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"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

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Fired by salt

A Sermon preached at St. Phillip's Episcopal Church, Laurel, DE
Pentecost XIX Proper 21B
September 30, 2018
(the Rev'd Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

I love that phrase from the Epistle of St. James. “ . . . if anyone among you wanders from the truth . . .”. It sounds a gentle sort of innocence, doesn’t it? I’m reminded of that quote attributed to Sophie Tucker, “I used to be snow white, but then I drifted.”

Jesus says, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. . . .”

What does it mean, do you suppose, to be a “stumbling block” to others?

I’m asking that question in a week of an unprecedented Senate hearing for the position of Supreme Court Judge. Those who have been sexually harassed or assaulted or raped have found ourselves re-traumatized. Truth be told, we’ve all been traumatized by just how polarized and tribal we’ve become as a nation. 

As NPR journalist Cokie Roberts once lamented, “You can’t take the politics out of politics.”

I believe that God is present in everything, in every event in our lives. Just because God isn’t mentioned doesn’t mean God isn’t in the midst of the stories of our lives.

I think the best way to talk about what is happening is to talk about two women of antiquity, Vashti and Ester. We heard a bit of Ester’s story this morning (It’s one of the options of the lectionary selection – Track I), but to understand it, you have to know the story of her predecessor, Queen Vashti.

I urge you to read the Book of Ester and learn about this amazing Queen of Persia and her immediate predecessor Queen Vashti.

I think their stories will also help us understand what Jesus means when he talks about being a “stumbling block” and what he means when he says, “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?”

Because this is a sermon and not a Bible Study, I’m going to rely on the brilliant work of my colleague, Lindsay Hardin Freeman, who has managed to tell the highlights of the story in succinct summary:
<<“Vashti, the first wife of King Ahasuerus of Persia, is suddenly outsted from her post as queen for not obeying the king’s orders to “show the peoples and the officials her beauty” during a celebration to commemorate “the great wealth of his kingdom.” Although we don’t know exactly why she objected, here are some good reasons:
  • She was tired of entertaining, as the party was at the end of 187 days of feasting;
  • The king’s eunuchs arrived to “collect” her, probably somewhat undiplomatically;
  • The king was drunk (the Bible says, “merry with wine”) and;
  • Ahasuerus’ order for her to wear her crown apparently made her wonder if that was all she would be wearing.
Her refusal to answer Ahasuerus’ command humiliates the king in front of his subordinates, causing him to send word throughout the country that such behavior will not be tolerated. Every man, says he, should be master in his own house! Vashti disappears, never to be heard from again. We don’t know what happened to her.

And that is where Esther comes into the picture. Plucked out of the countryside to join Ahasuerus’ harem, she so “pleased” him that she was named Queen of Persia, eventually saving the Jewish community from annihilation.

It is possible, although not documented, that Vashti was killed. We will never know. But we do know this: she stood up for herself, refusing to parade before dozens, if not hundreds, of drunken men. She had had enough."??>>
For her part, Ester keeps her racial identity as a Jew secret from her husband until “such a time as this” which is how she saves all the Jews – men, women and little children, as well as all of their property –  in all of the 127 provinces of King Ahauerus’ kingdom. 
Secrets. Secrets are very powerful. Hildegard of Bingen once said, “Secrets make us sick.” 

There’s an aphorism in 12-Step Programs that “You are only as sick as your secrets.” 

I think both those things are true. I think secrets can help us to “wander from the truth” about ourselves. I think it is secrets which create stumbling blocks for others and ourselves on our life’s journey. 

Secrets create in us a millstone round our neck, which can cause us to drown in a Sea of Deceit or cause us to be shipwrecked on the Shoals of Anxiety. 

The problem with secrets is that, if we tell ourselves alternate versions of the truth – because it’s too upsetting or embarrassing or humiliating – and we repeat them often enough, we can convince ourselves that the alternate story IS the truth.

We present a picture of ourselves – a version of the truth about ourselves – that we want others to believe. We can even convince ourselves that this is who we really are, that we have it all together, that everything is just fine, that there are no clouds in the sky, no rain on the horizon, and there are no obstacles in our path. Indeed, never have been, never will be.

Meanwhile, we have become our own stumbling blocks. Meanwhile, we are drowning with a millstone of our own creation around our very own necks.

