Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Celtic Advent - Day XII - November 26

 


Celtic Advent - Day XII - November 26


"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you,
it will be enough." Meister Eckhart.

As I write this, we have just finished eating Thanksgiving dinner. I hope the tryptophan stupor doesn't hit as I'm writing this and I can communicate my thoughts on the incarnation in complete sentences that express coherent thoughts. 

The incarnation has proven to be a difficult subject to discuss, even when one is not over loaded with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy - not to mention all the amazing desserts that spread out across our dining room table. 

Thanksgiving 2020 has proven very difficult because we are in the midst of a pandemic. Actually, the COVID virus is "surging" or "spiking" at this time so we can't have the same kind of Thanksgivings we've enjoyed in years past - or, even last year - with lots of family and friends. 

We can't meet "in person". Even those of us who have created safe "pods" of people with whom we feel "safe" being in contact with, it's still a time to be on guard and keep a safe distance - no hugging or physically close contact - washing hands often. 

It's quite the opposite of the Incarnation. 

The holidays are a difficult time to keep your balance - especially for those who struggle with addiction to food or alcohol, or come from a dysfunctional family where holidays turn up the dial to eleven -  but the next four weeks are going to be like Grad School. 

I'm remembering a story told by Anne Lamott about her first sober Thanksgiving. She was very anxious about getting together with her family, which brought new definition to the understanding of "dysfunctional".

As I remember the story, the night before Thanksgiving, a sober gay man with AIDS took her aside after the AA meeting and said, "Listen, Annie. Do you know what the other name for Thanksgiving is?" 

"No," she said, a bit confused. 

"Thursday," he said. "It's Thursday. So, just don't drink tomorrow. Just for tomorrow. Just for Thursday. Just for one day." 

And then, he sprinkled her with purple glitter and said, "I've just anointed you with fairy dust."

She said that exchange with that man changed her life. Just Thursday? What a concept! He said all she had to do was show up and, no matter what, don't drink. 

That's it. Left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe.

And then she said something I'll never forget. She described that sober gay man who sprinkled her with glitter and got her through her first sober Thanksgiving - sober. 

She said, "He was God with skin for me that day."

She said, "So I did what he said, because the only hope we ever have to stay sober and get through a holiday like Thanksgiving is to give up our own agenda." 

She showed up to her mother's house which was filled with all her relatives and her mother took one look at the purple glitter in her hair and said, in that tone mothers use when they are not amused, "Oh for Pete's sake, Annie!"

So Anne shook her head and sprinkled purple glitter all over her mother and they both laughed and laughed.

When her aunties asked if she'd like some wine she said, "No thank you," and that was it. No goading or prodding or that dynamic that is dominant in dysfunctional families - shaming. 

Question asked and answered. Done. 

Then the Really Big Test came straight from the center of the cosmos: Her grandmother spilled some red wine on the sleeve of her white blouse and the fumes of alcohol went straight up her nostrils and she did not freak out. 

More importantly, she didn't drink. Indeed, she said the stain on her blouse was like "The Red Badge of Courage."

All because God with skin on - a sober gay man with AIDS - showed up when she needed it most and gave her the one tool she needed in order to remember that the other name for Thanksgiving is Thursday.  

God with skin on. Sounds an awful lot like the incarnation, eh? 

In my experience, when you have an encounter like that, the overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude. Which makes that a perfect story to combine the incarnation and Thanksgiving. 

I'll leave you with these thoughts on gratitude and give thanks that I seem to have gotten through this meditation before the tryptophan kicked in. No small feat. And, I am grateful.

This is me, sprinkling you with purple glitter. 

"I thank you God for most this amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything with is natural, which is infinite, which is yes."  ~ e.e. cummings.

"When we learn to read the story of Jesus and see it as the story of the love of God, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves - that insight produces, again and again, a sense of astonished gratitude which is very near the heart of authentic Christian experience." ~ N.T. Wright.

"To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything" 
~ Thomas Merton

"Eucharisteo - thanksgiving - always precedes the miracle." Ann Voskamp

"Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good. ~ Maya Angelou




Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Celtic Advent - Day XI - November 25

 


Celtic Advent - Day XI - November 25


No wind at the window.
no lock on the door,
no light from the lamp stand,
no foot on the floor;
no dream born of tiredness,
no ghost raised by fear;
just an angel and a woman
and a voice in her ear.

Of all the songs in Advent, I think this one is right at the tipity-top of my list. You can hear the first verse of this song sung here

The tune is 'Columcille' (Gaelic for St. Columba) but it's not the tune we're used to hearing in in the Episcopal Hymnal. (The meter is 6565 D) 

It's from the Wild Goose Community at Iona. The powerful words of this poem and the picture it paints, were written, of course, by John Bell and Graham Maule and can be found in their book, "Known Unknowns: 100 Contemporary Texts to Common Tunes". 

This is the Annunciation - that sacred moment when Gabriel came to Mary to tell her that God had chosen her for a special task and to ask her to respond to his request. 

Here's the second verse: 

Oh Mary, oh Mary
don't hide from my face.
Be glad that you're favored
and filled with God's grace.
The time for redeeming
the world has begun;
and you are requested
to mother God's son. 

I love how the poem gives Mary agency. Not a lot of hymns or the way the story is told or preached do that. In John Bell's version of this sacred moment, it is not assumed that "Lady Mary" would simply, humbly, quietly, like a bleating lamb to the slaughter,  say 'yes'. 

