship the false gods of processes that only further imprison us. The life of Joseph and Jesus, along with the letters of St. Paul, remind us that even death or being forgotten can stay the presence of the Spirit of Christ Jesus who is for us wholeness, his Spirit the freedom that is ours, which grows brighter as we turn into the image and likeness we reflect.

Enjoy and be thankful for Independence Day.

 

The Earthed Spirituality of Christ

 

 footprints    Recently my twelve year old grandson said something rather profound. He wasn’t going for profundity, but rather was instructing his grandmother on the art of football. He said that in football never let your feet leave the ground. That’s when you get hurt. He explained: Don’t jump over people or jump on top of the other guy(s). My grandson knows whereof he speaks.

Seems to me this can apply to life as well. We often associate the spiritual life with living in some airy fairy world that is above or even beyond our all-too-real lives. That it floats above us in some rarified atmosphere that we must jump through hoops to access. That spirituality is something over and above human life, real life.  It seems Pentecost is saying something different. That the Spirit of Christ that comes to us is that of a real person who embodies both the human and sacred. His Spirit endows us with his image and likeness. With his humanity as well as his sacredness. This spirituality is a grounded spirituality. Grounded in Christ. Grounded in our very real and often difficult lives, as it was in his.  It is my experience that unless we have your two feet firmly planted in your life, God cannot put his two foot there either. And when we do and he does, nothing we do can separate us, as Paul says, from the love, the experience, the presence of Christ Jesus.

Paul talks about modeling ourselves on the lived example that Christ embodied. Paul often too refers to the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ seen in his actions. What we observe first and foremost is a man living an authentic life true to who he knew himself to be. He was in solidarity with others; celebrating their marriages, eating and drinking with his friends, for which he was roundly criticized, tending to their physical and spiritual needs, standing between himself and evil spirits, and talking to those who began to follow him, telling them stories about another way of being which he called the kingdom. He sought to give others sight, and new ways of looking at life, and at his Father, whom he said we could see in him. So why is the way we look at God, so very different from how we see Jesus? Or at least how he is represented in the gospel accounts of his life. He wanted others to hear, not the old ways, which obviously were not only not working, but were causing people more difficulties than intended. And what he intended, what he wanted for his followers, was a different kind of peace, a different way of living the faith of Israel, which he now embodies in his Spirit.

It is this Spirit, his Spirit that has been given us. One that gives life. One that is real, earthed, and is an abiding presence, the awareness of which he tried valiantly to bring to our attention by his very life and humanity, a presence that would was not, is not, deterred by those killing his body. The man who walked the Road to Emmaus and sat by the sea shore cooking breakfast for his friends, was again, showing us that the realm of heaven, of the eternal, of the sacred, is one with this world of flesh and blood, earth and sky, road and seashore, which nothing can deter, restrain, contain or destroy. For his Spirit is absolutely the Spirit of freedom. The Spirit of love. The Spirit of an abiding presence that is as close as the wind on our faces, as real as our heart beats and as available to us as our believing it is so.

Imagine the Possibilities

Pentecost red ribbons  Pentecost redeems the Tower of Babel. Many languages were being spoken out there on the streets beneath the upper room on that Pentecost day where a great wind caught twelve plus anxious men and women in the grips of something that changed not only their lives but the way we view the world and mark history.

We are in the season of the Holy Spirit. And in all truth, since the day of that first Pentecost, when the world was lit by the fire and language of the Spirit, Pentecost is the ever-present reality of our lives each and every day, no matter what church or natural season in which we find ourselves.

This Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. St. Paul tells us that it is this Spirit that has come to make its home in us. In his letter to the Romans Paul characterizes the essence of the spirit as freedom.  He interchanges Spirit of Christ and Spirit of God in this letter. But they are one and the same Spirit. The נשימה that breathed over the waters at the creation, the ruach which in the Hebrew Scriptures can be variously translated wind or spirit or breath.

