The News and the Bible

St. Tim's stained glass window    It is said that Karl Barth advised young theologians ‘to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.’

On October 1 I posted about the magnificence of the sunset that evening as I drove home from work. I often have after thoughts about what I have  posted…and this one I immediately thought I should post a proviso. Reading the news with the lens of the Bible, isn’t easy these days. In the face of great tragedy at face value neither one makes sense. But then, the Bible was never meant to make its appeal to reason. Events like this defy reason and assault our sensibilities.

I was not insensitive or oblivious to the shooting in Roseburg, Oregon that day. We saw it most of the day on the lobby TVs and when I arrived home the President was speaking about this tragedy. But I couldn’t watch. I turned off the television and slid open the doors to the deck. Just then a large flock of geese came in for a landing on the pond outside my door. My thoughts, heavy, numb, sad, sick with another shooting, went to nature and to the sunset for solace.

What I wrote came in a flash, as they sometimes do. Looking back I  think too that that vibrant red-orange sunset was the blood orange of those who were making their way home. There was nothing to be said. Nothing could be said in the wake of such tragedy. But perhaps, just perhaps, the skies over the Heartland were reminding us that nothing, no one is lost to us. They remain, like the ever recurring sunrises and sunsets, to send us signs that they are safe at last in the beating heart of the Creator. Perhaps, just perhaps, the recurring seasons, remind us of the eternal round of life, that is never far away or lost to us, although at times it feels that way.

After our father died my sisters and I each got a ‘sign’ – each in a way that spoke to her assuredly that it came from the other side. It was a kind of assurance, a tap on the shoulder to indicate that life goes on, just in another way, that we cannot fully grasp nor see here. But I cannot loose my sense of the sacred; and perhaps that is why my meditation turned to the heavens, to the sky, to the sunset, to an indecipherable message written in colors across God’s palette.

Advertisements

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.

Becoming Healed, Whole, Sacred

  rhizome    When we speak of Jesus paying attention in the same breadth we are speaking of creative spirituality. A creative spirituality that Jesus lived. Jesus was about healing others. By a touch, a glance, a story, by acceptance and even by his very essence, his spirit, that could be accessed by just touching the hem of his garment. Jesus’ healed to make room for something new to be created in them. Free of whatever dis-ease keeps us from living into the fullness of life, achieving all that we can be.  In Jesus’ life we see the God who wills our well-being. When we want to discern God’s will (a tricky subject!) we need only ask ourselves is this life giving. Creative spirituality is about living in concert with the sacred that wills our wholeness and well-being, creating what gives life.

Jesus is the definition of what it means to be whole. This is what is meant by ‘salvation’. For Paul this is achieved in Jesus as the Christ. We don’t need a predictable cardboard cut-out of Jesus. He refused this kind of idolatry in his life. We will never be able to fully find the real Jesus, who walked the dusty ground between Galilee and Jerusalem. But what we have now is life in his Spirit, the endlessly creative spirit/spirituality of the Christ life.

Something in each of us wants to be healed. This is the sacred in the depths of our being that wants to bring us to well-being, wholeness. This thing that impels us toward becoming whole is the god-life within each of us. This is the workings within the province and sovereignty of the sacred self. As our growing awareness admits into our lives the counsel of the unconscious as it shines forth in our dreams and in the stories, symbols and images that come to our attention, we enter into the ever-expanding circle of the sacred self as it takes within its embrace all that will be healed and reconciled within us.

Lent is dark. It’s time of year is in that no man’s land between the harshness of winter and the first buddings of spring.  Here we are on the cusp of new life, in an as yet uncreated space. But creative spirituality uses the darkness, it embraces our brokenness, what is limited and wanting within us, and makes new life from it. Up through dirt comes the flower.  The bud needs the darkness of the earth to spring to life. Even in our own dirt and darkness we find the healing embrace of the sacred self, the unconditional embrace of the Christ-life. In the garden nothing is excluded, all is used. This is where the sacred and the human become indistinguishable. In this uncreated space, like the first dawning of creations, we are ever on a journey of self-discovery so that we might come to know the ever-present horizon of our being. We are ever in the process of becoming.  Becoming  healed, becoming whole, becoming sacred.

Rainbows and Wilderness

  rainbow over water  This first Sunday of Lent was about rainbows and wilderness. The God pledging fidelity to a boat maker who would cast his fidelity, trust and life out upon  the waters and await the world to be made a second time. The human and the god to begin again. The wilderness where one searches out the pledge of that fidelity in one’s life. While angels and beasts attend, one gentle, one fierce, one winged, one earth bound, a sacred and human nature, the light and the shadow, at play as the god and the daemon square off for the soul of a man. Is he still in that wilderness, in the remembering rainbow, by the river?