I feel called to tell you about one of my Hospice patients. Most of you know that I am a Hospice Chaplain. A while back, one of my patients was a 94 or 95 year old woman who, at first, was a little leary about my role. Eventually, she grew to like me and, more importantly, trust me.

One day when I went to visit she asked me if I heard confession? Yes, I said. Well, did I give absolution. Indeed, I said. Well then, said she, I have a story to tell you.

She took a deep breath and said, "When I was 15 years old, I was raped by my uncle. I didn't even have a word for it. I just knew that I was violated. A few months later, I found that I was pregnant. I was scared. I was terrified. I didn't know what to do except to lock myself in my room and cry."

"One of those times, my aunt, my mother and uncle's sister, came into my room and saw me in tears. She asked whatever was the matter and, against my better judgement, I told her. The whole story spilled out. My aunt listened carefully and then announced that she would take care of everything but I was not to tell anyone. Not even my mother. Not ever."

"So," she took a breath and continued, "I had an abortion. This was 80 years ago. It was illegal. But, my uncle was the 'star' of the family. The whole world was his oyster. Nothing could interfere with his future or his success or the family name."

"You know, I had no choice. Not about anything. Not about the person with whom I would have sex. Not whether or not I would get pregnant. Not whether or not to have an abortion. All of those choices were taken from me."

"And, " she said, "I told no one. Not my mother. Not my father. Not my husband. Not my children. My Aunt was the only one and she took that secret to her grave."

"So, here's my question for you: When I get to heaven - IF I get to heaven - will the soul I aborted hate me?"

I was quiet for awhile as I took her story to my heart and listened deeply to her question.

I looked deep into her eyes, past the tears, past the pain, and into her soul and said, "I know this much to be true: There is no hate in heaven."

A tear fell from her eye as she smiled and said, "Thank you. I don't need absolution. I got everything I need from you. I feel suddenly free - liberated - from the burden of this secret. Now, I can meet the one who created me with a clean heart. Now I can meet that soul and greet her in love. Thank you."

In the Introduction to his book, Telling Secrets, Frederick Buechner writes these words:
“I have called this book Telling Secrets because I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell. They are telling in the sense that they tell what is perhaps the central paradox of our condition – what we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be know in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else.

It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are – even if we tell it only to ourselves – because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing.

It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier that way to see where we have been in our lives and where we are going. It also makes it easier for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own, and exchanges like that have a lot to do with what being a family is all about and what being human is all about.

Finally, I suspect that it is by entering that deep place inside us where our secrets are kept that we come perhaps closer than we do anywhere else to the One who, whether we realize it or not, is of all our secrets the most telling and the most precious we have to tell.”
This – what Buechner has described, of getting to the truth of our lives – is what I would name as being “salted with fire”. Jesus says, “Everyone will be salted with fire.” I hear this as a statement about the preservation of human souls through the salt of truth.

Facing the truth about ourselves – our lives – may sting. It may hurt. Being ‘salted with fire’ may, like Vashti, cause you to lose everything you’ve ever owned as you are banished from your home, no matter how physically beautiful you are thought to be. Or, it may jeopardize your life and the lives of people you love, as it did Hadassah, or Ester.

Have you ever gotten your own salty sweat in a cut on your brow or arm or leg? Stings, doesn’t it? So, too, with the truth. 

What’s that old saying? The truth will set you free, but first, it will make you miserable. Well, I don’t know about ‘miserable’ but facing the truth about yourself is certainly not an easy task. Indeed, facing the truth, accepting the truth, telling your secrets – even if only to yourself – is an act of real humility.

And, I’m talking here not only about the bad stuff, but the good stuff, too. It’s humbling to say, “You know, I really am good at this particular thing,” and then, to do that, instead of the thing everyone expected you to do – or you expected of yourself. 

Ask anyone who has made a serious career change how humbling that can be but, ultimately, how liberating and satisfying it is to do what you really love to do, because it comes from a place of real truth within your very soul.

I think, if more of us in this world followed those words of Jesus, we wouldn’t have had the week we just experienced. Fewer of us would have occasion to “wander from the truth”. What a truly wonderful world it would be if we didn’t create stumbling blocks for others or ourselves.

Jesus says, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Want to be great? Float like a butterfly

A Sermon Preached for Pentecost XVIII - Proper XIX
September 23, 2018
St. Andrew and Holy Communion, South Orange, NJ 

NOTE: There are times when we say 'yes' to something and can not know at the time what we are agreeing to or setting into motion. This was one of those sermons and one of those congregations. The Holy Spirit wrote this sermon. Of that, I am quite certain.

