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

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Holela: A Certain Kind of Madness

Leonard Cohen, the nation's aged, craggy poet and raspy balladeer laureate, died this week at age 82.

He gave us thoughtful, poetic songs about religion and romance like "Suzanne" and "Bird on a Wire" and, of course, "Hallelujah". 

There is an irony, for me at least, about his death so soon after the death of everything so many of us thought we knew about ourselves,  each other and this country. 

Can there be many who don't know the haunting beauty of his song, "Hallelujah"? 

It's been covered so many times by so many artists in so many situations - from the movie Shrek to the Memorial at the Emmy Awards, to my personal favorite by K.D. Lang - that Cohen even agreed with a critic’s plea in 2009 for a moratorium on the song’s usage in movies and on TV.  

If you listen to Cohen's original recording of his song, on his 1984 album "Various Positions," you hear something different. Something darker. Something more ominous. Something about the death of dreams and the paradox of love and how taking the risk of living into either one can lead to the possibility of healing and/or hurt, devastation and/or inspiration.

You hear in his craggy, ragged voice something about mortality and the fragility of life. You hear something about how dreams and love can sometimes lead mere mortals to amazing foolishness and degradation as well as incredible achievements and miraculous nobility. 

He wrote the song in 1984. It's probably no coincidence that Ronald Regan was elected President of the United States in November of that same year. I remember hearing it played at the deathbeds and funerals of so many people who were dying of AIDS.

The story goes that it took Cohen two years and eighty verses - some of them written while sitting in his underwear on the floor of the Royalton Hotel in New York, banging his head on the floor. If you listen, you can hear that in his song, as well.

Which is about right for a song about which the author once said,  " . . . explains that many kinds of hallelujahs do exist, and all the perfect and broken hallelujahs have equal value."

Hallelujah - or Alleluia - is a word of no small significance in communities of faith. But it doesn't always mean what we think it means. 

Most linguistic and Hebrew scholars agree that it is an amalgam of two words, the last "jah" is derived from the Hebrew word for God YHWH.  The first part, "halal" is usually understood to be an imperative form - a command - of the word "praise", but that's the easy version of translation.

Halal is also what lamps and celestial bodies do: shine.  In Job (41:10) this verb is employed to state how the sneezes of Leviathan "flash forth light". 

The masculine noun (mahalel) means "praise" or "rejoicing" or "congratulations".  The feminine noun (tehilla), means praise, song of praise or thanksgiving or adoration; it can also denote praiseworthy deeds.

But, there are two other feminine nouns, holela and holelut, which derive from this root word for praise, but ones which denote a kind of madness. It is usually associated with a sort of inexplicable exuberance; a deep joy which defies understanding or explanation.

One of my professors, a very wise Rabbi from New York, a very long time ago, once said to me that 
"Holela is the sound that comes from the intersection of suffering and wisdom; it is the sound of prayer, the sound of faith, the sound of hope, the sound of trust in God, which suffering tells us is foolish and wisdom tells us is truth."
He may or may not have known that, explicitly, but I have a sense that that's exactly what Cohen was expressing when he wrote this song.  Holela. It's what lead him to sit on the floor in his underwear in the NY hotel, banging his head on the floor.

Holela haunts this song, dancing seductively over the words, teasing out the melody until there is a sad but merciful and creative intercourse of the two. That's why it all sounds so painful and beautiful, all at the same time. 

It's what makes the song so compelling. We know it, not so much with our minds but intuitively. It speaks with "flashes of light from the sneeze of the ancient Leviathan" to the things we keep hidden in the darkest corners of the heart and soul. Its creativity is sensual and sexual; it is deeply spiritual and hopelessly romantic.

Holela captures almost precisely what I'm feeling after the madness of this week. 

Something has died, but something new is stirring in my soul. A new clarity about my identity - our identity as a nation -  which leads me to a new resolve. An emerging but yet clearly unidentified determination. 