The words Gabriel says to Mary have a different connotation than the interpretations of Luke's gospel (Luke 1:26-38). In the translation of Luke's ancient words, the action is in the future (" . . . and now you will conceive in your womb"), but interpreters have assumed that it "will" happen, no matter what Mary thinks of the plan. 

Luke seems more keen to tell what "will" happen rather than to communicate Mary's will in the matter of what will happen to her body and her life. 

John Bell's poem/hymn conveys that Mary had an option to say no. The words of his poem are: " . . . and you are requested to mother God's son." 

God 'requested' of Mary. What a lovely idea, so in keeping with what we've come to know of God through the revelations of the teachings and the life of Jesus . 

One of the real joys of being a priest is hearing other people's stories of an Annunciation - a call to a vocation, most often to ordained ministry. I have never heard anyone's story including an actual angel, much less one with a name, but I'm sure those stories also exist.

The "angels" in the stories I've heard have to do with receiving a sense of enlightenment while listening to a sermon, or a piece of music, or, in one case, while talking to a homeless person. 

My favorite story is about a woman who struggled for years with a sense of vocation, but because she had also struggled with learning, she thought she was, in her words, "a moron, too dumb to be a priest." 

She saw her skills in the kitchen as her vocation, so she became a caterer, to the raving and appreciative cheers of her clients and customers. "Jesus said, 'feed my sheep'," she said. "I guess that's what I'm doing."

But, the "call" wouldn't go away, so she came to me to do some spiritual discernment. It took me some time of gentle persuasion, but I finally got her to confront her presenting "problem".

I was convinced that she was not "dumb" but probably had some learning disabilities that had been undiagnosed.  I didn't say that to her, of course, but little did I know how close to the truth I had come. 

We finally found a psychologist who would administer an IQ test. 

She had her appointment and, a week later, went in for the results. That afternoon, we had a scheduled appointment. She was noticeably pale and seemed stunned. She sat down in the rocking chair and rocked for about 5 minutes before she finally found the words to speak.

She started by saying that the first thing the examiner asked her was about her son, which she thought quite peculiar. She asked his age and how he was doing in school. 

She said, well, he had had a difficult start but once he had been diagnosed with learning disabilities, he got the help he needed and was actually excelling.

The examiner asked if anyone had ever asked her if she had learning disabilities. She said her heart sank. "No," she answered, "I've just never been very good at school." 

"Did anyone ever tell you that your son's learning disabilities were probably a familial thing - that it probably ran in her family?"
 
"No," she said. "No, I just thought my son, well, had learning disabilities, as I had been told." 

"Well," said the examiner, "so do you. Which is why your IQ score can't be accurately measured."

She said her heart sank. She just knew that this was where the hammer dropped. She was so stupid, her IQ so low, it didn't even register.

She took a deep breath and asked, So, just how low is my IQ?" 

"Low?" The examiner put her head back and laughed. "My dear," she said, "your IQ is so high we don't have the tools to measure it here." She added, "You are at the level of genius."

As the words of the examiner washed over her, she closed her eyes and, when she opened them, she realized she had gone from a moron to a genius.  Just like that. 

And, just like that, right there in the examiner's room, right in front of the examiner, she heard a voice in her ear say, "I have called you to be one of my priests."

She looked at the examiner and said, "Yes," right out loud, as tears streamed down her face.  She told me that was the first time she had dared say 'yes' out loud but, she said, "I know I had been saying 'yes' in my heart for years."

She said the examiner looked a little confused but understood that something else - something more, something deep, something important, something spiritual - was happening in that room. 

To this day, I refer to that as her own Annunciation. I love how her son was an unknowing vehicle of the discernment of her vocation. 

God speaks to us in various ways - sometimes right into our ear - but first God speaks through other people, other things. We just have to listen to the varieties of ways God sends messages and messengers. 

And, when we do, God does respect our agency, our ability to choose how it is we want to respond. When we do respond, our lives, like Mary's life, are changed and transformed and will never again be the same.

Take some time to consider some of the stories of your own life. Look at the patterns that emerge. Look back at the road you traveled to have made the decisions you made to be where you are now. Is there wind at your window? Or, is there a voice speaking to you through your stillness or surprise or tears? 

I will leave you with the last two verses of Bell's poem/hymn as this evening meditation:

This child must be born
that the kingdom may come -
salvation for many
destruction for some:
both end and beginning,
both message and sign,
both victor and victim,
both yours and divine.

No payment was promised,
no promises made,
no wedding was dated,
no blueprint displayed.
Yet Mary's consenting
to what none could guess,
replied with conviction,
'Tell God I said, 'yes.' 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Celtic Advent - Day X - November 24


 
Celtic Advent - Day X - November 24

"If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change" 
Mahatma Gandhi. 


That's really what Gandhi said. 

He didn't say, "Be the change you want to see in the world." 

Neither did Marianne Williamson. 

Apparently, someone, somewhere decided that what Gandhi said was important enough to be edited a bit to something that was more memorable because it was easier to remember. 

Barack Obama took that idea a step further and said, "We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."

He may have heard that first from a recording of a standup comedy routine by Margret Cho, "I'm the one that I want," - a riff off the song "You're the one that I want" from "Grease," famously sung in the movie version by John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. 

I suppose it's true that there is no such thing as an original thought. 

Whenever I hear someone credit Gandhi with that quote, I remember something I learned in the first day of a class I took years and years ago in creative writing. "To be a successful creative writer, the first thing you need," the professor said, "is a good editor."

