There will come a time...

Today is blazing hot in Montreal - with 100% humidity - so we're mostly staying inside. Ok, it is not Tucson, AZ hot, but for this realm it is smoking!  After the weather breaks this evening, we may head out to a local jazz jam session or maybe watch another episode of "Vera" on Netflix streaming. We shall see.

I want to return today to the questions I raised in my "gimme shelter: ethics and aesthetics" post of a few days past: rethinking worship in the Reformed tradition for a 21st century people. As I noted earlier, my hunch is that our new forms of worship must include 1) silence and musical meditations; 2) sacramental theology along with Eucharist; 3) conversations within the worshiping community re: scripture and ethics; and 4) and a time for accountability (i.e. what concrete acts are going to arise from our gathering?) In other words, how do we use the charisms of this era to strengthen, nourish and shape living, loving disciples of Jesus? 

The poet, Derek Walcott, expressed both the challenge before us as well as a possible path for greater depth when he wrote:

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart 
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you have ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

This is an invitation to contemplation - the ancient spiritual discipline of "taking a long, loving look at life" - in order to accept reality as it is and then discern where compassion might be shared most authentically. Contemplation is always both/and, it is never just about inner peace or social justice; but, rather, always about acceptance and sharing. Walcott makes three observations that speak to this moment in time:

+ First, he notes that there will inevitably come a time when we meet ourselves coming and going. Busyness is both an outward illness that leads to exhaustion and despair, and, an inner spiritual reaction to a world we cannot control. Busyness is about our fears as much as the expectations of others. Walcott seems to suggest that when we come face to face with our reality - our overextended selves and inner pathologies - it can lead to elation. Joy. Hope. Until that time that we see ourselves as the source of our frenzy, however, we will keep rushing and running from being fully at rest in this moment.  

Such is the promise of mystical union: we will see God in ourselves, and, all that is holy will look back at us from within our humanity. Richard Rohr put it like this in this morning's meditation:

Humanity was given three different sets of eyes, each building on the previous one. The first eye was the eye of flesh (the senses), the second was the eye of reason (meditation or intellectual reflection), and the third eye was the eye of true understanding (contemplation). [1] Third-eye seeing is the way mystics see. They do not reject the first eye; the senses matter to them. Nor do they reject the second eye; but they know not to confuse knowledge with depth or mere correct information with the transformation of consciousness itself. They are led still further.

One of the reasons I am so eager to explore the way musical contemplation can help us learn to meet ourselves in semi-silence has to do with the intergration of our "three eyes." Over the years I have led any number of seminars and classes in the way of sitting/breathing/centering prayer. Some people "get it" - and make the commitment to practice - but most contemporary people are so disconnected from stillness that they find themselves unable to rest and listen for the refreshment of God's grace. Before I left on this sabbatical, Carlton and I were experimenting with a "contemplative section" in every worship gathering that included:  1) a gentle and reflective musical interlude; 2) taize song (to bring the community together in quiet prayer); 3) silence and candle lighting; and 4) the reading of the gospel. Now, after 70 days of personal reflection and relative silence, I am more certain of the need for encouraging training in the opening act of contemplation: resting.(Take ten minutes and hear brother Jamal testify...)

+ Second, the poem points to feasting as one consequence of contemplation. We will be at peace within ourselves - and within the world - to such a degree that we can stop and ejoy life. Feasting is sacramental:  the bread and the wine nourish us with both Christ's real presence and as archetypal symbols of how our work/life (bread) and celebration/spirit (wine) might be lived in balance rather than discord.  There will be smiles - safety - there will be love and trust - embracing the stranger - and there will be time and space to allow our real lives to reflect our deepest calling: compassion.

One of the reasons I think Pope Francis' message re: eco-justice has resonated so deeply with so many is that he has refused to separate our working lives from our deepest aspirations. Spirituality is bigger than worship, it has to do with how we honor the holy in everything we do.It is about an integrated life rather than the segregation that shapes so much of our existence. Further, Francis has brought together Left and Right, prayer and justice, spirit and flesh as an organic whole. No wonder those who profit from war and pollution are terrified: Francis is calling out our historic divisions that keep us distracted and afraid. He is naming our reality as broken and destructive while offering a way for all of creation to join God's feast. Again, this takes practice - liturgy - to show us a sacred alternative to our current dis-ease.

+ And third, as we rest and feast in contemplation, we will be able to give up our illusions and idols - the love letters and photographs on the bookshelf - and start to feast within our real lives. We will be at peace within so that we might share the feast beyond ourselves. This is what I meant earlier when I suggested both conversations within worship - community learning - as well as a closing time for accountability - what then shall we do? - are vital ingredients of a new/old worship encounter. 

Rohr wrote in his book about the 12 Steps that one of the hard lessons he has learned over 40 years of ministry is the way the Church has diminished the importance of action. Disciples are not simply those who attend liturgy and know the Creed by heart. They are people who bring the heart of Jesus to the world by how they live. They are the ones who pick up their Crosses and follow Jesus as Lord. So he notes that if he had it to do over again, he would make membership in any faith community conditional upon action. That is, there would be regular questions of accountability built into worship, leadership and fellowship: what then shall we do?

Training in contemplation - music and silence, tradition and conversation, Eucharist and accountability - make "a long, loving look at life" part of the new/old healing of the church for the 21st century. The poetry of Sufi genius, Rumi, resonates with Walcott's vision in a meditation he called, "Be Lost in the Call." 

Lord, said David, since you do not need us,
why did you create these two worlds?

Reality replied: O prisoner of time,
I was a secret treasure of kindness and generosity,
and I wished this treasure to be known,
so I created a mirror: its shining face, the heart;
its darkened back, the world;
The back would please you if you've never seen the face.

Has anyone ever produced a mirror out of mud and straw?
Yet clean away the mud and straw,
and a mirror might be revealed.

Until the juice ferments a while in the cask,
it isn't wine. If you wish your heart to be bright,
you must do a little work.

My King addressed the soul of my flesh:
You return just as you left.
Where are the traces of my gifts?

We know that alchemy transforms copper into gold.
This Sun doesn't want a crown or robe from God's grace.
He is a hat to a hundred bald men,
a covering for ten who were naked.

Jesus sat humbly on the back of an ass, my child!
How could a zephyr ride an ass?
Spirit, find your way, in seeking lowness like a stream.
Reason, tread the path of selflessness into eternity.

Remember God so much that you are forgotten.
Let the caller and the called disappear;
be lost in the Call.


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