When I can get out of my own way - my own sense of defeat and disappointment - I find enormous waves of gratitude washing over me. For Hillary. For her courage. For her intelligence. For her years of experience and service. For her class. For her grace - especially under enormous, impossible pressure.

For her willingness to carry the dream and hold the dream and risk the dream for all of us; for love of her people and her country. 

There's a certain kind of madness to that. Especially right now, less than a week later. 

Especially after hate crimes are on the rise, immigrants and people of different skin color and religious expression - here in the 'home of the brave and the land of the free" - are living in fear and terror, and women are, once again, targets for spiritual and emotional and physical abuse.

Even so, I find myself whispering, "Holela." It is my prayer. It is my statement of faith. 

It's the last verse of Cohen's song that has gotten me through this dreadful week. 
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
Here I stand, with nothing on my tongue but Holela.

Thank you for the inspiration and permission to do that, Leonard Cohen.

Thank you for the inspiration and courage to do that, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

It's a certain kind of madness, I know. But, at least I have gotten up from sitting on the floor in my underwear; I have stopped banging my head on the floor.

It may be different for you - no doubt, it is, and that's okay - but even though it all went wrong, standing upright before God, whispering and croaking "Holela" from the depths of my broken heart, seems absolutely the right place to be at this particular moment in time.

Call me crazy. You may be right. I stand in good company with women, ancient and modern, from all countries and cultures and creeds.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Prayer for November 9, 2016

 Note: I got up early on the morning of November 9th - I hadn't been sleeping anyway - and realized that I had to change the meditation I had prepared for my Hospice Team. So, I wrote this prayer. I share it here in the hopes that it may speak to you, as well. 

Dear God,

This new day has dawned with this country more divided than it has been since the days of the Civil War. Half of your people are rejoicing while the other half are stunned and sore afraid.

What divided us then continues to tear at the seams of the fabric of this nation.

We are a United Divided States.

Help us to remember that the experiment called democracy is not over; it is still being tested. After 240 years of existence, the final results are not yet in. We still have work to do. It stretches out before us, across wheat fields and deserts, from the mountains to the prairies, from sea to shining sea.
In the midst of our sense of victory, help us to remember your call to us to love one another as you love us.

In the midst of our sense of defeat, help us to remember that you still reign; you alone are worshiped; you alone are God.

Help us to put aside our own feelings – jumbled and confused as they may be at the moment – in service of others, our families and friends and neighbors – here and around the world.

Help us remember your high calling to us to be agents of forgiveness and reconciliation, love and peace, healing and hope in a world made dark by fear and hatred and brokenness.

Help us to rebuild this nation by seeking out your image in the face of others, finding the best in us to serve those who are the least, the lost and the lonely.

Help us to remember the words of one of your servants of old who reminded us that ‘perfect love casts out fear’. Help us perfect our love.

We are your people. You know us by many names. You are our God. We know you by many names.
May we find strength in our diversity and seek the courage to live into what is written on every piece of currency in this nation: In God we Trust. In God. We Trust.

For only in you can we live in safety. Only in you will we find justice. Only in you will we know the peace that passes all human understanding.


For God's sake, PREACH!!

I'm on a bit of a tear, here, so pull up a chair. Or, click delete and move along. Your call.

This is primarily for clergy but it's important that laity hear it as well. 
I've already heard from two clergy who assure me that they see "nothing to be gained and lots more to be lost" by preaching about the spiritual health and well being of our community, our nation and the world in the aftermath of Tuesday's election. 
"I'm just going to preach the gospel," said one to me.

I don't think he had yet gone over to the Lectionary Page. What is that Gospel for this Sunday? Oh, only a few little warnings from Luke (21:5-19), like
"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls."
Go ahead. Just try and preach something about "Sweet Baby Jesus, meek and mild" after THAT Gospel is read in the midst of a people who feel like they've been kicked in the stomach. 