An idea is one thing. Communicating that idea is quite another. And then, there's effectively communicating, which is both an art and a science. 

Since we're observing a Celtic Advent, let's take the idea of the Incarnation. It's fascinating and intriguing  because, on its face, it's so impossible and preposterous. 

I mean, think about it: "God became flesh and dwelt among us." 

One one level, it sounds like the stuff of comic books. Or, is it that those comic books riffed off the idea of what it might look like to be a "Super Man" or a "Wonder Woman"? 

The notion of a deity or supernatural being or god with powers greater than those of human beings is not unknown in many ancient cultures including Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Norsemen, sub-Saharan Africans, Levantines, Polynesians, the Native American Inca, Mayan, Aztec, and those who adhere to the tenets of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism - well, I could go on but you get the point. 

Many of those ancient cultures also featured stories of interaction between the deity or deities with humans, sometimes producing offspring with human and supernatural powers. 

So, the idea of Mary being "with child by the Holy Spirit" and bearing a child who was "fully human and fully divine" who came to save the world, is also not exactly an original thought. 

What was it, then, that made the idea of Jesus - Emanuel "God With Us" - catch on? Was it the stories surrounding his birth? Was it the miracles Jesus performed while he was alive? 

Was it only in retrospect - looking back over his life and the circumstances of his birth and death - that people were able to put together the pieces that began to make some sort of powerful, life-changing sense? 

Or is there just something in us - something at the core of what it means to be human, no matter the time or culture in which we live - that so much desires this idea of a God who "put on flesh and dwelt among us" - that it becomes The Truth?

Whatever it is, I have been strongly persuaded over the years, that the first and last step to becoming a Christian is to believe in the Incarnation. I mean, to my mind, everything else is just detail. 

The Virgin Birth? Okay. The Miracles of Jesus? Sure. The Crucifixion? No doubt. The Resurrection? Possible. Very, very possible. 

But, none of those tenets of faith would mean anything - could not even be possible - without first believing in the Incarnation. Actually, none of it would even make sense unless you believed that Jesus was, indeed, fully human and fully divine. 

I'll probably return to this thought again over the next thirty-days, but for right now, I'm wondering how this word - about The Word - became incarnate in our lives. 

Here's one thought I've held for awhile: I think it has to do with living into and out of the Incarnation. It means 'enfleshing' the idea, the dream of Jesus. 

I think it means being a bearer of the Light of Christ. It means that the Christ in you helps to illuminate the Christ in others. 

Or, perhaps, the Light of Christ in others has illuminated - called forth - the Christ in you.

I think the most effective form of communication is taking the idea of Jesus, the dream of Jesus, and making it part of every fiber of our own flesh. 

There’s a great story about Mr. Rogers that, I think, is a great reflection on what the Incarnation means in its most effective form.

The first year of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, the public broadcasting affiliate in Pittsburgh granted Fred Rogers a shoestring budget. 

The set crew was made up of camera and sound and set directors who had been fired from other programs, mostly because they were a motley crew of alcoholics and drug addicts who had a spotty attendance record and were considered unreliable.

Mr. Rogers never once talked to them about their addictions or their behaviors or their work record. Indeed, he never talked about God or religion in general or Jesus in particular. 

He always treated them with kindness and respect and was genuinely interested in them, engaging them in conversations about their families and their interests, asking them about their hopes and their dreams, and quietly encouraged them to pursue them.

At the celebration of the first anniversary of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, which was a sudden, unexpected success, there was another, hidden success on that set. 

Every single last one of that crew was clean and sober and in 12-Step Recovery Programs.  They came to work in clean jeans and ironed shirts and wore a tie. They took pride in their work and it showed.

I don't think communication about the incarnation gets more effective than that. The radical transformation in that staff - which some called 'miraculous' - could only have happened because Fred Rogers embodied the notion, idea, the dream of - and belief in - Jesus.

It is said that St. Francis taught his friars, "Preach the Gospel always; use words if necessary."

On this tenth night of the Celtic Advent, consider how your life "enfleshes" the idea of Jesus, the dream of Jesus, the belief in Jesus. How does your life speak of the unconditional love of God that you profess to believe? 

We are the change we seek.

There may not be an original thought, but there are original people. How does your enfleshment of Jesus illuminate your originality? 

Here is tonight's meditation

"In my own life, as winters turn into spring. I find it not only hard to cope with mud but also hard to credit the small harbingers of larger life to come, hard to hope until the outcome is secure. Spring teaches me to look more carefully for the green stems of possibility; for the intuitive hunch that may turn into a larger insight, for the glance or touch that may thaw a frozen relationship, for the stranger's act of kindness that makes the world seem hospitable again."
 ~ Parker J. Palmer, "Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation"


Monday, November 23, 2020

Celtic Advent - Day IX - November 23

 


Celtic Advent - Day IX - November 23

"Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it,
I must listen to my life telling me who I am."
- Parker J. Palmer, "Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation"