Please pray with me: And now may the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts find favor in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer.

“I am the greatest”

Who said that? 

Muhammad Ali. That’s right.

When I say, “Float like a butterfly" . . . You finish the sentence: ("sting like a bee")

I think of Muhammad Ali every time I read this Gospel passage from Mark. If you think Mr. Ali was bragging, I think you missed his point. I think he was closer to the Gospel truth than might first seem to be the case.

So, Jesus and the disciples were walking from Galilee to Capernaum, and on the way, two of The Twelve got into a dispute over who was the greatest.

Now, contrary to popular thought, disputes happen in community. Of course, this community wouldn’t know anything about that, would you? 

No, everything in church is always beautiful. It’s like that line in Cabaret, “In here, everything is beautiful. The girls are beautiful. Even the orchestra (organist and choir) is beautiful.”

And, no one has any troubles at all, right? We all live perfect lives. No one ever gets disappointed or hurt or every feels betrayed or is critical or gets angry. Nope, not in church. We’ve got Jesus. And, God is good all the time.

Yes, of course, God IS good. And yet bad stuff still happens to good people. And, good people grow up and discover that their Christianity is not an insurance policy. As we grow and mature we learn that faith is something we live, and it gets tested from time to time.

So, when disputes rise in community, what does Jesus say needs to happen? 

Well, when two of The Twelve began to argue over something silly, Jesus pulled them aside and said, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

There’s real brilliance in that statement. 

What is it that settles a dispute? 

Humility, says Jesus.

Think about that for just a minute. 

Humility is the antidote to arrogance. 

And, arrogance is the fuel that ignites disputes.

Someone thinks they’re right. So does the other. Maybe they’re both right. Maybe they're both wrong. Maybe one has one part of the truth. Maybe the other has another part of the truth. And, if they were ever able to get it together, they’d have the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help them God.

But, it takes real humility to say, “Hmm . . . let me take a step back here. Maybe I’m not the greatest. Maybe I’m not right. Let me listen to this person and see what I might learn.”

That’s where I hear the genius of Mr. Muhammad Ali. “Float like a butterfly . . . (you say) sting like a bee,” he said. There’s real brilliance in that statement.

I've been reading about Mr. Ali and, I must say, a lot of what he has to say has real wisdom. 

He also said, “I’m an ordinary man who worked hard to develop the talent I was given. I believed in myself and I believed in the goodness of others.”

And, he said, “The man who views the world the same way at fifty as he did when he was twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”

Mr. Ali also said, “The fight is won far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”

He also said, “Only a man who has been defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and find the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.”

Some times, you have to reach way down, way into the dark crevices of your soul, before you can touch a star. That takes real humility. 

Do you hear it? Do you hear the humility? I do. 

“Float like a butterfly  . . . . (you say) sting like a bee.”

Not, “Sting like a bee, float like a butterfly.” No, start with humility. Start with gentleness. Sting if and when you have to. Certainly Jesus wasn’t sweet and meek and mild all the time. When necessary, he could pull out the whips and turn over a few tables.

Start with humility. Be childlike in the trust you have in yourself and in God. 

Belive in yourself. Believe in God. Believe in the goodness of others. First. That's humility. If you find otherwise, then take action. That takes humility, too. 

So I want to end by telling you a story my father told me when I was young and had encountered my first experience of bitter disappointment.

It might have been the betrayal of a friend. It might have been not getting a job I wanted. It doesn't matter. I was bitterly disappointed and felt I had hit a brick wall. 

My father was a very simple man, a man of few words. He only had a sixth grade education because his parents pulled him out of school to work the fields during The Great Depression. He didn’t have much but one of the things he gave me was this story.

When he was 18 years old, he was drafted into WWII and fought in the Pacific Front. He was in the Philippine Islands and, as he tells the story, one night he and six men from his battalion got cut off from the rest of the men. As night fell in the jungle, it became pitch dark. He said he couldn’t eve see his hand in front of him.

As they stumbled their way in the darkness, they came upon a wall. The wall was taller than they were so they could not climb it. All they could do was follow it with their hands, waiting to get to the end of it so they could go around it. But, the wall went on for miles and miles and miles.

There they were, deep in the dark jungle, inching along in the darkness, bickering among themselves and cursing the wall they were sure were keeping them from returning to their battalion. Finally, exhausted, they slumped up against the wall and fell asleep.