My God! We just elected a man to the highest office in the land who is a White supremacist, a sexual predator, a dishonest business man who calls himself "The King of Bankruptcy," and a man who doesn't see the need to ask forgiveness, even from God. 
He feels he gets that in church - the few times he goes - from "the little cookie" but not the wine. He never drinks wine. Or, any alcohol. Such a virtuous man - with really lousy Eucharistic theology.
On Wednesday, November 9th, in Rehoboth Beach, DE, a young Black woman named Ashley, a mother of three young children, was accosted at a gas station by three white men who threatened to kill her. 
This was in Rehoboth Beach. The "nation's vacation place".  Just 20 minutes from where I live.

Things like that are not supposed to happen here. And yet, it happened. Right after the election. 
And, let's be very, very clear: This is just the beginning. 

Soon and very soon, clergy and laity alike are going to learn - if they don't already know - why it is that we call the inside of the church a "sanctuary".  Or, why the ceilings of most churches look like the inside bottom of an upside down boat - an illusion to Noah to whom God promised never to destroy the earth. 
If the newly elected President's word is good and his promises sure, beginning January 21st people who are Muslims, people who are immigrants who did not follow the byzantine immigration laws and are therefore considered "illegal aliens" will be rounded up and deported. Families will be torn apart. Children born in this country will be left without their parents who were not born in this country. 
Already, black and brown bodies are considered less valuable than white bodies. Our law enforcement officials feel they can shoot and kill black men with impunity for crimes like selling "loosies" (Cigarettes, 10 cents a piece or four for $1), or for "not following orders" when they are being held on the ground in the midst of an asthma attack yelling "I can't breathe", or even when they are on the ground, on their knees with their hands up. 
Our health care system does not treat people of color with the same quality of medical care. Our educational system does not value their minds or their futures. Our prison systems in the United States of America now contain more black men than South Africa did at the height of Apartheid. 
These things are already happening. It will get worse.

All the gains the Queer community has made in the past eight years are in danger of erosion. Watch for hate crimes to increase in five, four, three . . . .. 

And, women? By next Tuesday, a week from the election, I predict that shelters for women who are victims of domestic violence will be filled beyond capacity.  There will also be an increase in the incidence of rape. 

This is not hyperbole or fear mongering. Sociologists tell us that these things happen when our nation is in the spiritual dis-ease of high anxiety. Indeed, that's exactly what happened after 9/11. It was explained as the result of PTSD and increased alcohol abuse. 
There are lots of similarities between the ways people are expressing their feelings now and what happened on September 11, 2001. "Sick." "What just happened?" "What will happen to us?"

When all these things come to pass, what will the church do? How will the church be the Body of Christ incarnate here and now? What risks will we take for the Gospel we profess? 

Will we open our churches and parish halls to provide sanctuary? Will we put our bodies where our mouths have been? Will we put our faith into action? Will we take stands against injustice? Will we demonstrate? Protest? Be willing, like St. Paul, to be jailed for our beliefs? Or, at least, stand in solidarity with those who do?

Personally? I think the priest who doesn't preach on the spiritual state of this nation in church on Sunday ought to have a little visit from his or her bishop about their ability to lead a community of faith. Well, that's if the bishop has any cajones or ovaries. 
I think clergy who avoid the high calling of a pastorally prophetic sermon this Sunday ought to have a little "sit down, come to Jesus" with their spiritual director and therapist about the nature of their vocation. 

Because my personal assessment is that we are in the state we are in today, at least in part, because clergy have been afraid to preach the Gospel. 
Indeed, we've been afraid to live the Gospel and inspire others to do the same. 
In so doing, we have lost our spiritual, religious and moral authority. And, rightly so. 

For some clergy their personal financial security - especially their pension or sabbatical or compensation package - is more important than putting the work into preaching and living the Gospel.
What often passes for a sermons is regurgitated platitudes all strung together with assurances and reassurances of God's love. That's on a good Sunday. Sometimes, we might get to hear about the rector's last vacation, or her love of a particular sport's team, or his personal prayer life - all humbly offered, of course, with interjection of a bad joke at the beginning or shaggy dog story in the midst of it all so as to illicit appropriate laughter as a way to discharge nervous energy or anxiety. 
It's as if the unofficial philosophy of modern preaching for some pastors is "The church family that laughs together . . . doesn't decrease its pledge." 
Here's the truth as I know it: People are hungry for the Word. Our people are spiritually starved and thirsty. Our souls are emaciated. Our hearts are malnourished.  

