Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Heron - by Wendell Berry

Words from Wendell Berry which make the day a better place to be and opens the mystery of wonder and life.
The Heron
While the summer's growth kept me
anxious in planted rows, I forgot the river
where it flowed, faithful to its way,
beneath the slope where my household
has taken its laborious stand.
I could not reach it even in dreams.
But one morning at the summer's end
I remember it again, as though its being
lifts into mind in undeniable flood,
and I carry my boat down through the fog,
over the rocks, and set out.
I go easy and silent, and the warblers
appear among the leaves of the willows,
their flight like gold thread
quick in the live tapestry of the leaves.
And I go on until I see, crouched
on a dead branch sticking out of the water,
a heron - so still that I believe
he is a bit of drift hung dead above the water.
And then I see the articulation of feather
and living eye, a brilliance I receive
beyond my power to make, as he
receives in his great patience
the river's providence. And then I see
that I am seen. Still as I keep,
I might be a tree for all the fear he shows.
Suddenly I know I have passed across
to a shore where I do not live.
New Collected Poems, Counterpoint, Berkley - 2012

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Let Your Heart Be Light

John 1:43-51

“You will see greater things than these.”

Like Nathanael, we are all looking for signs. We search high and low, near and far, for some confirmation that God is with us. When really, as Jesus says to Nathanael, we will see greater things, if only we will open the eyes of our hearts.

It can be as easy as listening to a song. Judy Garland, in the 1944 MGM musical “Meet Me in St. Louis,” introduced a song by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine called “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”:

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light.”

As much as some decry the commercialization of Christmas, in the end, letting our hearts be light is really what it’s all about. And Epiphany is a season of light – a time to reflect on just how our hearts and our lives can be light.

On Christmas Day, the reading from the Gospel of John said: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

This Second Sunday of Epiphany, we pray: “Christ is the Light of the World. … Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory.”

And on the First Sunday After Christmas, we prayed: “Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives.”

“Enkindle”: to stir up, fire up, inspire, rouse, awaken, ignite, instill, incite! It is all a way of saying that the Incarnation in which the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us – and does so by taking up residence in our hearts – the Light that is the Life of all people resides within us, at our center. He makes a home in our hearts.

This light of each person is not meant for themselves, but meant for all, that all might see better the other gifts of creation. It is what Jesus talks about when he urges us not to hide this light, not to put it under a bushel, but to put it on a lamp stand so it will give light to the whole household – which in biblical terms always means “the Household of God.”

The word for “household” in Greek is oiko – from which we get words such as “economy,” oiko-nomos, the law of the household, and “ecology,” oiko-logie, study of the household, understood as the environment in which we live.

The idea is that we have all been given the gift of Light, which is the Life of the world, Jesus. And giving it away, letting go of what we already have, is what gives us eternal life in return. It is the Light of Life. This Light is what unites us with God in Christ. And it is meant to give Light and Life to the whole world, everyone, all people.

To hold onto this Light, to hold onto our gifts, results in a world that is upside down from God’s view of things. So God comes to us as Jesus to turn us right-side up again.

We have difficulties with all this. We find it difficult to believe God would give us a gift at all – so we hold onto it for dear life lest God stop giving us his Word, his Sacraments, his Light and his Life.

Little do we suspect what difficulties this holding on causes for others in the household. So much so that others begin to find it difficult to see the Light that shines within them. This causes the entire household to slip into darkness, a return to the darkness that covered the whole of the face of the deep, before God spoke and there was Light.

Yet, we are those people who believe and pray that this Light is already enkindled, instilled, stirred up within all hearts everywhere. We need to believe what we pray and what God’s Word and sacraments mean to instill and enkindle in our own hearts.

The story is told of the preacher who went about town preaching, “Put God into your life. Put God into your life!” But the rabbi of the town said, “Our task is not to put God into our lives. God is already there. Our task is simply to realize that!”