They awoke just as the sun was starting to rise the next morning. What awakened them was the sound of voices coming from the other side of the wall. As they listened, they realized that the voices were coming from the Japanese.

They looked down the wall and realized that in about 100 yards, it ended. Just beyond the wall, just above the wall, was not the safety and freedom they sought. Instead, just beyond the wall was the enemy. There was real danger. 

They stayed quietly in place until the Japanese broke camp and moved on. 

In their silence it suddenly dawned on the men that the wall they had been cursing all night was actually what had saved them.

My father said to me, “Elizabeth, sometimes – not all the time, but sometimes – things happen for a reason. Sometimes, the very thing you curse can be a blessing in your life. Sometimes, if the bad thing that happened, hadn’t happened, the good thing wouldn’t have happened, either.”

Float like a butterfly . . .  (you say) sting like a bee.

Yes, but float first. 

Reach down into your soul and find that extra ounce of power you need. Work hard at being you - all of who you are. Authentically. With integrity. That takes humility.

Believe in yourself and in the goodness of others. Know that sometimes – not all the time, but sometimes – things happen for a reason.

Be humble enough to look beyond your own need to find the needs of others. And then, serve those needs. That’s where greatness come from. Not from arrogance but from humility. Even the humility it takes to say that sometimes, even a wall that blocks you from doing what you want to do might have been the best thing that happened to you.

Muhammad Ali once said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” 

He also said, “I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was. But, it’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And, once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”

So, here are a few affirmations for you to consider repeating until you believe them.

My father said, “Sometimes, the very thing you curse can be a blessing in your life.”

Jesus said, ““Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

Muhammad Ali said, “Float like a butterfly . . . . (and you say) sting like a bee.”

But first, float.



Sunday, September 16, 2018

Bean Counter Culture

As I prepare to walk the Camino from San Sebastian to Santiago and then on to Finisterra, our group leader keeps reminding us that, at this point, the spiritual discipline is even more important than the physical preparation.

So, I'm being especially intentional about doing a "walking meditation" for today's walk. I'm not going to focus on distance or time or other metrics. In fact, I'm not using any metric at all.

I'm going to focus on what I hope will happen when I reach the "end of the earth" at the end of my pilgrimage.

And, that's the point: We are pilgrims. I am a pilgrim. Not a tourist.

My plane leaves for Madrid, Spain, on October 6th. I arrive October 7th in plenty of time to check into my hotel and catch Mass at the Cathedral around the corner from my hotel.

We start the pilgrimage at 8 AM on Monday, October 8th and end Saturday, October 20th. I'll attend Mass at the Cathedral Santiago on Sunday. I'll leave for Finisterra on Monday and then take the overnight train to Madrid that night.

My plane leaves for home the afternoon of Tuesday the 30th.

I will have walked approximately 167 km on the trail which promises breathtaking vistas of the coastline of Spain.

My friend, Linda MacMillan has written a brilliant blog today which has these lines:
That is not the end of the story, though. In fact, it’s only the beginning. . . .. It’s what happened in the meantime that’s significant.
That is such an important reminder, not only when we read scripture but when thinking about the significance of the holiness of our own personal narratives.

The beginning is important. The end is important. Of course.

It's what happens in the meantime that's significant.

I don't yet know what will happen "in the meantime" of this pilgrimage.

My prayer is that I will return from The Camino with a deeper appreciation for what happens - and has happened - in all of the "meantimes" of my life.

This has become even more important to me this past year. I work for a Hospice Agency that is one of the oldest in the country, which is to say that it was one of the first.

I am completely fascinated - when I'm not utterly annoyed - by the culture of this corporation. They are obsessed with numbers and counting. Seriously. Obsessed.

They count everything. Every. Single. Last. Damn. Thing. The number of patients who have experienced a fall this month. This quarter. This year. Compared to last month. Last quarter. Last year.

The number of patients who have had an infection - and where it is and how it was treated.

The number of patients who had a visit from the Social Worker or Chaplain in the last 5 days of life.

Some of this is required by Medicare, but managers and administration don't seem to mind. Indeed, there is a certain enthusiasm for the task which is completely lost on me.

There is a numbered code for the great variety of tasks one performs in the course of the day, some classified as "productive" (direct patient contact) and others "non-productive" (administrative work). The number of "productive" vs. "non-productive" hours one works in a pay period are counted.

