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.

 

 

 

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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.

The Way, the Truth and the Life

stary night

It wasn’t meant to be a religion. It was and was meant to be a Way of life. A way of living.

The Hebrew people experienced their faith as a way of life. Their faith was the way they lived their lives. Responsibly to themselves and others. Morally as a matter of the soul living out its deepest values. Justly as the expression of the joining of sacred and human, heaven and earth, the kingdoms of the world as they mirrored the kingdom of God. Truthfully to the sacred design that defines each and every person as living into the fullness of one’s sacred humanity. Authentically as fidelity to who it knew itself to be, individuals with a heart and soul and interior disposition that found expression in the cultural and rituals as an expression of that way of life. With fidelity to their relationship to Being itself. A god who took his time to reveal his name. And when he did it was the revelation of a Way of being. With gratitude for their saving. And yes, struggling themselves to embody that good news and the promise of the sacred design that they were destined to be. That we are all destined to be. Their purpose was to grow in the awareness, understanding and expression of their relationship with one, Yahweh. Who called them beyond their wandering, nomadic lives and brought them to safety so that they might tell the word, spread the good news of a Living God, who was present and active in the world, in its creation and in its sustenance, to all the peoples of the earth. It was to be a faith that did not worship deities posing as stone, gold or wood. They were made a promise: they would become as numerous as the stars. They would be like stars charting the way for others in their dark night. They made a journey to the place of that promise. They made a journey that all people make. Theirs was a faith whose story became recorded in a Book. It was a way of being a people. It was a way of being a nation. It was a way of first and foremost being humanly sacred.

So when a Hebrew man arrived on the scene he would very succinctly say, I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. I am the Way to the Truth about Life.

The Soul of Christ

St. Tim's stained glass window

There is an ancient prayer called the Anima Christi. Which begins Soul of Christ, sanctify me. It’s a beautiful prayer penned by St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.

What is the ‘soul of Christ’ Ignatius addresses.

It is the true inner self. What I experience as the substance of all that remains with us from his going forward. It is what is not seen, what is hoped for and yet lived out in his spirit in our lives. It is what we live and have our being in, our souls joined with his even as it seeks him, ever illusive, yet like his life and his spirit that remains with us, just beyond the horizon and yet touching us, inviting us onward to his love and his life, searching out his message for that treasure and touchstone by which to live our lives.

God’s language is the soul. His medium is the soul: imagination, dreams, fantasies, longings.

Religion is the soul’s voice; it is the soul’s language. Every faith has it. Every faith speaks it. Every faith has realize it and tried to capture it in story, art, poetry and ritual. The rituals through which we might, just might, enter into the soul of sacred that lives in all of us. The routines and rituals in which we touch soul. Where it becomes known and accessible to us. We carry it with us. Convey it in the way in which we live our lives.

Spirit animates; soul is its depth. The deep sounding of our inner lives, where more is going on than we perceive at first glance, or hearing. It is the sounding in silence of that still small voice the scripture speaks of. The place where the sacred is housed, the tabernacle of the heart, mind and soul that is Christ’s and is ours.

 

Jesus Shows Us The Way

 

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He is the first born. He is our hope. He is our way. He shows us how to live. He shows us how to die. He shows us that death is not the end. He shows we will live on. Changed. Transformed. He shows us how to be in relationship with God, others, the world. How to be at one with our fellow human beings. He shows us the meaning of friendship. Of solidarity. The meaning of true leadership. He shows us the power of story. That power is the ability to act for what is true. And he shows us the cost of freedom. The cost of speaking truth to power. Of not settling for the status quo. He shows us how to become vulnerable and shows us that this is the paradoxical path to intimacy. He shows us who our neighbor is. And how to live in community. He shows us how to be alone. He shows us how to be faithful to who we are. He shows us the value of human life, even in the face of death. And he shows us how to pray, to reach beyond ourselves. And trust that all he shows us is all that we too might become.

 

They Went To The River

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They didn’t go to church.

They went to the river.

The deep river they’d crossed

again and again.

 

There were gathering places

for the Sabbath

where the scrolls were unrolled

morning petals opening to the new light.

A wide open circular room

welcoming

empty chalice of space

save hearts hoping from more manna.

 

Yet, they went to the river.

The one they crossed

from captivity to freedom.

To the camp ground where the god

refused a house of wood and

kept to his tent as well.

They had traveled so far together.

 

They returned to the river.

Where memories ran.

Someone was preaching there.

Calling them home

again and again.

 

They put the beasts to rest

Tethered the plough

put down the needle and thread.

Left the leaven

rising in the sweet morning air

to cross the corn fields, the pasture lands,

the portico to

listen, listen

to a soft young-man voice

reading from the rolling waters

the story of their lives and his.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


			

Fellowship with the Spirit (aka Prayer)

couple on bench watiching sunset

Throughout his letters we hear Paul praying. In Romans 8 he comes to his key thoughts about prayer. A few simple sentences that say so much. To me, that say it all.

Paul has prayers of thanksgiving in his letters. They all begin and end with thanksgiving and a blessing. He prays his converts will be able to meet the challenges to their new faith. He prays that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with them. You might even say that his letters are at their heart and soul, letters about prayer. Prayer as our relationship with God. Prayer as accessing the God-life within us and without. Prayer as giving ourselves over to the Christ we have received. About living the Christ-life prayerfully. With attention to the Christ we have received.