I see it in my work in Hospice. I hear it conversations in the grocery store and Post Office. 

This is real, people. And, it's serious. Very serious.

This is a call to my sister and brother clergy: For God's sake, PREACH!

This is not the time for "humility" or hide behind your sense of "spirituality" or make false equivalencies about "church and state" in order to avoid the high calling - the enormous privilege - of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 
No, you do not have to take sides. Indeed, you shouldn't. If nothing else, there is the little matter of our tax exempt status with the IRS. God forbid we should lose that! 
All sarcasm aside, it ISN'T the job of clergy to tell people how to vote or exercise their civic duties. It IS the job of clergy to preach the Gospel, even when that puts them at odds with cultural norms. 
Especially when that puts them at odds with cultural norms.

In the words of Rev. William Barber, our task in this election was to 
“shock this nation with the power of love. We must shock this nation with the power of mercy. We must shock this nation and fight for justice for all. We can’t give up on the heart of our democracy, not now, not ever!”
That remains our sacred task as religious leaders - laity and ordained - after this election. 
Our people are sore afraid.  Yes, the ones who lost but even the ones who are thumping their chests in victory and terrorizing young Black women at gas stations. They are only doing that because they are afraid. They think that by abusing power they are powerful. 

They are pathetic, but make no mistake: They are afraid.
One of the ancients of the church once said, "Perfect love casts out fear." 
This is the time to put the belief we so easily profess into the hard work of action. 
We are people of Word and Sacrament. We must feed our people on Love Incarnate, Love Divine in the bread and wine as well as the words we preach. 

A bold, courageous, prophetic sermon which comes authentically from the very middle of the middle of a pastor's heart is a work of perfect love. 
Let me say that again: 
A bold, courageous, prophetic sermon which comes authentically from the very middle of the middle of a pastor's heart is a work of perfect love. 
And, let me say this: I am planning to attend two different churches on Sunday: One at 8 AM and one at 10 AM. If the Gospel is not preached, expect to see me rise from my seat and leave.

I'll be quiet. God knows, I won't make a fuss - I am Anglican, after all - but rest assured, I will not stay. And, I probably won't be back any time soon.

Others may not be so bold, but don't be surprised to see a dip in church attendance after that.

You'll be able to find me in those rare places where the Gospel IS preached and lived. Authentically. Boldly. Some of them are even Episcopal churches. 

I will leave you with these words to consider.  My friend and colleague Rev Aaron Payson, lead minister at the United Universalist Church of Worcester, MA, sent this to his congregation yesterday.

I share it now with you now in the hope that it will nourish your soul and inspire your religious imagination and creativity.
The Work of Citizenship
By Rev. Aaron Payson
(with appreciation for Howard Thurman’s “The Work of Christmas”)
When the last campaign ad has aired;
When polling stations are closed and the count has been certified;
When pundits and politicians have turned in for the night
And pollsters and political operatives are turning their thoughts to the next big race
The work of citizenship remains:

To care more for the marginalized than for profit margins
To be mindful that quality education is far less expensive than mass incarceration
To insist that military intervention is a last resort,
Not the preemptive prerogative of the powerful
In short, to know that our true wealth is the welfare of all beings and the planet that we all call home.
I know it says, "citizenship" but if ever there was a clearer vocational call to the church - the Citizens of the Realm of God, the "New Jerusalem" - I never heard it.

This is an amazing time to be a Christian. It's an even more incredible time to have the privilege of ordination and take the responsibility of our ordination vows seriously.

Yes, I'm sad I'm not able to preach this particular Sunday. I sound like I'm chomping at the bit because I am and I know it.