As I look ahead at the thirty-one days of Advent that stretch out before me, I've been thinking today about the way I felt about two or three days into my pilgrimage on The Camino. 
We had only walked about 6 or 7 miles the day before but the hills we had to climb as we left San Sebastian were steep. Very steep. 
At several points, I thought that either my lungs were going to explode in my chest or the muscles in my calves and thighs were going to pound their way out of my legs. Or, perhaps, both. I had to sit down and rest at several points on the way up. 
I didn't feel too bad about it as I continued to pass several of my fellow pilgrims who were much younger and in much better shape having the same struggle. Even so, it lead me to question whether or not I could make it. 
Troubling questions stalked me as I huffed and puffed my way up the steep incline of the hills above the beautiful beach at San Sebastian. Had I made a mistake? Was it arrogance that made me think I could be an actual peregrino? Or, was I being delusional? 
Well, I made it through the first day and wasn't even the last person to finish the trail that had been set out for us that day. We were then loaded into the van and drove less than an hour to Bilbao where we were to spend the night and start off early in the morning.
I found my room and had a long, hot shower and started to feel better, but I knew - because I had read the preparation book - that the second and third day were going to be the days when my muscles would complain the most.
So, after a delicious dinner, I returned to my room and took another hot shower and a couple of Tylenol and fell into an exhausted sleep in a most comfortable bed. 
Just before I woke up, in that Land of Haze between sleep and reality, I heard my mother’s voice. She was telling one of her favorite stories about me. I don’t remember it but she did. Apparently, in my semi-dream, she still did.

The story goes that the summer before I was to start my first day of school in the first grade, I was so excited that it was all I talked about all summer long. I had to pick out a special “outfit” which my mother put on layaway at Arlan’s Department Store. 

I had a pair of blue – not, brown, not black, blue – Mary Jane shoes. I had white anklet socks which my grandmother hand-trimmed with white lace. I even had the breakfast I wanted and had picked out for the morning, just to start the day off right.

"Hen in a Hole". Well, that's the rough translation. It was a thick slab of my grandmother's Portuguese bread, with a hole cut in the middle and slathered with butter and grilled on one side. The "bread hole" was also grilled to perfection. 

After my mother determined that magical time when it was perfectly toasted, she flipped it over and then cracked an egg in the middle of the hole. When the egg was cooked to perfection, she slid it from the spatula to my plate where I immediately broke the yolk with the toasted "bread hole". 

Oh, my. I can taste the buttery, eggy deliciousness of it, even now. I wondered if there was a restaurant anywhere in Spain that might have a close replica of that breakfast.

My mother’s story of my first day of school has even more detail than my breakfast but the bottom line is that my first day of school was a great success. 

From all reports, I loved it – even the walk to and from school which was approximately a mile each way. I came home for lunch, gobbled it down and went straight back to school, skipping along the way.

The next morning, my mother reports she woke me up for the second day of school. “Get up, Elizabeth,” she called. “Time to get ready for school!”

“School?” moaned I as I rolled over, “I already went to school yesterday.”

Insert uproarious parental laughter here.

It was just about that time, early in the morning, snuggled deep in my bed in Bilbao, Spain, that I felt the first wave of queasiness in my stomach - just as I had so many, many years before on my second day of school. 

“C’mon, get up!” I heard my mother’s voice say, “You have to go to school.”

I opened my eyes and thought, Right! It’s the second day of The Camino. Of course my subconscious brought up that story. But, boy, it sure felt like my mother was right here in the room with me in Bilbao.

I've often wondered if Mary had second thoughts. I wonder if, as she was walking from her home to the hill country to see her cousin, Elizabeth, that she felt the queasiness that hits you in the pit of the stomach at just the same time reality hits. 

Maybe it was morning sickness. Maybe it was reality. 

Saying 'yes' to a challenge, making a commitment to that challenge, is no small task.

I've discovered that this is part of what makes a commitment strong. It is the deepening of the reality that begins to work its way into every part of your body. 

This is part of what the incarnation means: it is the 'enfleshment' of a dream or an idea - perhaps it was something you didn't even know you wanted or needed, or in a form which you never expected - which burrows its way into your body so that you can begin to live into it and out of it. 

Ask any woman who has been pregnant. She'll tell you.

You don't need a pregnant woman to tell you, however. 

Ask your life. 

Take some time during this Celtic Advent, as the days stretch out before you, to do a little inventory of the stories of your life. Look back and into those times when you made a commitment to do something: 

Start a career. Take a new path. Begin a relationship. End a relationship. Start of new life.

See if you can find and name the times when an idea or dream sparked in you, when you made a commitment to it, when that commitment became incarnate in you, how you lived differently because of your choice. Has the memory of that experience come back to visit you when you were about to make another decision, another commitment in your life? 

Spend some time writing in your journal about what you dreamed. What you felt. How your body responded. What you experienced.

Here are some wise words from Frederick Buechner for tonight's meditation.

Listen to your life.
See it for the fathomless mystery that it is.
In the boredom and pain of it
no less than in the excitement and gladness:
touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it
because in the last analysis all moments are key moments,
and life itself is grace.  ~ Frederick Buechner

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Celtic Advent - Day VIII - November 22

 


Celtic Advent - Day VIII - November 22


Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be. 

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.

It's hard to believe that we are already nine days into this forty day time of preparation for the Feast of the Incarnation. But, here we are. 

I confess that, as I look at the calendar and consider that I've just committed to 40 of these meditations, I'm a little overwhelmed. I mean, I assure you, I do have an outline of what it is I want to address. 

The first ten days, we have spent talking about a pilgrimage and Advent. The second ten days we will be moving into talking about The Incarnation - the first one. 

The third quarter is designated to talking about where we see Christ alive in our lives as well as what we think we might expect when Jesus comes again in the Parousia. Finally, we'll talk about the celebrations of Christmas - of our childhood, what we observe today and what we might want to change, subtract or add.

