Tuesday, March 27, 2018

a seed must die...

For Holy Week 2018, Di has suggested I start a journal entitled "The Road to L'Arche." It won't be for publication - even in blogging form - but rather a written reflection on thoughts, insights, events, quotes, pictures and essays that speak to my journey into pastoral ministry 40 years ago - and out. Having read Henri Nouwen's journal, The Road to Daybreak: a Spiritual Journey for Lent, I am going to start later today. I will have 5+ hours to ponder all of this yet another time as I drive to Ottawa for a few days with Mountainview House. 

In addition to Holy Week liturgies, I will share some extended time with my friends being a part of their ordinary life rituals of house cleaning and preparing supper. Kathleen Norris wisely calls these "the quotidian mysteries: laundry, liturgy and women's work." she writes, "The ordinary activities I find most compatible with contemplation are walking, baking bread, and doing laundry."

The Bible is full of evidence that God's attention is indeed fixed on the little things. But this is not because God is a great cosmic cop, eager to catch us in minor transgressions, but simply because God loves us--loves us so much that we the divine presence is revealed even in the meaningless workings of daily life. It is in the ordinary, the here-and-now, that God asks us to recognize that the creation is indeed refreshed like dew-laden grass that is "renewed in the morning" or to put it in more personal and also theological terms, "our inner nature is being renewed everyday". Seen in this light, what strikes many modern readers as the ludicrous details in Leviticus involving God in the minutiae of daily life might be revisioned
as the very love of God.

Having recently posted a brief reflection on synchronicity, it will be enough to observe that yesterday's music-making with Hal was grounded in a new song he calls "Little Things." What's more, one of the readings for Tuesday in Holy Week comes from the upside-down experiences of St. Paul and the community of Corinth who writes:


For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. (Some) demand signs and (others) desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block and foolishness to those (addicted to the contours of our culture.) But to those who are the called, from every tradition, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength. Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. The Lord is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." (I Corinthians 1: 18-31)

What's more, today's gospel likewise cuts to the chase when St. John notes that close to his end Jesus told his disciples: "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life." (John 12: 24-25)

My take away, to be developed more thoroughly and vigorously at a later date, is that there has been a consistent downward mobility to my calling. A growing attraction to the little things, the wounded ones, learning to trust my weakness albeit imperfectly so that God's grace and peace might increase. In Peterson's reworking of the Sermon on the Mount in The Message Jesus teaches: "You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought." (Matthew 5: 3-5) 

That's what these early days of retirement feel like to me: a journey into the still to be revealed little blessings of the quotidian mysteries. Not having to be involved in the soul-sucking aspects of pastoral ministry has freed me from being exhausted. And hurt. And angry. It has also given me the space to sense that I still have a "pastoral" role to play in whatever time remains in my life. But not as a leader. Not as one in charge. And not as one who is boldly engaged in a public life. Rather, as Nouwen writes in his own journal, now is a time following Jesus in the little things. His description of Good Friday at L'Arche Trosly is brilliant. It has shaped my prayers throughout Lent and will guide my heart as I head to Ottawa in a few hours.

Pere Thomas and Pere Gilbert... took a huge cross that hangs behind the altar from the wall and held it so that the whole community could come and kiss the dead body of Christ. They all came, more than four hundred people - handicapped men and women and their assistants and friends. Everybody seemed to know very well what they were doing: expressing their love and gratitude for him who gave his life for them. As they were crowding around the cross and kissing the feet and the head of Jesus, I closed my eyes and could see his sacred body stretched out and crucified upon our planet earth. I saw the immense suffering of humanity during the centuries: people killing each other; people dying from starvation and epidemics; people driven from their homes; people sleeping on the streets of large cities; people clinging to each other in desperation; people flagellated, tortured, burned and mutilated; people alone in locked flats, in prison dungeons, in labor camps; people craving a gentle word, a friendly letter, a consoling embrace, people - children, teenagers, adults, middle-aged, and elderly - all crying out with an anguished voice "My God, my God, why have you forsaking us?

Imaging the naked, lacerated body of Christ stretched out over our globe. I was filled with horror. But as I opened my eyes I saw Jacques, who bears the marks of suffering in his face, kiss the body with passion and tears in his eyes. I saw Ivan carried on Michael's back. I saw Edith coming in her wheelchair. As they came - walking or limping, seeing or blind, hearing or deaf - I saw the endless procession of humanity gathering around the sacred body of Jesus, covering it with their tears and their kisses, and slowly moving away from it comforted and consoled by such great love. There were signs of relief; there were smiles breaking through tear-filled eyes; there were hands in hands and arms in arms. With my mind's eye I saw the huge crowds of isolated, agonizing individuals walking away from the cross together, bound by the love they had seen with their own eyes and touched with their own lips. The cross of horror became the cross of hope, the tortured body became the body that gives new life; the gaping wounds became the source of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. 