Seriously, what professional person even THINKS this way? Well, I think I have an answer.

But, wait! There's more!

Mileage, of course, is calculated but only from the office to the patient's home and from one patient's home to the next. Exceptional mileage - say, going from a patient's home to a case conference at an Extended Care Facility or Hospital, must be calculated separately and entered in with a special code.

Every patient has an MR# - a Medical Record Number - which, because the computer platform for patient documentation is being revised and revamped, this necessitates printing the patient name and patient MR# on every. single. last page of every. single. last paper of every. single. last page of the volumes of paper one has to complete per patient.

Because of the sheer volume of paperwork required, this means that the chances of making an error - which can be as simple as writing a "5" in such a way that it looks like an "8" or just copying the MR# or spelling the patient's name incorrectly - is great.

Believe it or not, there are people employed for the tedious task of checking for errors (sort of like the task of separating fly shit from pepper) and there is a company policy for correcting that error - and a protocol for how that error is corrected. If the correction is not made ... well, correctly... there is a whole process for dealing with that.

Again, because of the sheer volume of paper that crosses one's desk every day, the chances of papers getting lost or misplace is also great. So, one must paper clip (NOT staple, for goodness sake whatever were you thinking) all of the patient's papers together and, on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, place the documentation in a file folder with your name on it.

On Wednesday, however, one must hand all of one's paperwork into the actual hand of the person in charge of the paperwork.

But, because the papers could get lost or misplaced, one must zerox a copy of the charts for one's files. Which means unclipping, zeroxing, then re-clipping all of the charts.

I am not making up any of this.

It's often maddening and deeply annoying but I've come to understand that this "Culture of Corporate Bean Counting" is simply and sadly this: It is a defense against facing the truth about death.

It is a way of managing the anxiety between the expectation of death and reality of life.

The hint came when so many professionals - nurses and doctors - refer to a patient's death as anything but a death.

It is said that the patient "passed" or "passed on". Or, when they want to sound clinical, they say, "expired" - like a carton of milk or a bottle of medicine.

I think we hit a new low on Friday when the weekend on-call nurse (yes, an RN) put out a call for extra help this weekend by writing this:
"It is going to be a busy and challenging weekend but our customers need us and we are up to the task."

Some of us have been texting each other all weekend about this. Eyes are rolling so hard, you can hear it all over Sussex County.

I've been explaining it as a defense mechanism against anxiety about death. And, I think that's right.

It's easier, I suppose, for some people to deal with "the expiration of a customer" than the "death of a Hospice patient".

I rush to add that his particular language is not limited to this particular Hospice agency. I hear it from other Hospice professionals around the country. I've just never heard a Hospice nurse use it before. Then again, this particular nurse doesn't care directly for patients. She just triages and assigns those who do.

I have come to understand that this is what can happen when one does not believe, as we say in the Eucharistic prayer during a funeral, that "life is changed, not ended."

It's what happens when your theology of life does not include belief in life eternal. Or, perhaps it does but deep down somewhere inside, in the middle of the middle of what makes you who you are, you really wish you would but you really don't believe it.

It's easier to manage your anxiety when you are counting things and repeating tasks.

I mean, after all, isn't this really what prayer beads are all about? Repeating and counting, counting and repeating?

Doesn't chanting a mantra repeatedly help to reduce stress caused by anxiety?

Isn't repeating "the comfortable words" week after week designed to do the same?

The secular, corporate world manages anxiety by creating a "Bean Counter Culture". Well, at least, this one does.

I've come to manage my own frustration and anxiety about this by changing my perspective. I now see all of these annoying policies and protocols as a form of "Secular, Corporate Prayer".

Except the goal of this particular secular exercise is to have "positive outcomes" which are designed to result in "job satisfaction".

Which makes me laugh right out loud because I recognize the religious parallel.

I mean, let's be honest. At some point in our spiritual lives, didn't at least some of us believe that if we said the rosary enough times on our knees, or lit enough candles, or faithfully did the Stations of the Cross every Wednesday and Friday in Lent, or lit enough Votive Candles and said enough Novenas in front of them, that we'd get what we wanted or needed?

I know I did. So, I really have no room to criticize this form of "Secular, Corporate Prayer".

I do have the responsibility, however, to tend to my own soul.

Which is why I pray for the spiritual strength and maturity to learn to live not so much about the beginnings and endings but the "meantimes" of my life. To drop more of my expectations and live more fully and deeply into my reality. And, in doing so, to derive more "satisfaction" with my life.