So, g'won. For God's sake: PREACH! In the pulpit and with your lives.

This is one of those times when you do need words, but they need to flow from your life and into the work of your ministry and inspire the lives and work and ministry of others.

We've got a lot of work to do.  Two years to take back the legislative branches of government and four years to take back the presidency.

Let's get busy, church!

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Calling All Saints

I am not superstitious. I am the granddaughter of Maria Lima Medeiros and the daughter of Lydia Medeiros Souza and they were superstitious. Except they called it being "religious".

They - like all the women in my family and neighborhood - had "pocket rosary beads" which they would whip out at the sound of the siren of an ambulance or a fire truck or police car and "shot arrow prayers" for anyone who might be ill or injured or in trouble.

They had a shelf in the pantry lined with votive candles - of various sizes and colors - which were taken out, in turn and as needed, and lit before a plethora of statues of various saints for various and sundry petitions of prayer. A slip of paper with the "special intention" scrawled on it could be found under the base of the saint.

Every night, before bed, my grandmother and/or mother would gather the children around the particular saint or saints to say the rosary - a decade (or 10 Hail Mary's) to each saint for each petition of prayer - preceded, of course, by the Apostle's Creed, the Our Father, the Glory Be and one of the Sacred Mysteries.We were to meditate on the Sacred Mystery while reciting the Hail Mary.

There was a ritual to these prayer sessions which had to be strictly followed. No joke. This was serious. If anyone messed up, you might piss off the saint and then he or she wouldn't grant the petition and it would be ALL YOUR FAULT.

Oh, and this was done kneeling. In front of the statue. Which was on the bureau in the bedroom.  On the hardwood floor. Which, when you're under 10 years old, is asking a whole lot. If you were lucky, you got the spot on the small carpet by the bed.

If we complained or got figgity, my grandmother would remind us of the "sacrifice" Jesus made for us on the cross, saying, "Oh, your knees hurt, do they? Just imagine how Jesus felt with his HANDS AND FEET NAILED INTO THE CROSS. He did that for YOU, remember. To save you from YOUR SINS, even though you didn't know you were a sinner and didn't even know to ask for it."

Nothing can hush a figgity child better than that image. 

We won't talk about the nightmares and neurosis it later produced. 
It worked in the moment and that's really all that mattered to women who were trying to change the world the best way they knew how.

And, if the prayer petition wasn't answered? Well, my grandmother would NOT be pleased. In fact, she would blow out the votive light and turn the statue of the saint to face the corner, admonishing him or her, "And, you will stay there until you answer my prayer."

That's the thing with saints and prayers. You gotta show 'em who's boss or they just walk all over you.

So, this morning, I lit a small votive candle when I said my prayers. I called on the spirit of my grandmother and those aunts and women who were born before women had the right to vote. 
I called on the spirit of my mother and aunts and those women who were the first in their family to vote. 
I called upon the spirit of the women who dressed in white and called themselves the Suffragettes who fought so hard and sacrificed so much for women to have the civil right to vote.

I called on the spirit of all of those women to be present to us today. 
I thanked them for all that has been, the spiritual gifts of those sacrifices and witnesses that have brought us to this day.  
I asked them to bestow upon us the spirit of reason and wisdom. 
I asked them to drop some knowledge and appreciation of our past - the struggles hard fought and well won - into our present awareness. 
I asked them to make us keenly aware of our identity as Americans so that we might put country over political party, faith before ideology, civility before entitlement, justice before righteousness.

And then, I got up, got washed and dressed, and put on the special pair of Hillary socks which I bought just for today.

I did not do any of this because I am superstitious. 
I did this because I am the granddaughter and daughter and niece and cousin of a whole long line of very religious women.

And, the apple did not fall far from the tree.

Now, go vote, everyone.
The saints are here. 
And, they are watching us and waiting to help us to do the right thing.

Don't let them down. 
It never goes well when you do. 
Just sayin'.