I thought, before we go any further in this journey together, I might stop and answer a question some of you have asked me privately (I love that you do that, BTW. Thank you.)

Several have mentioned that, because of the pandemic, they can't get out to their favorite retreat house. Or, that they like to stop off at this or that favorite church and just sit for 10 or 15 minutes on the way home from work. 

Or, that working at home - which they thought, at first, would be GREAT! - has so blurred the lines between work and home that it's hard to separate time for work and time to just be home, much less designate a time and a place for prayer. 

And, as always, I'm thinking of the people I've met over the years who are poor, who don't have the luxury of a "place" to designate as a sacred space, much less a "time" to set aside for prayer. A "retreat" to them is a luxury they can't even imagine for themselves beyond working two jobs just to feed their family and afford living in a small apartment or three bedroom single-wide trailer home with three generations of people. 

So, I thought I'd spend this time just talking about how to set aside a time for a retreat. 

First, it IS important to make a commitment of time. If daily is impossible, then look at your calendar and see what is. It might just be once a week. Celebrate that! That's more than you had before you looked. Make a commitment to that - to yourself and to God. 

Write it down on your calendar. No, I'm serious. Actually write it down. Use "ST" for Sacred Time or RT for Retreat Time. But, write it down. In bold letters. Something happens when you do that. Somehow, it makes the commitment real - as real as other things in your life that you don't want there and they happen anyway. 

Second, create a space. Find a space in your home where you can bless as your retreat space. It may be a chair tucked in the corner of a room, or a folding chair and table where you might do your journaling. It might be a seat at your kitchen table. Or, it may be your side of the bed. I've known some people who sat on the bus on their way home from work, closed their eyes and silently blessed the space surrounding them. Others, have blessed the space they were walking through on their way home from school or work. 

Do the best you can do with what you've got.

Create a short little ritual to dedicate that space. You might want to sprinkle the space with water. You might want to bless the space with a prayer, even if it is simply, "I bless this space as sacred space." You may add something like, "God, I ask you to be in this space with me, to open my soul to you for insight, knowledge, inspiration, creativity, reconciliation and healing."

You may want to dedicate it before each use. My friend on the bus did that. Or, having done it once, you may feel it has been blessed and continues to be blessed by your prayers.

Beginning with a meditation is always a good way to start. Keep yourself still and allow the stillness to sink into your body. Take a few moments to feel yourself breathe deeply. Imagine that the breaths you take are coming to you from Ruach, the Holy Breath and Holy Spirit of God which sustains life and, in the beginning, created order out of chaos.

I posted a favorite meditation at the beginning of this post. I say it three times: "Be still and know that I am God." Before I say it, I take a deep breath and, which each inhale, I try to visualize healing energy entering my body; with every exhale, I try to visualize the tension and pain leaving my body. And then, I actually try to be still. 

Another of my favorite beginning meditations is to inhale and say, "Here." And then exhale and say, "Am I." Here Am I. It's what Adam said in The Garden after he had eaten from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. It was his first response to God, which is prayer.  

Finally, on very busy days, I inhale and say/think, "I am enough." I exhale and say/think, "I can not do this alone." Again, I try to visualize healing energy entering my body with every inhale; I try to visualize the tension and any pain leaving my body with every exhale. 

And then, I let the brief prayer I have said sink in through my body and down to my soul. Sometimes - especially of late - I find that I am placing my hand over my heart as I meditate and breathe. It helps me to be aware of my breathing and my body, and allows me to feel the rhythm of my lungs and heart. A very holy sense. 

If I am home, I try to light a candle at the beginning of the session. 

Practice self-compassion. Imagine a close friend sitting next to you. Imagine what that person would say to you, words of encouragement, without judgement. Say those words to yourself. Be your own best friend. It also helps you to be a best friend to others. 

Now, imagine yourself at a doorway. If there is a door and it is closed, spend some time looking at the door - its color and texture and design. Does it have a widow or is it solid? Is it old or new? It is good to be curious in this space. 

Then, open the door but pause on the threshold for a few seconds. Know that as you cross this threshold, you will be entering into a liminal kind of time - kairos, the ancients called it. Know that in this time, in this new space, you will be able to encounter both challenges and grace. Know that you are being invited to rest in unknowing and that something will be revealed.

Know that you are safe. Nothing will harm you here in this space.

When you are ready, step across the threshold and again, be curious about what you see. What do you smell? Taste? Hear? Allow yourself some time to experience where you are. Welcome joy, excitement, fear, trepidation, anxiety, and whatever else is rising in your soul. 

Make friends with those emotions and invite them to be companions on the journey with you. Yes, even anxiety and fear. Ask them to be your teachers and your guides, for all of these emotions have a gift they will bring to you, if you open your heart to have compassion on yourself. 

Offer a prayer here for whatever your heart's desire is for this time of introspection. Speak from your heart to your soul about what you are longing for most. Ask for what you need. Don't be afraid to be bold and audacious. Nothing is impossible here. 

Remember this place. Know that it contains everything you need to navigate the landscape here. Know that there have been other pilgrims who have traveled in this space; some of them are here with you now. Don't be afraid to ask them for guidance or advice. 

Make a commitment to return to this place as often as you can. When you feel ready, open your eyes and pass through this liminal space back into the outer world around you. 

Spend a few moments journaling, if you can. Reflect on your experience. 

I have worked with some people who find that anointing themselves before beginning this time of meditation is very helpful. I have done it but I, personally, tend to save it for "The Big Questions". I don't know why. It's just what feels right to me. 