I don't know if it can be done, but this is the spiritual energy which is animating my pilgrimage.

I hope to let go of how many steps I've taken or how many kilometers I've walked or how many miles that translates into and just "walk the walk."

I hope not to count the minutes or hours or days of walking and just walk for the sake of walking, to feel the earth under my feet, feel the ocean breeze on my face and take it into my lungs while I open the eyes of my soul to the beauty that surrounds me at every turn.

I hope to take courage from standing in the town of "Finisterra," what the Spaniards considered "The End of the Earth" and knowing that it is just the beginning.

The beginning is important. So is the ending. Of course. But it is the meantime that is signficant.

It is said that a pilgrim is never ready for The Camino but The Camino stands ready for every pilgrim.

May it be so.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Ephphatha! Be opened!

A Sermon for Pentecost - September 9, 2018 - Proper 18 B
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown

This is one of my favorite times of year. There are little hints and glimpses of the inevitable coming change in season.  The weather seems stuck and confused – the mornings are cool but by noon it can be hot and humid. We’ve had some pretty violent thunder and lightening storms and the rain has come down in sheets. 

And, of course, it's "hurricane season," which I like to think of as Nature's little conniption fit because summer is ending.

The spiritual climate at this time of year is supercharged. This weekend, there was a Powwow of the Nanticoke Tribe where they celebrate their identity and culture in dance and drumming and chanting, to recapture their spirituality. The word is derived from the Narragansett word powwow, meaning "spiritual leader". 

This evening begins Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year. It’s a time when faithful Jews examine their relationship with God and themselves, their family and friends and the world. Yom Kippur will follow it, a time of atonement and reconciliation. 

In a few days, Hindus will celebrate the god Krishna, whose life and work are often compared to Jesus. This will be followed by a celebration of the Hindu god Ganesha, whom you may recognize as the one with the elephant head, the remover of obstacles and patron of learning. 

No matter who you are, no matter where you live, no matter what particular belief system you follow, all religions provide an anchor in the midst of change. All religions provide stories of mystery and miracle, hope and healing. 

Our Christian scripture this morning provides more than ample evidence of these spiritual gifts. 

A Syrophonecian woman seeks healing for her daughter and finds it, despite the obstacles of hurtful prejudice. A deaf man finds his hearing an ability to speak.

Was it magic? An illusion? Was it a miracle? Was it something, some reality, so beyond our comprehension that all we do is assign it a name that literally means something that can’t be explained. 

“Ephphatha,” Jesus said to the man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. To our non-Hebrew ears, it could be a magical incantation like "Open Sesame!"

“Ephphatha,” that is, in Hebrew, “Be opened.”

Be opened. Just as the Syrophoneican woman who, against all the odds of her gender and race and ethnicity and religious difference, was opened to the miracle that Jesus could heal her daughter. She could be opened even though insults were hurled at her. 

He called her a dog, but she kept her mind and her heart opened and when she opened her mouth she was able to provide Jesus with a brilliant reason for him to be open to healing her daughter, sight unseen, who was tormented with illness. 

And, the man who was deaf and had a speech impediment was healed with a combination of dirt and the spit of Jesus - an earthy combination - the stuff closest to us and, even,within us. 

It reminds me of an updated story originally told by Rabbi Bunim about how we must be open to possibility, open to the miracle of bringing our dreams into reality - open to the possibility of miracles near us and within us.

The story goes that one restless night, Benny, who was having trouble making a living, had a vivid dream. His dream showed him, in precise detail, the whereabouts of a stuffed backpack with two million dollars cash, at the bottom of a dumpster on the Virginia shore. He woke from his dream knowing exactly how to find it. 

So, hoping against hope, Benny grabbed his keys from the night table and left his humble home in Minnesota for a two-day trip to Virginia Beach. 

Wearied, but emboldened, he arrived at the location — a US Naval Base — and was elated to see the dumpster waiting for him behind a tall chain-link fence. It was there, just as described in his dream. 

With great anticipation he drove up to the guardhouse at the entrance.

The soldier at the post dutifully asked him for his military ID, which, of course, Benny could not provide.

“I drove two days to come here. Why can’t you let me in for a few minutes? There’s something in that dumpster over there for me.”

“Sir, I don’t care if you drove for two weeks! This Naval base is for authorized personnel only. Please turn your vehicle around.”