Perhaps as one who sought him concluded, he come to us as one unknown, across the lakeside, down the green hill, in the warm dough kneaded by human hands, in fields, carrying rocks, making baskets, in silent moments, in the children’s laughter, in the book that opens just so and the song playing on the radio just when you needed to hear it, in jails and in churches, where the bread is broken, and hearts also, coming and going, men bowing, women rising, on a dusty road wars raging, two people, one people, three faiths, tearing at the heart of the gypsy-god with a human face; there, just on the horizon, as if on a cloud.

Creative Spirituality

Pentecost red ribbons   In spite of the vast and varied array of interpretations that have been lumbered on St. Paul’s letters, let me suggest that we also see the importance of his letters as they portray the creative process. For it is the cream rising to the top after we sort through the behavioral cautions and his perplexing treaties on the Mosaic law.

From Genesis we know that we are created in image and likeness. Being created human means we are sacred and we are meant. Something within us looks like the God who created us. For Paul living in Christ is the completion of the creation process.

Spirituality is living in the Spirit of Christ where Christ is the epicenter of our spirituality. This spirituality is creative because in it we come to the fullness of life, more truly who we are and are meant to be.  It is the life of Christ that animates our being. It is a new way of being that we can never exhaust. Here we live beyond mere existence. In a creative Christ-centered spirituality we grow and become; we discover that this life is the most real part of who we are, without which we are just walking bodies.

Creative spirituality is living in our depths. And in our depths is the sacred. This is the hidden self we endeavor to bring into awareness. The hidden self as the Christ-self, the realization that within us resides not only the life but the love of Christ. Discovering this and being changed because of this awareness is at the heart and soul of a creative spirituality. This is the discovery that Paul made on the Damascus Road. It would fire his whole life. He set out to share and to create a way of living that not just resembled, but re-assembled us into the person of Christ. This way of living is about transformation. The Way of becoming whole. (I am the Way, to the Truth, that gives Life.) A way of becoming fully human; experiencing the fullness of the God-life within us.

Creative spirituality is also the realization that like Jesus we are human, and like Jesus as the Christ our lives are ever being renewed, resurrected. Creative spirituality, like all creative endeavors, is open, attentive, flexible, alive and the willingness to participate in mystery and be surprised by what is forming in us. In a Christ-centered creative spirituality we are ever in the process of self-becoming. The Christ-self as the coming to be of the sacred in our lives. A transformation that is ever at work within us.

In creative spirituality we are both forming and being formed. Shaping and being shaped.  It is the genesis in solitude of awareness, attention, receptivity and trust, to trust oneself and ones instincts, which are the cornerstones of the creative spirit. Creative spirituality is the expression of one’s own soul as it forms, finds and keeps to the deepest center of one’s life. It is the ability to become whole, to discover and be discovered by a sacred purpose and allow oneself to be led by the creative spirit as one makes one’s way into the heart of divine existence and the sacredness of oneself.

The Kingdom of Love

IMG_0828

In this Eastertide, we have cleared away the dross of the winter, renew our gardens with mulch and feed the flowers that are blooming there. As Paul begins his letter to the Colossians, writing still from his imprisonment in Rome, he too is writing about new growth.  This new growth is our inner growth, a growth that he hears is spreading all over the world. In spite of his circumstances he is able to dispatch messages of love and applaud his fellow-believers at Colossae. He calls them ‘saints’. By the very nature of their faith he embraces them in the company of the sanctified, the holy, those who by the nature of their lives in Christ have become sacred human persons. They are blessed already in their very ordinary earthly lives, with the future hope and current blessings of the kingdom. For Paul it is the kingdom of the heart, the kingdom of the Son God loves. Pretty great company to be in.

You can sense Paul’s own happiness and rejoicing in these opening lines because news has reached him of the love the Spirit has awakened in you. It is this Spirit of love that is the mark of the sacred reality they live now through their faith in Christ. So the good news is spreading like a bountiful garden throughout the world, and enabling a sacred people to come to understand God’s grace, his life within them and what this really is, what this really means in their lives. Again Paul harkens back to the idea of knowledge he spoke of Ephesians, the knowledge of God that comes from being planted and rooted in the love of Christ. It is not only knowledge of God, but most especially the fullness of him as the sacred reality that feeds and fuels our lives, enriches it and makes all things possible. To bear all things joyfully.

And Paul in prison is doing just that. Because even though his physical freedom is restricted the news he receives and his ability to continue to dialogue with the people through his ‘brethren’, his fellow apostles, is the source of joy to him and thanksgiving. The message of the true gospel has borne fruit, which is the love that the people of Colossae have for all their fellow saints, in other words, each other. Like spring flowers this love spreads across the field of faith, and has brought light out of the darkness. Freed from sin, freed to love. It is this light as well that shines on their new growth providing enlightenment of a knowledge that Paul does not define but knows himself to be grace, an experience that often escapes words, a lived reality, a knowledge that is lived in the reality of their lives each day, and like a flower reaching toward the morning light, draws us irresistibly to the love of Christ Jesus.

It was from a garden that we were put out upon this path and it is in a garden that Jesus came back to life, to us,  to make his love the ever renewing spring time of the kingdom of love, where each day we are called to blossom in that Love.