I use various oils for various reasons. If you haven't already, you may enjoy exploring and discovering healing oils and various fragrances. I'm especially partial to lavender. I find it soothing and relaxing. I often use it at the bedside of my Hospice patients which helps them and their families. Sometimes, I have used peppermint, especially if I want to awaken my senses and be especially awake and aware of what I'm going to experience.

Some people anoint their entire body, starting with the soles of their feet. I anoint my forehead, asking that my mind be opened.  I anoint my open palms, that I might receive what I need. I anoint my heart that it might stay open and be filled with compassion for myself and the world. And, sometimes, I anoint my throat, that I might find the courage to speak my truth and the greater courage to be quiet until it is time for my truth to be spoken. 

There are a few other hints and tips along the way but, if you've never practiced meditation before, this is more than enough to get you started. If you've meditated in the past but have fallen out of practice, I hope this has given you some inspiration to begin again. If you are skilled at meditation, perhaps you'll leave some of your own hints and tips in the comments.

Someone commented that it's obvious that I've put a lot of thought and work into these daily reflections. Actually, I can't say that I have. I use this meditation and then, out come the reflections. Sometimes, the words come so quickly it's hard to keep up. Other times, I lose track of time and, when I look up, my computer screen is filled with words and I'm not exactly certain how they got there. 

It's how I've always prayed. Well, for the last few decades. I hope it sparks something in you. 

Here's tonight's meditation, one of my favorites. I imagine Mary singing it as she did her chores around the house. It is no wonder her own song is a reflection of Hannah's song.  I imagine Jesus heard her singing it as he was being carried in her arms. He was raised to know and love and embrace justice and joy. 

It's a good song to sing on this journey to discover the justice and joy at the heart of the Incarnation of God.

The Song of Hannah (I Samuel 2:1-8)

My heart exults in you, O God;*
my triumph song is lifted in you.

My mouth derides my enemies,*
for I rejoice in your salvation.

There is none holy like you,*
nor any rock to be compared to you, our God.

Do not heap up prideful words or speak in arrogance;*
Only God is knowing and weighs all actions.

The bows of the mighty are broken,*
but the weak are clothed in strength.

those once full now labor for bread,*
those who hungered now are well fed.

The childless woman has born sevenfold,*
while the mother of many is forlorn.

God destroys and brings to life, casts down and raises up;*
gives wealth or takes it away, humbles and dignifies.

God raises up the poor from the dust;*
and lifts the needy from the ash heap
To make them sit with the rulers*
and inherit a place of honor.

For the pillars of the earth are God's*
on which the whole earth is founded.

Onward!

The Least of These

 


A Sermon preached on Facebook Live Broadcast
Sirach 26:10 The Headstrong Daughter

Kevin Brown, (bishop of all Delaware), and I were having a conversation about the COVID pandemic earlier this week, especially in terms of the current surge or spike or whatever it is we’re currently in the midst of, which is bound to get even worse after the Thanksgiving holiday. 


Specifically, we were talking about the new restrictions being placed on us by the Governor – slipping us back from Phase 3 and into Phase 1.5 – as a way to help prevent the spread of COVID and provide early intervention to those who do test positive. 


I remarked to him that, throughout this pandemic, I have learned things I didn’t even know I needed to know. He laughed and agreed and said, “ministry never ceases to amaze me.” 


Today is The Feast of Christ the King. The gospel for today provides a very different image than the ones of royalty that are conjured by the term “Christ the King”. It is Jesus who provides the analogy of the King but does so in a way that is decidedly not kingly but needy – someone who is hungry and thirsty, a naked, sick, imprisoned stranger – and who is being tended to in his need. 


The disciples are understandably confused by this and ask him, “So, when did we see you in such need and tended to you?” And Jesus answers,  “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”


“The least of these” – that’s what Jesus said. “The least of these who are members of my family.”  And then, true to Matthew’s style, he reports that Jesus underscores the point by talking about those who did not tend to the ‘least of these’. 


To no one’s surprise for those who have been reading Matthew’s gospel this past year – especially his parables – those who do not provide for those who do not have their basic human needs met there awaits “eternal punishment”. 


Which gives rise to an interesting question about ministry, which has to do with intent. Why do you do what you do? When you care for those in need, do you do it to make yourself feel good? Or, out of a sense of guilt? Or, fear of eternal damnation? Or, is it out of duty – because you’ve been told you have to? One more box to ‘check’ which will move you one row closer to God who sits on a throne in heaven? 


I hasten to point out that this is not what Jesus is saying. At. All. I’m betting he also didn’t say that stuff Matthew wants us to believe about being thrown into “eternal punishment”. That’s just absolutely antithetical to everything we know about the unconditional love and the abundant mercy of God as revealed in Christ, Jesus. 


Jesus is saying that ‘the least of these’ is ME – Jesus!. Whatever you do to ‘the least of these’ you do to ME. Jesus wants us to look at the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, those who are a stranger to us or who are sick and in prison and when we do, to see HIM. He wants us to see HIS face in he face of every person who has been denied a basic human right. 


Now, I admit, this is not an easy task. It’s much easier to act out of pity or to see ourselves as ‘better than’ this ‘poor unfortunate’ and tend to them as a sort of insurance policy to earn favor with God or that our ‘good deed’ will provide some protection in the future against our slipping into such and unfortunate lot. 