In this modern world, prayer is a difficult subject to broach. Not because praying itself is difficult. But because, as we see in Paul’s letters, it is easy. And like everything else Paul writes, prayer is about having faith. Having faith that we are heard, that we don’t have to ‘do it right’ because there is no ‘right way’ to pray; and that the Spirit of the Christ life we share in faith, is also the Spirit that prays in us. The Spirit that invites us to pray. The Spirit that is always praying within us. Drawing us out and out and out.

Over the ages prayer has been preached, like the faith-life of Jesus Christ, with indomitable hurtles to achieve and cross so that one might feel ‘successful’ in prayer. Here in Paul we cut to the chase. We come to the heart of the matter.

Paul counsels his converts to pray always. For in this praying always they/we put on the mind of Christ. In prayer we tap into, if you will, the Christ whose Spirit continually prays in us.

The Spirit prays in us when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly.

Prayer, like Jesus Christ, saves us. Pray opens us to the ever-available Spirit. It is a great comfort to know that when I cannot pray, and there are times when life so overwhelms that I have no words, I know that I can sit in the silence of my soul and let the Spirit speak for me. Just like in the psalms which I reach for often, this spirit knows every human emotion, feeling, desire and even mean and horrid thought I think. It is a great assurance to know that it is this Spirit of Christ which has the power to resonate with my own. On Good Friday we will hear Jesus cry out from the cross, a lost and forsaken question to the Father he knew was his “Abba Father”.  By Jesus’ unselfconscious crying out to his Father, he became broken open to his Father’s saving grace and action in his life. We follow Jesus Christ in this as well. He shows us we too can say anything to God. We can even doubt God. If we feel abandoned by God, so did he.

When we pray “Abba Father” we are reassured that not only can and does the Spirit pray within us, but that God will not refuse anything he can give. In prayer God turns everything to our good because he cooperates with those who love him. Once again, it is love that is the essential thing. In our faith, in our comings and goings, in our activities, our stance toward one another and to God, and in praying. Have you told God that you love him today?  While I ask and while I knock, I try to make sure that I don’t treat God like a cash cow.

Paul’s words in Romans 8 speak for themselves. They don’t need a lot of words heaped upon them to take meaning. They are sentences that we can take to heart, to memory and carry with us like a prayer as we go through our day.

Our day, knowing that it is Christ who pleads for us at the right hand of the Father. The Father who hears us as he heard his son, who refuses us nothing and turns everything to good.

 

Their Names Are Legion

drift wood on beach

The first time I saw him I was coming down the ramp off the highway. He wasn’t the usual homeless man who sat on the concrete abutment holding up a piece of ragged brown cardboard with anything will help scrawled in black letters. A few days before the man with the ragged brown beard had been standing there in the cold and rain, decked out in a black trash bag from head to toe, its torn top like a hoodie covering an old cap, his beard-wet face peering out of a body bag. It always makes me sad, and not a little guilty, as I drove past, his eyes following me. I had my own near-homeless and struggling family members to care for I consoled 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. And, of course, his words where were you when I was homeless scrawled on my consciousness.  

Today the man who was sitting there 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 don’t try to make eye contact. I assume it makes it more difficult for both of us. But the stillness of this gentleman, and he did somehow appear to be gentle, so quiet I kept my gaze upon him to see if he moved at all. Was breathing. It was hard to tell. He appeared to be one of those art sculptures, a metaphor sitting out in a public place. But when the light changed and I drove past his eyes followed me. Like a painting you walk around and the eyes seem to follow you 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 into the turn.

He looked like Jesus. Not a Hollywood Jesus, with trimmed beard, just washed hair, clean flowing robes, leather Italian sandals. He could have been the same age. He could have been two thousand years later the same iterant rambling man with nowhere to lay his head. His clothes were old, worn, non-descript. I cannot describe what he was wearing. My memory holds only his face, and those hands. A real person. A presence.

What was he waiting for? Godot? The diversion of anonymous passersby? Or reminders, just as he is reminder to us as we hurry past on our way to the Pharaoh’s glass pyramids where we toil during the day, hurrying through interminable slowly moving traffic to our gated communities in the ‘burbs. Waiting. Simply being. Being there. Waiting to wake us from our benumbed commute. A reminder, the bridegroom is no longer with us.

Poetry’s Morning

PainterLadyH_0
The bible is a work of art
with the power to transform
in-gathering self and soul.
A presence, both beautiful
 and terrible
where you long to go
               and
fear to tread at the same time.
Where you learn to hold the paradox
            or perish.
Its magnificence winds its way
into your being
threads image and likeness
into your becoming.
Then.
     Snap!
cuts you lose from the
inexorable sweet moorings of the multitude.
rights you
word by word.

 

Pentecost

Pentecost red ribbons

The manifestations of the Spirit are truly wondrous and as varied as creation itself. The living Spirit grows and even outgrows it earlier expressions. It freely chooses men and women in whom it lives and who proclaim it. This living Spirit is eternally renewed and pursues its goal in manifold and inconceivable ways throughout the history of humankind. Measured against it the names and forms given it mean little enough. They are only the changing leaves that blossom on the stem of the eternal tree.
                                                                                                                                                Carl Jung