God is the ground of our being. The relationship between God and creature is such that, by sheer grace, separation is not possible. God does not know how to be absent. God is always at home. It was Meister Eckhart, a 13th-century German theologian, who reminded us that we are the ones who are not at home. We are not at home, even within ourselves.

Know that little by little – it takes time – Jesus will reveal to you how much he is at home with you.

He calls you to follow him
So that you may do something beautiful with your life and bear much fruit.
The world needs you, the Church needs you, Jesus needs you.
They need your love and your Light.
There is a hidden place in your heart where Jesus lives.
This is a deep secret you are called to live.
Let Jesus live in you.
Go forward with him!

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, a blessed Epiphany season – and let your heart be light.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas 2014

What is it about Christmas? It commands an entire retail season without which many small businesses and corporations alike might not make it through the rest of the year. It has become an incubator of sorts to kick start an entire world into consumer-mode, Black Friday Frenzies, and multiple visits a day from UPS, Fedex and your local US Post Office.

Christmas sets millions if not billions of people out to risk life and limb stringing endless miles of lights – white lights, red and green lights, icicle lights, blue lights, large bulb lights, small bulb lights, LED lights, light up figures of Santa and Dickensian Choir Boys, blow-up interior lit two-story tall Nutcrackers, whole villages, towns illuminated  - leaving one wondering just what it all looks like from the International Space Station as we increase our consumption of fossil fuels by some unimaginable percentage of our usual gluttonous kilowatt hours.

Light in the darkness during what is for the Northern Hemisphere the shortest days of the year, the Sun playing its annual game of hide-n-seek, bracing itself for a return visit as we prepare to spin ourselves madly, steadily around our own personal nuclear furnace one more time.

A sudden outburst of generosity as Red-Kettles spring up everywhere with Santas of all shapes and sizes, uniformed Salvation Army volunteers and charities of all kinds offer every possible opportunity for the once a year outpouring of cold, hard cash to help those in need – those poor, those homeless, those outcast and imprisoned ones that the child in the manger would remind us, just days before his own state sponsored execution, will always be with us.

One must at one time or another stop and wonder: what would he make of all of this? This orgy of celebration, consumption and charity that in a few short days and nights will all be boxed up and placed upon the shelf, in the garage, or up in the attic until that sacred moment we finish the last bite of Turkey on Thanksgiving night next year. Would he be at all impressed? Honored? Pleased that we at least, if nothing else, recall that morning that a young woman, a girl really, an unmarried pregnant teenager “betrothed” (do we even recall what that means) to an older gentleman gave birth to a baby boy whose arrival caused such a stir in a backwater village of the once strong and mighty Roman Empire that a civil servant on behalf of Caesar would slaughter millions of innocent children in an attempt to prevent this child who now is seemingly lost in the midst of our annual Dionysian carryings on from ever growing up to become a savior of the world.

 “A Thrill of Hope,” a DVD that offers an in-depth glimpse into the story via the artwork of one John August Swanson who strives to connect our story to his story to God’s story in paintings and prints that seeks to depict the sacredness of the ordinary – a young Mary feeding chickens as part of a community of people baking bread, lighting candles, doing the things we do every day without thinking just how miraculous it all is. How the miracle of photosynthesis in the cells of a single leaf can simultaneously feed a tree and make it grow while creating the very oxygen we need to breath, to sustain life, while in other plants providing food for creatures whose fat becomes tallow that when lit becomes light in the very darkness which although it arrives every evening on a daily basis still causes some often imperceptible fear to creep into our supposedly sophisticated but really quite primitive mind.

As our disgust with the machinery of politics deepens like the night itself at this time of Winter Solstice, we all too easily forget that the story as told by Luke and Matthew is as much a political story as it is religious. Things like religion, politics and money were not so easily compartmentalized back then as we try to pretend they are today. How odd that an historic moment like the enlightenment ends up clouding and darkening our view of just how holistic, interconnected and interdependent all things are and by necessity must be if we are to survive. The child Jesus, who as a boy would delight as well as confound the local scholars in Jerusalem – then an armed camp under severe military occupation. A young Jesus who would echo the likes of the Buddha, Lao T’zu, Socrates, Confucius, the Hebrew prophets and others who also drew our attention to our necessary interdependence as pleas to somehow create a world without warfare, a world without wanton killing, a world in which all people everywhere attend to one another’s needs and develop an awareness that we are also inter-related to the Earth, the environment,  in a precarious balancing act that makes life possible and also makes it possible to shine light in the darkness.