I learned this lesson from my field education supervisor when I was a seminarian intern at St. John’s, Bowdoin St, in Boston, MA. His name was Emmett Jarrett – “Fr. Emmett” as everyone knew him. A nose-bleed high Anglo Catholic who never read a psalm or piece of scripture that didn’t need to be chanted or saw a thurible that didn’t need another charcoal and an extra spoonful of incense. 


Sadly, Emmett died a few years ago of pancreatic cancer but he will live forever in my fondest memories which often return to bless me with the amazing things ministry has to teach us the things we didn’t even know we needed to know. 


St. John’s had a weekly ministry known as “The Thursday Night Supper”. It had started as a “soup kitchen” but had evolved into a full sit down dinner for those who were poor and/or homeless in that place in Boston where Beacon Hill rises to meet Government Center. It used to be a “blue light” district – filled with burlesque halls and bars, its streets lined with “ladies of the night” who were happy to take you upstairs and help you to forget your troubles. 


Many of the guests at the Thursday night supper arrived in what we referred to as ‘altered states of consciousness’. Some of it was drug induced, some in an alcoholic haze and for some it was both. One man I remember arrived that night in particularly bad shape. I can’t remember his name this very red hot second, but I’ll never forget his face. Or, the way he smelled. The pungent odor of the mixture of cigarettes, booze and filthy clothing and a body that had not been washed in weeks have a way of staying with you for the rest of your life. 


I want to say that his name was Ronald. Ronnie, seems to strike a familiar cord. Ronnie seemed always to be in a perpetual bad mood. Most of the other guests moved aside when he walked into the room. If you didn’t and if he was particularly cross that day, you might find his fist in your face. Indeed, that night, Ronnie looked as if someone had crossed him and he had lashed out but they struck back and he was much worse for the wear. 


Well, at least, I wouldn’t want to see what the other guy looked like. Ronnie’s face was covered with scratches and bumps and bruises and the places where streaks of blood that had been wiped away by the corner of his coat sleeve told the story of his recent round of fisticuffs.  


The coordinator of the Thursday night supper was a delightful man and dear friend named Jack Flaherty. Jack also had the weekly task of calling us all to prayer before our guests were served their meal. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he would begin. It was amazing how quickly the entire room was overcome by a hushed quiet, especially when they were being treated respectfully and with dignity. 


Jack would welcome everyone and then read off the menu for the evening, always adding, “And, for those of you who, for whatever reason, don’t want to or can’t eat what we have prepared or if your child prefers, you may go to the table in the back of the room where we have the best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in all of Boston which will be assembled to your liking right in front of you.”

Jack would then invite Fr. Emmett to say the grace at the end of which there would be a quiet, orderly, table-by-table procession to the buffet table where volunteers would help prepare each guest’s plate. 

This one night, however, the guests had no sooner said “Amen” to Fr. Emmett’s prayer when a commotion broke out in the back of the parish hall. It was Ronnie, but this time, it wasn’t a fight. This time, Ronnie was in the midst of a violent seizure. 


I remember Ms. Conroy, who is a nurse, bounding over people, Emmett hot on her trail, over to Ronnie who seemed to be over the worst of the seizure. Ms. Conroy knelt down next to Ronnie and took his pulse. As soon as he stopped seizing, Emmett knelt down at Ronnie’s head, cradling him in his knees and wiping his brow with a wet cloth someone had thought to bring. 


Ms. Conroy pronounced Ronnie ‘okay’ and to ‘give him some space and some air’ and ‘someone call Mass General for an ambulance’ as Jack called everyone back to their places and for supper to proceed. Emmett stayed with Ronnie, humming softly to him, and tenderly wiping his brow, telling him softly and gently that the seizure was over and help was on the way.


I could barely stand the smell from where I was standing. Just as I was wondering how Emmett could stand being that close for that long, Emmett did something I will never forget. Emmett bent down and kissed Ronnie’s forehead. Sweat. Grime. Blood. And, who knows what else. Kissed him right there. On his filthy forehead. In front of God and everyone. 


And then, I understood the words found in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel. “When you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 


In kissing Ronnie, Emmett was kissing Jesus.  


Later that week, in my supervisory session with Emmett, we talked about what had happened with Ronnie. Emmett showed me the passage from Matthew and pointed out that the word that had been translated as “members of my family” was not an accurate translation. The word used was “anawim” which means “beloved”. 


Those who are “beloved of Jesus” are the “anawim” – the least, the lost and the lonely; the outcast who suffer hunger and thirst, who are naked and sick and locked out of homes and locked into a life of misery and suffering. 


Here’s the thing: I didn’t learn that in a book or in a classroom. I don’t know if I would have learned that lesson quite as well as I did by being in the midst of it. It’s a lesson that I didn’t even know I needed to learn but it has stayed with me, lo these more that 30 years later. 

That’s the thing about ministry. It never ceases to amaze. 


So, when you gather this Thursday for the holiday we know as Thanksgiving, I hope you reflect on this passage from the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel. 


I hope you consider those things that make you grateful, yes, but I hope you also spend some time considering how to put your gratitude – not fear of eternal punishment – into some act of selfless kindness and generosity. I hope you consider how you might find Jesus in places and faces that might initially give you pause or repel you until you train your eye to see the face of Jesus; to see the anawim, the beloved of Christ. 


For this is the King we serve. Christ Jesus, the King of Unconditional Love who calls us into ministry that never ceases to amaze. 