One of the Hebrew names for God is Ruach Elohim. The first impression of those assembled in the upper room was of a wind. A wind that overtook their sensibilities. A wind that brought the fire of the spirit. In that moment we became lit with the Spirit of Christ moving in our lives. In that upper room a window opened to eternity. To divinity. To the sacred possibility within us. Opens us to the Spirit of One made whole, human and sacred showing himself fully alive, alive to the Ruach Elohim and now fully alive in us.

When Jesus showed himself risen he carried the Ruach Elohim to us. In him Spirit and Body became one indivisible reality of the human person. He crushed the head of dualism. And in him the Ruach Elohim came to its fullest expression in the human person. The Word breathed over the waters at Creation became flesh. And when the Word became flesh, as St. Paul would say, we became a new creation.

Like Mary seeded by the Ruach Elohim at Jesus’ conception, we are now in Christ, seeded with the limitless possibilities of his Spirit. Each day is a little pentecost. We are his first-fruits. The bounty of his becoming in us. In his Spirit, in the emerging pentecost of each new day, we rise to a new harvest, a new way of being, which holds the limitless possibilities of our humanity, now in him, made whole. Human. Sacred. Meant.

Pentecost and Peonies

Forty Days With St. Paul

  IMG_0828        Pentecost is just past and I am reminded that Pentecost was already a feast that Paul and the other followers of Christ celebrated. It is the feast of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit that transformed the world in Christ. Like the gift of springtime, Pentecost brings us the gift of the Spirit.
Also, during the Pentecost season both my peonies and irises bloom. Like Pentecost, peonies are my favorite flower. Each year I take copious photographs and make arrangements of them to paint and capture their fleeting beauty on canvas. It seems appropriate that peonies bloom at Pentecost because the word for peony in German is Pfingstrose. It means Spirit Rose. It is a gift in my garden just as the Holy Spirit is Christ’s gift to us.
Moving throughout Paul’s letters, as he goes about guiding people in this new faith in Christ, is the Holy Spirit…

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With One Heart

 Pentecost red ribbons  They weren’t drunk. Although to most it sounded as if they were. They seemed to have been under the influence of some kind of spirits. And they were.

Jesus has appeared to the women, to Peter and the other disciples who came on shore to have breakfast with Peter and Jesus. Along with all the others he has been a presence to all those he loved in the world. Even Thomas who was not with the others, was given a chance to touch him in his wounded place. For like us, it is often in our wounded places that we touch and are touched by the presence of Christ.

It’s this presence that comes breaking through the walled barriers of the upper room on Pentecost. It is one of Jesus’ final manifestations after he came back from death. But it is not his physical presence but his Spirit that comes as fire upon the disciples. No closed doors, no walls, and not even their fears and doubts could keep the promised Spirit of Christ away from them. And it is Peter who realizes what is going on. Peter, who has gone through so much, been tested in his own fire, and the call to care for those he has been given, that is able to see that what has come upon them is the intoxication of the Spirit. The Spirit of Christ. In that same Spirit, the disciple who once ran away, now stands up. Peter has finally got it. He will keep the Lord in his sights for the remainder of his days. He knows now the way of life. Their fear and sorrow has turned to joy in the presence of the living Christ.

Jesus has stood on the hill just outside Bethany, blessing them and then appears to have arisen into the heavens, departing them this one last time.

Everyone in Jerusalem is overtaken by the sending of the Spirit, and they began to hear what the disciples were saying in their native tongues. It is the first convening of the United Nations. No translation or translator was needed. The disciples of Jesus would leave the upper room and the day of Pentecost and go out to live together with one heart. The heart of Christ.

With the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, the language of the soul was given voice. St. Paul talks about being in Christ. Being in Christ for him is about living in his Spirit. And when we live in the Spirit of Christ, who can come like fire, or like a gentle wind, or tug at your heart, as Paul says in Romans, the Spirit of Christ, has made a home in us. And abides with us in the absolute freedom of the Spirit which knows no barriers, no obstacles, no walls or door, not even death. Paul tells us we no longer live under the shadow of death. We now live in the unending time of Easter and of Pentecost. In the fire of the Spirit, in the heart of Christ.