A new chapter is opening, a new journey is beginning - and now it is time to pack.

photo credits: dianne de mott


Monday, March 26, 2018

perfumed oil on the feet of the Lord...

A friend posted this Thomas Merton quote yesterday on Face Book. It comes from... hold on... 1948!

It is true that the materialistic society, the so-called culture that has evolved under the tender mercies of capitalism, has produced what seems to be the ultimate limit of this worldliness [of gratification of natural appetites for pleasure and reputation and power]. And nowhere, except perhaps in the analogous society of pagan Rome, has there ever been such a flowering of cheap and petty and disgusting lusts and vanities as in the world of capitalism, where there is no evil that is not fostered and encouraged for the sake of making money. We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios and the rest.

So far as I can tell, life in these semi-United States haven't gotten better when it comes to the manipulation of our artificial tensions or synthetic passions since Merton's time. Indeed, as Neil Postman put it in 2005, "We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares."

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think... When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.

One of the reasons I celebrate Saturday's march - and the young heroes who called no bull shit on us all - is that their hope gives us eyes to see: the depths to which we have we sunk, the possibilities for a safe and beloved community, the hard work of organizing necessary to climb out of the muck, and the beauty of solidarity. The gospel for the Monday of Holy Week, John 12: 1-11, tells of a young woman who shared a simple act of love with Jesus - pouring perfumed oil on his feet. 

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,"Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."

As this is one of my favorite stories, included in each of the four gospels, it has guided my heart for decades. First, Mary shared an act of extravagant beauty out of pure love with Jesus. Love was far more important than someone's bottom line. Second, her generosity upset some at the feast because they refused to grasp the sacredness of loving relationships. And third, Jesus replied that humanity will always have an obligation and opportunity to care for the wounded - the poor will always be with you - but there are also gifts given to us that arrive in the form of celebrations, beauty or extravagant love that must be honored, too. Indeed, these gifts empower us to keep caring when it isn't easy. Jean Vanier has written extensively about the importance of simple celebrations and honoring ordinary times of laughter and affection. Recently I read this - and it speaks to my heart:

Maybe the world will be transformed when we learn to have fun together. I don't mean to suggest that we don't talk about serious things. But maybe what our world needs more than anything is communities where we celebrate life together and become a sign of hope for our world. Maybe we need signs that it is possible to love each other.

Tomorrow I leave for L'Arche Ottawa to stay with my friends in Mountainview House for a few days. There will be shared Holy Week liturgies - foot washing and stations of the Cross - but mostly there will be the ordinary blessings of everyday life. It will be my first extended time staying in their home - and their invitation feels to me like perfumed oil poured out in loving friendship - my heart is full to overflowing.

credits:
https://fineartamerica.com/shop/prints/thomas+merton
http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2017/04/10/mary-washes-jesus-feet/



Sunday, March 25, 2018

palm sunday 2018

Not much going on externally here today, but a ton is roiling around within: the present darkness within our cultural/political/spiritual chaos has been exposed by innocent and wounded youth. Yesterday's March for Our Lives interrupted our cynicism. Beyond the cruelty of the trolls and all the lies spewed by the shills for the NRA, our children showed us a better way. There are, of course, no guarantees. Niebuhr was clear that the children of darkness are usually better organized and more strategic than the children of light. Still, I hold fast to the light within the darkness. The late Henri Nouwen once wrote in his Sabbatical Journey:

We spend a lot of energy wondering who can be blamed for our own or other people's tragedies - our parents, ourselves, the immigrants, the Jews, the gays, the blacks, the fundamentalists, the Catholics.... But Jesus doesn't allow us to solve our own or other people's problems through blame. The challenge he poses is to discern in the midst of our darkness the light of God. In Jesus' vision everything, even the greatest tragedy, can become an occasion in which God's works can be revealed. How radically new my life would be if I were willing to move beyond blame to proclaiming the works of God.... All human beings have their tragedies.... We seldom have much control over them. But do we choose to live them as occasions to blame, or as occasions to see God at work?