I have been told that James Carroll, scholar and columnist for the Boston Glove, recently called our attention to the militaristic atmosphere into which God inserted God’s self into our lives, that the birth of Jesus took place in the midst of a paranoid and power hungry military empire, a detail that cannot be clouded over with endless strings of lights and an economic orgy of consumption. Jesus, the Thrill of Hope, came as an alternative view of how life can be lived in a world of war and darkness. Consider: not only Christianity, but all the world’s living religions arose in such an atmosphere of military dominance, economic chaos and overall darkness.

So, what is it about Christmas? I believe that like the Hindu deity Agni who is relied upon to light sacred fires in ancient Vedic rituals, Christmas reignites our sense of what it means to truly be human. Whether we can get our heads around the child whose birth we recall is divine, human, or both, the fact is that we are not entirely through with him – nor he with us. Jesus continues to insert himself into our world, a world still beset with serious and dangerous military actions, state sponsored executions and torture (of a kind he himself endured and endures), and a world awash with political refugees, homelessness and those in need of all kinds of charity and compassion. Yes, as he observed so long ago, the poor are still with us. And yet, inspired by his example of what it means to be human, what it means to be created imago Dei, in the image of God, so too do we have the means to relieve suffering once and for all.

Light a candle and consider the miracles that make that possible. Then become a light in the darkness. Each of us can and do make a difference every day. Celebrate the sacred in the ordinary. Feed chickens with Mary. Confound the scholars like the Christ child. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s. And guess what? It does not matter whether or not you believe in God. You can still live a life created in God’s image shining a little more light into the dark places. Our collective interdependent beams of radiant light together can and do make a difference. And that is what Christmas is about. God bless us every one.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christ The King Sunday?

Christ The King Sunday: Matthew 25:31-46

It is Christ the King Sunday, and I just finished listening to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, a trilogy of books (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) about a revolt against God (?) and The Church (a sort of conglomeration of the Catholic and Calvin-styled Protestantism) set in some sort of 19th (?) century version of Oxford and other multi-worlds and or parallel universes.  Although its focus is on two twelve-year-olds, Lyra from one world and Will from another, the conclusion (if there is one) seems to be to replace “The Authority” (a rather decrepit angel on his last legs) and the Kingdom of God with a Republic of Heaven  - presumably more of a representative democracy than a kingdom as we would think of it. Given Pullman’s stated atheism and disdain for organized religion, the Republic of Heaven sounds an awful much like the Anglican or Episcopal Churches which already exist! It is all a wonderfully riotous, gripping and engaging adventure which seeks to un-throne (no pun intended) the Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter all at once.

Despite the all too expected criticism and warnings from certain quarters of, dare I say, Christendom, Pullman’s books raise a number of important ideas and questions, not the least of which ought to be just what do we mean by the Kingdom of God, and on the last Sunday of the Christian Year, what do we mean by Christ the King?

It’s all too easy to agree with what appears to be Pullman’s assertion that The Church (capital T, capital C) has got it all wrong – and we ought to agree that throughout its history The Church has done and/or allowed many awful, evil and horrendous things. Think The inquisition, pogroms, The Crusades, and the sexual abuse of children to just name a few. Although one ought to be intelligent enough by the 21st century to know that no institution can honestly be judged by the actions of a relative few individuals. And we may as well face it, the malcontent , evil and misguided individuals who do bad things in the name of religion are a minute minority of the billions of other people of faith who have made the world a better place whether they be Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Confucian, Taoist, Jainist, Sikh, Yoruba, Shinto or any other of the many wonderful cultural variations of world religions and what is being called perennial philosophy and wisdom traditions.