Amen.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Celtic Advent - Day VII - November 21

 


Celtic Advent - Day VII - November 21, 2020

Seek
nayyirah waheed

you will find your way. it is
in the
same place

as
your love.

Halloween had just ended when suddenly, Christmas decorations appeared in the supermarket!

Along with that, there magically appeared two whole rows of plastic Christmas serving platters and cups and ceramic Santa Claus mugs and paper tablecloths and plates and napkins. And, another two whole section of boxes of Christmas cards. 

I don't know why, exactly, but I feel the need to point his out: Thanksgiving is Thursday. We haven't even gorged ourselves on turkey and pumpkin pie and people are already getting ready for Christmas.

I would join you in thinking that it's just the Madison Avenue marketing people who want us to get ready for Christmas but I saw people - several people, actually - putting Christmas stuff in their shopping basket, right next to all the stuff they were buying for Thanksgiving. 

I don't get it. 

I really hate feeling like *that* grumpy Episcopal priest (or organist or older gentleman or woman who identifies loudly as a "cradle Episcopalian" for no particular reason except they want to be certain that you know) who grinches and grumbles that there will be NO singing of Christmas Carols or Hymns during Advent. 

I'm really not *that* priest. Not that I can't be grumpy but, well, I guess I've learned to pick my battles carefully, there being so many occasions for them in the church.

Oh, I've been known to gently caution the organist and choir members that this is a "touchy subject" for many in the church so please "let's not give that fire any fuel," but beyond that, that's not a particular sword upon which I wish to fall.

Beyond the whole Madison Avenue PR campaign and arguments about "the evils of capitalism", however, I don't understand the need to rush things. It's part of our American culture, I fear. Everything's got to be better, bigger, stronger, faster.

It reminds me of Mandy Patinkin who sings my favorite version of "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup" from the Broadway musical "70, Girls, 70". Here are a few of the lyrics.

"The trouble with the world today, it seems to me
is coffee in a cardboard cup.

The trouble with the world today is plain to see
is everything is hurry up
There's Reddi Whip
Instant tea
Minute rice and my oh me.
There's coffee
I think she said 'coffee'
I know she said 'coffee'
In a cardboard cup'.

Is it instant gratification? Is that what we're after? Or, is it a result of overpopulation? 

I remember one of my first college courses in psychology. One particular psychological study, conducted over a twenty year period from 1950-1970, was getting lots of press. Psychologist John Calhoun's "mouse utopia" for the NIH was a study about the effects of population density on behavior. 

The work tapped into the era's feeling of dread that crowded urban areas heralded the risk of moral decay - and events like the murder of Kitty Genovese in NY only served to intensify the worry. A host of scientific works like Soylent Green and comics like 2000AD arouse and also inspired the 1971 children's books, "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH," which was also made into a 1982 film, "The Secret of NIMH" (one of my favorites). 

I suspect that 'feeling of dread' about moral decay has also contributed to dread about life in general. Life in these past four years, for many of us, have increased that sense of dread. The outbreak of COVID and racism and prejudice have served to intensify our sense of doom. 

Sometimes it feels to me that we, as a people, behave as if we have been caught in a rip tide - and, we're doing exactly the thing we're told not to do. 

As one who lives in a coastal community in a Midlantic State, we are made keenly aware of the danger of riptides. Riptides or rip currents, are long, narrow bands of water that quickly pull any objects in them away from the shore and out to sea. People often become exhausted struggling against the current, and cannot make it back to shore.

It's counterintuitive but the way to survive a riptide is to NOT swim toward the shore. If you do that, you will be fighting the current and, it is guaranteed, you will lose. There really is no contest. The riptide will always win. Some riptides can actually carry you hundreds of yards off shore.

Trying to swim against a riptide will only use up your energy; energy you need to survive and escape the riptide. So, the idea is to swim along the shoreline until you escape the current's pull. When free from the pull of the current, you swim at an angle away from the current toward the shore. 

Are you beginning to sense a spiritual metaphor here? 

I thought you would. 

I think of the rush to Christmas as a cultural riptide of sorts. It's so easy to get caught up in it and fight against it, exhausting ourselves and finally, ultimately, collapsing into its swirling waters, drowning in the cultural deep. 

Advent is a time to swim parallel to the Christmas Cultural Riptide or, depending on its strength and persistence, letting it take us a few hundred yards away from the shore until we can escape the current's pull. 

I suspect that is what the Celtic Advent offers us. Forty days and nights, as opposed to a mere four weeks, might just be the way to survive the Christmas cultural madness and keep us in touch with our spiritual core. 

Advent means "a coming into place, view or being; arrival". 

I'm quite partial to the idea of Advent being "a coming into place, view or being." There is no right or wrong way to do that. There is only your way. 

And, what it is that comes into place, view or being is unique to you. It may be the Baby Jesus, just as the hymns suggest. It may be to heed the many sermonic messages and "find the Christ in you" or "prepare a manger in your heart where Christ may dwell."

It may be a new, placental growth adhering itself to the wall of your soul, preparing to nurture a part of yourself that is yearning to find life and be born. 

Or, it may be the embryo of your authentic self which has had to remain hidden, terrified of judgment or consequence, but finally finding the right time to begin to emerge.

None of that can happen if you are fighting against the Christmas Cultural Riptide.

Here is a wee poem with deep meaning for tonight's meditation. May it be with you as you let the tide carry you away from the shore before you swim back home.

Home
nayyirah waheed (from salt, 2013)

there is you and you.
this is a relationship.
this is the most important relationship.