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.

 

 

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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

 

footprints

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.

 

Water to Wine

Passover with Jesus and disciples

During the Greco-Roman feast of Dionysus stone vessels were filled with wine as a sign of the god’s ability to instill life. Many of these Greek and Roman rituals were taken and adapted into Christian rituals. At Cana Jesus replaces the jars of water with wine. According to John’s gospel Jesus is now the sole god who instills life. The large earthen jars at the wedding feast filled with water were there for washing. For ‘purification’, for the washing of guests who had traveled over the dusty roads and could wash hands and feet before they sat at the banquet table. This water was not drinkable. And because in those days there were no water purification systems – unless you got your water directly from a well, fed by one of the many springs that ran under the city – the meals were accompanies by mead, the precursor to our beer, and/or wine.

Jesus changing the undrinkable water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana is usually interpreted as one of Jesus’ first miracles. But Jesus’ reply to his mother, seems to indicate two things: that he wasn’t too concerned about the lack of wine and that whatever he saw his life to be about, it was not time to show himself. The man who becomes largely known for his miracles and healing doesn’t see himself as a miracle worker. I like what Michael Chabon says, and I paraphrase, faith bought by signs or miracles is bought very cheaply. Jesus seems to have no need to demonstrate or prove himself as a miracle worker in the ordinary sense of the being a magician. But John has told this story at the beginning of Jesus public ministry for a reason. And I don’t think it’s about proving Jesus was god by doing magic. For it seems that the real miracles Jesus performed were those of healing other. Those that helped others and brought about their well-being. A little wine more or less at a banquet would most likely not have been uppermost in his mind. Of course, the case could also be made that at his mother’s behest he provided what was best, even the best wine, for the bridal party. At the end, of life, of the current system, Jesus is bringing to us the best of what is life-giving. Himself.

One purpose of the wedding feast at Cana may have been to signal to those listening to the story that Jesus had come to change things. That transformations were coming. And these transformations would be life-giving. That Jesus, like his Father, was the god who brought life and could change it, purify it and that the quality and substance of life would be the best. Also notice, that in each of the gospels every scene is about change. Someone or something changes. Fishermen leave their trade, evil spirits are sent packing, people see and walk again, large shrubs grow from tiny seeds, a child comes back to life, water turns into wine. A man comes as guest at a wedding and later will liken himself to the bridegroom. A jar is broken and expensive oil from it becomes his anointing.

At the Passover meal which we celebrate tomorrow night, the jars of water will be there again. But at this final meal of Jesus and his disciples, unlike his first at Cana, the bridegroom will wash the feet of those he loves, and their lives will be changed forever.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

rhizome  He came into this world with little more than a story, surrounding him like the swaddling wrapped about him at his birth. By then the news of his coming was already running rampant across the countryside. The stories taking on a life of their own. Told, retold, ancient memories coming to life in the darkness of Israel’s winter.

Reach back over the two thousand years of debris that cover his story, back over the institutionalization of the soul, ritualization, dogma, defense, legend and myth, to the words, the Word that became flesh in the story of his life.

Before his birth his people made their long journey across the wilderness forming a sacred identity. Israel’s journey changed her. The story of this journey informed the Hebrew nation as it unfolded over time. Over time the story was knit and reknit, a weave of many colors that would unravel and be reshaped again and again. Eventually it took on mythical proportions that no longer looked like the covenant woven by the Lord God of Israel. As Israel strayed farther and farther from the heart of her identity, the Lord God of Israel unraveled into a distant silence as well. The silence drove John mad, drove him into the wilderness. Irony of ironies. One Hebrew alone in the desert now.

Into this silence came the Word; the Word that created, the Word that led, the Word that shaped and formed Israel into Yahweh’s own. To start over? Not exactly. But to reknit, to restore, rekindle, the true faith of Israel.  He came made of the cloth of humanity, a man, who would carry within him the promise. By his life he touched the people with words, with healing and more importantly with his presence. He embodied the faith of Israel keeping the promise Yahweh made to Abraham, to extend that faith to all the nations of the world, even the gentile nations. And yet, he too would be misunderstood.  He would challenge the powers that be, both religious and political, and in the end, his mission could not be sustained. Undaunted, the Lord God of Israel, whom he called Abba, would not let misunderstanding or death defeat his plan for his people. His a promised kept.  And so one fine Monday morning, when all seemed lost, his friends, weary and sleepless from their own betrayal and bewilderment, saw him, walking beside them, tending a fire by the shore, beckoning a woman to rise, as if proving himself to them, yet again, reaching beyond the boundaries of nature in order to call forth meaning from the dark tomb of their ignorance. From this seed a faith sprang up around him, vestiges of himself, fumbling forward for two thousand years, a rhizome swept away in whatever current paradigm it found to pitch its tent, shifting, sifting, defending, wending its way across the wilderness once more.

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Joseph’s Tomb

Joseph's bones

I was distressed to hear that Joseph’s Tomb, where his bones are supposed to be buried, after the Israelites carried them as he requested, into the new land they were to inhabit, had been bombed and set on fire. How is it that art work and artifacts and sacred sites are now the target of animosity and warring? Is nothing sacred. Or were they ever? How is it religious wars still rage after thousands of years. Does anyone pause long enough to see that what they are tearing each other apart for is what holds them together, or should be uniting them, rather than setting them against one another.