Designating this Christ the King Sunday is rather recent. Pope Pius XI instituted the idea in 1925 and placing it on the last Sunday of Ordinary Time is even more recent. It strikes me as curious. Curious in that Jesus makes for a peculiar king – he who appears to have shunned all attempts at making him a king. Jesus, like the Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, and Muhammad (to name just a few) wrote nothing down. No books, not treatises, no doctrines, no philosophy. He was a teacher who seems mostly to have traveled by foot with the lone attested depiction of him riding a donkey into Jerusalem on that fateful Passover week – an act which in itself appears to be some sort of ironic street theatre mockery of kingship, the Imperial Religion of Rome, and flies in the face of all authorities: here is a “king” who is close to the people, riding a humble beast of burden instead of a mighty steed of war, who welcomes prostitute, tax collector and sinners to sit with him at table as he hosts the blind, the lame, the outcast, soldier, foreigners, strangers,  and quite honestly anyone and everyone who wishes to sit on his right and his left.

Jesus commanded no armies and specifically orders his disciples, that is, all those who would follow him in his way, to put down their swords and love their enemies. And he routinely calls people to follow him without any requirement of knowledge of the traditions, scriptures or beliefs of any sort. We are commanded quite simply to “follow” him. It continues to seem strange to me that Pullman, Tolkien, Lewis, Rowling and others all seem to feel that for the world to be put right requires some sort of cosmic warfare when those who call us to such a vision of shalom, peace and justice always employ peaceful,  non-aggressive strategies of non-violent civil disobedience: think Palm Sunday, Ghandhi, Martin King, the Buddha, Thich Nhat Hanh and others.

And despite the indisputable fact that Jesus begins this vision of a great judgment at the end of the age with the Son of Man sitting on a throne, once again like Palm Sunday itself, he reinterprets the shape and meanings of “kingship” and “judgment”  in radical new ways.  For instance, those being judged judge themselves by their actions, and even more so by their non-actions: they welcome strangers, visit prisoners, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, offer relief to the thirsty and so forth, or they don’t. Note also that those who do these things are completely unaware that what they do is extraordinary and worthy of reward. And neither those who act not those who fail to act realize that the poor, sick, homeless strangers they do or do not respond to with compassion are the very embodiment of the “king,” the anointed one, the messiah, or are, quite simply, God in the flesh.

This is the scandal of Christianity – that our God sits not on a throne but walks the streets with the poorest of the poor like a Mother Theresa. That our God is the mother who lives on the streets with no place to lie her head let alone the heads of her starving children. Or, the veteran who after multiple tours of duty sees no way out short of leaving this world behind in hopes of a much better hereafter. Our God is a very strange “king’ after all.

I have no idea what Pius XI had in mind. Although I can hope that he wanted us to reflect on just what sort of “king” Jesus is, one suspects it was to shore up the authority of The Church on Earth. I am content to let the Philip Pullman’s of the world continue to fight that cosmic battle. As to the Kingdom of God, or even the Buddha’s nirvana, Jesus and the Buddha depict this notion of the Earth’s Shalom as a very real presence here and now, not some sort of life beyond the blue.  Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism are insistent on the very real presence of the “kingdom” in our midst – in and amongst us all, in the very things that we do every day, things that we do not even recognize that we do them because to do them is quite simply the right thing to do. We just lay down our swords, open our hands and our hearts and offer healing, love and compassion to those in need, completely unaware that we serve our God, our Christ, our King in so doing. Amen. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