 

 

 

God’s Work of Art

Ephesians in its brevity encapsulates the best of Paul’s message. It is a message of peace, grace and as always encouragement in the Christ life. Paul’s passages in Ephesians are the phrases I want to keep in my head and heart, mindful that as we move to the new day of Easter, we might also think of moving to the new day when the positive message of the gospels and of St. Paul find renewal in our churches, academies and our lives. As we make our way to the renewal of Spring, I want to look at Paul with fresh eyes and be mindful of the changes and challenges inherent in his valuation of the people of God then and today.

Unfortunately, when Christianity became Roman, it also adapted (corrupted) the message of (especially) St. Paul to its own need to rule, dominate, setting the Church on a course that was legalistic, devalued the ‘flesh’ and women. Apparently the early church ‘fathers’ overlooked and/or discarded the message of Ephesians and Philippian. This is what Paul does not want for his converts. Not to live by rules and decrees. But to live in Christ.

Although, by now it should be evident that the totality of Paul’s message needs to be read in a new light, a more critical light, read and understood in its totality so we too can experience true resurrection, liberation from anachronistic readings that promote not the actual gospels themselves but a status quo we are still at pains to free ourselves.  So that we might once again not think of ourselves as sinners, but see ourselves as sacred and meant and know God the Father in the Christ Jesus who asks only one thing: to put our faith in him. To live our lives according to the Christ we have received. To have a new life in Christ through the great love with which he loves us.

We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to have life in abundance from the beginning as he meant us to live. (Ephesians 2:9-10)

To have life in abundance. When people query God’s will, this is what he wills for us. Life. Life in abundance. Our well-being, the grace and gift of God. Partakers in Christ of the God-life that we are meant to be. A sacred people. We are original and uniquely created, with the hand of God shaping us from within and without. He breathes his life in us and sustains us in the Spirit of Christ. We are meant to live a good life, in the God who turns everything to the good. In the beginning he saw that what he had made was good. We continue to be good. And when we fall short of the God-life within us we can be assured that we are still loved, the mystery of the Christ life is abundantly within us and available to us.

We are God’s work of art. Our abundance, the infinite treasure of Christ.

Reading Romans

Romans 1-3

IMG_0849    There is so much misunderstanding about St. Paul and his apostleship among the general public and among the ‘leaders’ of our churches and ‘teachers’ in the religious academies. It was so from the get go. I hear this in the reaction today from those who know I am reading St. Paul for Lent. I’m sure there are those who even see this endeavor as consistent with inflicting penitence upon oneself during the season of Lent! Nothing could be further from the truth.

Today I began reading Romans. Once more, perhaps even more so than in his previous letters, we are stepping through the garden of Paul’s thought. Careful both to see the weeds that entangle us and equally attentive to the growing and gathering blooms that Paul is championing.

Paul begins by first bringing our attention to the world God created. It proves perfectly reasonable that we should see God in his creation. But unfortunately, Paul admonishes, some took the creatures of creation and made idols of them rather than seeing the one living God in them. I love it that now Paul says that the wicked have no ‘brains’ nor ‘compassion’, which I take to mean that the wicked are not ‘with’ the world as sacred but in the world to use it for their own misguided devices. God’s created world can lead us to God, if we view it properly or it will lead us away if we do not honor the handprint of the Creator upon it. Image and likeness I think applies to the natural world as much as to humans, if we can see beyond the veil, our own distorted thinking about the graceful givenness of the world we inhabit.

Since Paul is talking about first things, he then proceeds to take up the subject, again, of our being saved, in the context of the Jewish people and the Law. Here he means the Mosaic Law. In Romans it reads and feels that Paul is better able (clearer) to address this issue. He uses the word justification. What does that mean in this context? I believe it simply means that in being justified we are freed from our failings (aka sins) and made a new person, the new creation Paul keeps referring to. We once more realize the sacred reality that we are, now one with God in Jesus Christ. We enter a new way of being in Christ.

How refreshing it would be if from the outset the churches as they grew had focused on the goodness of God’s creation as a way to recognize the Creator and that that goodness extends to us. What Mathew Fox calls ‘original blessing’. It is by God’s grace freely given in Christ Jesus that we are made new, without having to do anything first. God created us, chose us, calls us; then sets in place, provides a Way (the Law) to sustain his sacred promise he extends to all his creation, first through the Hebrew people, through whom that promise is to be realized.

The Law then is valued as the guideline in leading us to be a holy, sacred people. It is like the light that shines upon and illumines our path; we are aware of the shadows, the darkness (sin) by contrast. And that the Law came first to us through our Jewish brothers and sisters. And anyone who keeps the Law in his or her heart (as Yahweh in Deuteronomy says) are faithful Jews as well. And now through one Jewish man, the promise continues so that God’s saving, regaining us for himself, can be realized for all. It is a faithful Hebrew man who becomes for all the Way. The Way to the Truth that saves us so that we might have Life. The invitation now extended to everyone, ‘follow me’.