Joseph’s tomb has been the site of conflict over the centuries. The issue being – to whom do Joseph’s bones belong? What faith claims him? Can any one faith lay claim to Joseph and his bones. Moses carried them beyond Egypt. Beyond Egypt what they had encountered in the wilderness was to go out to all the world.

Joseph’s tomb has been the a venerated site for centuries by Jews, Christians, Samaritans and Muslims. All claim rights to the tomb and at one time or another have paid homage to the last patriarch.

‘The walls of the interior covered with the names of pilgrims, representing almost every land and language; though the Hebrew character was the most prominent one.’ (Wikipedia) From my interest in Joseph’s story, I find it interesting that so many people, different people, different faith, identify in one way or another with Joseph. And rightfully so. For his journey is the journey we all make. His story is the story of the journey the soul makes to become authentic and whole. Joseph is now  a symbol for everyone. I am Joseph. You are Joseph. We are all Joseph. His story is our story.

And whatever happens to the site (or sites) where his bones are said to be buried, one thing will endure untrammeled:his story.

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.

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.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

IMG_0417  …And Jesus Paid Attention

From an early age my nieces were told bible stories. (One thing I’ve come to realize over the years is that whether you are part of a faith community or not, it is important that our children hear the bible stories. The rest will take care of itself.)

My nieces were told the bible stories from an early age. My sister always started off the stories by saying to the girls ‘now pay attention’. One Easter, my sister was showing off a bit, as parents do. She asked then three year old Ashley “what did Jesus do at Easter?” Ashley thought hard.  You could see her little mind working. Then the little light bulb came on and she said “he paid attention.” Well, it sounds like resurrection doesn’t it.

At Easter Jesus paid attention. St. Paul would agree. Attention  is defined as to wait upon, to take care, to minister, to serve. Isn’t this precisely what Jesus did. He paid attention to who he was; he paid attention to God as his Father and his relationship with him; and he paid attention to the needs of the people around him. He cared, he waited upon and ministered to them. Listened to them. Told them stories. (Guess he figured the rest would take care of itself as well.) And as a result it would appear that at Easter God paid attention to him. Throughout Paul’s letters he is asking his audience to pay attention to who they are because then they are paying attention to the Christ-within. Paying attention to oneself, ones’ community and to the Christ-life is to live life in Christ.

This might be a good definition of faith as well. Paying attention – focusing our hearts, minds and imaginations on how Jesus paid attention to who he understood himself to be. Jesus paid attention to the greatest human need: to be loved. That love took many forms. If we can see ourselves reflected in his life and love, to care about and for others, then we incarnate Christ in our lives today and to others.

As Jesus carried his cross up the dirty, rock littered road, he was paying attention. To his life and to those he loved. To us. The attention Jesus paid turned the cross from a sign of death to the tree of life.

Mindful for Lent

 

Ash Wednesday 2015

 couple on bench watiching sunset This morning I talked to my sister Mary. She has decided to keep a spiritual journey for the next forty days. She called and wanted to explore where our ‘spirituality’ came from. It was an interesting and often funny conversation about our early religious schooling (Catholic nuns!). The conversation then turned to the faith of our grandmother. As we talked I had to say that my own faith journey began because of our grandmother. She was deeply religious, a convert to Catholicism. She was also a very creative person. She loved music and to sing. She could play any song she heard on the piano – without sheet music. She loved cats and kept a sweet little kitchen garden under a small tree just outside her kitchen door. I recall how lovingly and carefully she attend each Spring to picking out the pansies or marigolds that she planted. She loved cats (seemed to favor her cats more than her grandchildren) and Brandy Alexander’s. She was also a wonderful baker. She had lived over the bakery with her first husband who as a baker. She always had some baked goodie when we went to visit. I guess like all families each of my siblings has a different view of who Anne was. (She was a very young grandmother. She had had my mother when she was fifteen years old, so we were not allowed to call her ‘grandma’. We were to call her Anne. My father, her son-in-law, preferred to call her by her given name, Myrt (short for Myrtle). There’s probably a story there too. For whatever reason my grandmother did not endear herself to all my siblings. She and I were very close however. I was her favorite. I think this hurt my sisters, especially Mary, when we were growing up. This did not foster a warm fuzzy feeling for our grandmother on their part. We could not recall what prompted little Mary one day to lock our grandmother in the small bathroom just off the living room and even though we laugh about it today, Mary was high tailing it out of the house when grandma was let out. The irony here also is that my sister Mary inherited more of Anne than any of the rest of us. She loves cats, has beautiful gardens, plays the piano better than any of the rest of us and is a great cook and baker.

Eventually we got around to the topic of Lent and spirituality. She asked me where the idea of giving something up for Lent had come from. She thinks the idea ludicrous, since after Lent what have you achieved in spiritual growth by not eating chocolate or drinking alcohol. All I could say is that it was the old way of the church. That penitential view of Lent. Thankfully things have changed.

By keeping her spiritual journal during Lent she wants to become more mindful. Giving up the hours on the computer or the mindless morning television shows. I do that too. Let those hours eat up my day. She’s addicted to Pinterest. I play too much solitaire. I think it keeps my mind sharp! Probably not doing much for my soul though.

Isn’t that what St. Paul was writing about in his letters? Staying mindful of who they were.

Perhaps this Lent you might want to keep a journal. Find something enlightening to read and write about it. Or just reflect on how you got where you are today. Your path to who you have become. Where is the sacred in that journey? What do I need to do or to be to become more mindful during each day? Thanks, Mary, my friend and sister.