For Alex

i can still hear hear Jud calling out
with that characteristic upward inflection
as we play Daisy a Day
one more time
one more time to ride the night winds
in the Subaru chariot
like a Homing Pigeon
(now banned by the Taliban)
we kept the innate homing ability
of the wild rock pigeon alive
it would be
of course
a Rock pigeon
not a jazz or rap or hiphop pigeon
when around that curve on
route 2
around 2 or 3 am
when what did our bleary eyes see
a moose staring at us
on the center line
then turning
slowly leading us
a mile or so down the road
before turning off into the woods
talking talking talking thru the night
music, philosophy, religion
or the latest gestalt-rock issue of the day
tucked into the cabin at last
on the couch
window to the world of loons
Flagstaff Lake
the first sounds of the new day
wood in the stove
begin again
plot the departure time
to the next gig
the next opportunity
to communicate
with nothing but notes and rhythm inflection nuance and spirit
but first
tend the flower beds
the tomato beds
but first
touch the earth itself
the earth even now recalls his touch
his care
his music left to vibrate on to infinity and beyond
i miss you
and will raise a glass of rye
as i
once again
for that inimitable
for your reliable
and spirit
hear the fiddle commence
the trombone blast
top hat on his head
legs akimbo
will never
and Alex
as always
is leading
the way

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Dark Energy Is The Holy Spirit

Until recently faith has been seen as the unverifiable field of religion and theology and somewhat outside the realm of science. Yet, in reality religion and science are both attempts to understand the world we live in and the universe it inhabits. Both seek to discover great truths about where we are and why we are here. Science tends to focus on how things are while religion seeks to focus on why things are. Both fields utilize human reason to interpret experiential observations and imagine new ways of understanding things. It is what one Scientist-Priest, John Polkinghorne, calls Binocular Vision, a Binocular World View, and one might even say a Binocular Faith.

Christians have affirmed for centuries a faith that God is the maker of “heaven and earth, all that is, seen and unseen.” Until early in the 2oth century it was believed that creation, the universe, was static. What could be seen by the naked eye and early telescopes was in place, set and in a sense finished. We just needed to apply Newtonian principles to mapping it and understanding how it all works.

Thanks Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble and others, however, the paradigm shifted – radically. Hubble suggested that the universe is still expanding. As this dynamic view of creation took hold several things emerged. First, there is now a sense that creation continues, is fluid, is evolving. As this view has taken hold it is now believed that 70% of the expanding universe is Dark Energy – dark only because we cannot see it, yet it can be measured in particular ways – which is somehow the foundation of expansion. Another 25% of the universe is Dark Matter – only dark because we cannot see it, but can measure the fact that it exerts gravitational forces upon nearby matter. This leaves only 5% of the known universe to consist of matter as we know it: rocks, trees, animals, people, stars, planets, galaxies – that which can be seen.

That is, 95% of the universe is “unseen” – an article of Christian faith since the third and fourth centuries.  And it may be argued that this truth is also an article of scientific faith – faith that the observations and calculations that have led us to these understandings are correct – replacing scientific principles that also were once thought to be “the way things are”.

As religion and theology have evolved, once thought to be immutable aspects of the nature of God have been revised and replaced as well. Whereas once gods were thought to control and interfere in the lives of men and women – think Prometheus and Pandora for instance – the idea that a God creates us with free will emerged, placing us more in a partnership with God than as puppets on cosmic strings. 

An early Christian writer once defined faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” Hebrews 11:1 Faith is grounded in hope and an understanding that much remains unseen. Whether one’s faith is that God uttered the word, “Light!” and suddenly there was light, or that in an instant nearly 14 billion years ago there was an explosion of light we call The Big Bang, in either case it remains an article of faith, and the source of the mutual hope of science and religion that we can and will continue to sort out how we came to be here and why we are here.  Binocular faith, binocular vision, a binocular world view – religion and science have much to share as we ponder the vast unseen reaches of a creation that continues to unfold and in which we have become co-creators as a result of our scientific and religious pursuits. 

And ponder this: my dear late friend and scientific mentor, Richard Chiroff, after years of contemplation concluded that Dark Energy is the Holy Spirit. I have been trying to get my head around that for several years and rapidly coming to believe he very well may be right. Amen.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Where Are We?

A meditation on where we are as a way of beginning to understand who we are.

Radical Amazement