“But I dreamed about that yellow dumpster! My fortune is in there!”

At this point the soldier’s stern expression turned to a smirk, and he said, “Sure, buddy. I had a dream of a house in Minnesota owned by some guy named “Benny,” with a million dollar treasure nailed to the bottom of his night table. You think I should abandon my post and go claim it?!” (Based on R’ Bunim Mpeshischa)

Sometimes it is easier to imagine that fulfillment lies across the sea than within reach; that gives us a ready excuse for why we have not yet found it. The search for happiness, knowledge, fulfillment, and healing can lead us in all directions, but ultimately the focus of our efforts must be within.

St. James writes in this morning’s Epistle, 
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? . . .  So, faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
So, if you seek a miracle, for yourself or others, have faith, yes! but put your faith to work. 

I want to mention the Monarch Butterfly Garden which Charles is starting in the church yard. He was out there at 7:30 this morning, in the pouring down rain, organizing the stones for the landscaping. 

He was joined after 8 o'clock mass by a few others who helped him haul bricks and flag stone. Then he brought in the butterfly "incubator" - a net enclosure with about two dozen larvae and about six monarch butterflies which had already hatched. 

The Monarch Butterfly are endangered, so many people are starting these Monarch Butterfly Gardens in order to help continue the population. 

Charles and his crew are participating in a miracle. They are opened to allowing the power of God to work through them. They are putting their faith to work.

So, if you want to see a miracle in your life, be opened to possibilities. 

Dig deep and find the strength within you to overcome the obstacles in your path. 

Do not believe the insults hurled at you and push past them. 

Clear the fog in your ears and listen to your own wisdom. 

Find your own brilliance. 

Speak in your own voice.

And, miracles – that which we can’t explain – can and do and will happen.

God is as close to you as your next breath. Jesus shows us the way to life and truth.

Ephphatha! Be opened. Find the miracle you seek.   



Friday, September 07, 2018

No cotton

"No cotton. No cotton. No cotton. No cotton."

Our Camino leader must have said those sentences at least five times during our last group conference call.

"Hypothermia is real, people," she said. "Cotton will keep the sweat in. You need material that will provide you with wicking: (synthetic fibers like polyester, polypropylene and natural fibers like merino wool) and dress in layers."

I groaned thinking that I was going to have to spend hundreds of dollars on new clothing for this pilgrimage. 
I started making a list of the things I'd need. I always follow my grandmother's Rule of Three: One on your body, one on the line, and one in the drawer. 
So, pants, shirts, socks, underwear, bras - pretty much the whole Magilla.
Three of each.

Ugh! Ugh! UGH!

I spent HOURS on the internet, checking styles, comparing prices, following leads from some of my FB friends.

The longer I looked and thought about it, the more I realized that, with the exception of underwear, some of the clothing I was seeing looked a lot like some of the stuff I already had in my closet and drawers. Indeed, as I started checking the labels of some of my shirts and pants, it turns out that I'm in pretty good shape.

I'm going to buy a pair (or two) of "wicking" baggy sweatpants (so I can dress comfortably in layers) and some underwear: bras, camisoles, panties, and socks but other than that, I think I'm going to be just fine.

Meditation time is a required discipline, along with physical exercise as preparation for the pilgrimage. I woke up this morning with what the Buddhists call "Monkey Mind." 
My mind was just jumping from one thing to the next and I could not focus. No matter what I did, my mind just kept dragging me back to a cascade of images of "wicking clothing," most of which was the stuff that was in my drawer and closet.

So, I decided to just focus on the things my Monkey Mind was focused on. 
Funny how that works. 
As I created some distance between my self and my brain, I was able to focus on what was going on in the deeper recesses of my mind. 
I came to an interesting insight:

A pilgrimage doesn't start on the road.

A pilgrimage starts within you.

A pilgrimage isn't so much about what you will find "out there" but how being "out there" will lead you to discover more deeply what you already have within you. 
I suspect there's another metaphor in the fact that what I need really to invest in are the things closest to my body.

When I realized that the socks I just purchased - "Darn Tough Socks" from VT - came with a 'lifetime guarantee" I laughed right out loud and ended my meditation time.

Our Camino leader said, "No one is ever ready for the Camino but the Camino is ready for you."

I'm ready for what I'm not ready for.

As Cory Booker said in the Senate hearings yesterday, "Bring it!"

But, no cotton, please.