It feels weird and a bit empty not to be in public worship this morning. I will likely slip into a late Eucharistic service this afternoon to ground myself in the rhythm of the saints. On Tuesday I head north to be with my friends at L'Arche Ottawa. My desert season of retirement holds more surprises in its early days than anyone could predict. Not sorrow, at least for me, something more akin to emptiness. And like Nouwen, I trust that even in my failings the fullness of grace beyond the emptiness and the darkness will arise. I already see the signs. The young people marching - 1 million strong in DC - hearts reaching across the great divides of race, class and gender.  To be sure, mine is a decidedly 21st century commitment to the Paschal Mystery for I trust that "everything, even the greatest tragedy, can become an occasion in which God's works can be revealed."

credits
+ Kai Althoff https://www.pinterest.com/pin/279645458088772153/



Saturday, March 24, 2018

march for their lives...

How can I write about anything today but the massive international protests against American gun violence? It was a day of hope and tears, gratitude and challenge, bold innocence calling out entrenched greed, cynicism and ideology. Like many Americans, I wept quietly reverently watching our youth stand up against the NRA. I cheered their courage calling out political hacks who would rather shill for gun manufacturers than stand up for children. For so many of us in this bitter era, it became holy ground. A children's crusade, not orchestrated by religious zealots or mean-spirited con artists, but teens who have been directly wounded by this nation's insane addiction to weapons of mass destruction. 

And just when it was about to close, Emma Gonzalez: purity emboldened by grief, wisdom embodied beyond years, gravitas communicated beyond words. 



Maren Tirabassi later summed it up with conviction and clarity when she wrote:

It was a parade
bright with symbols of hope
and shouts of protest and praise.
Those in authority may ask
the children to be quiet.

Jesus said – if they were,
the stones would rise up
and March for their Lives.

Palm Sunday will not be the same for me tomorrow - or any of us.

Friday, March 23, 2018

prayer as relationship...

One of the recent insights I have gleaned from my reconnection to the writing of Henri Nouwen is this simple but transformative insight: the mystical life, our communion with God born of prayer, is fundamentally a relationship. "Even in the case of Jesus... when we are told that he spent a whole night in communing prayers with God it means: Jesus spent the night listening to the Father calling him the Beloved." This night of prayer was about meditation and contemplation. Resting in a growing awareness of God's grace. Being filled from the inside out with God's presence that is as intimate as our breath and as transcendent as the stars.

For decades I had assumed that these prayers of solitude were super-human acts of liturgical discipline. But Nouwen asserts, and it resonates in brilliant sense to me, that these times were not about reciting well-crafted prayers, assuming traditional postures of piety, or even expressing holy words, songs or thoughts. Rather, Jesus was claiming a quiet, contemplative and mystical relationship with the Source of sacred love. These prayers are about nourishing a relationship with God as Beloved. They are not petitioning a distant or separate Lord, but rather opening our hearts to the intimacy of grace. In this Jesus practices what he preaches: "come unto me all ye who are weary... and I will give ye rest."

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11: 28-30, The Message)

In The Road to Daybreak, Nouwen notes that trusting God's beloved tenderness is not easy for us. "Jesus wants us to receive the love he offers. He wants nothing more than that we allow him to love us and enjoy that love (just as he has let himself be loved and cherished.) But this is so hard since we always feel that we have to deserve the love offered to us." (p. 193) In this, Brother Henri is confessional, never asking us to go where he has never gone. To be as a little child, he writes, "I must become little." Not puffed up. Neither impressed by degrees, status, or personal acts of generosity, but small and receptive. 

Jesus said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and a servant of all." (Mark 9:35) Am I willing to become the servant of a beggar...? It is becoming clear to me that I still have not understood that Jesus revealed his love to us by becoming our servant and calls us to follow him in this way. (Daybreak, p. 190) 

By owning his own insecurities and wounds, Nouwen helps us do likewise. Over time, he let go of his abstractions and academic aloofness and communicated in simple ways soul to soul. Fr. Ronald Rolheiser got it right when he wrote that the later works of Henri Nouwen were able to "carry deep sentiment without being sentimental; to be self-revealing without being exhibitionist; to be deeply personal yet profoundly universal; and to be sensitive to human weakness, even as he strove to challenge us to seek what's more sublime." (Mere Spirituality, p. viii)

My Lenten journey has been wildly uneven this year. What continues to ground me in the season, however, is my abiding relationship with grace. The more quiet time taken to rest into this relationship, the more trust I sense in my heart. This Sunday is Palm Sunday, a liturgical collection of bold contrasts highlighting the marriage of faith and doubt, wisdom and trust, light and darkness, constancy and distraction. May the Paschal Mystery unfold in little ways within and beyond me.

credits
+ James Lumsden

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

synchronicity...

Synchronicty, Jung's term for our ability to discern meaning in events that have no obvious common causality, is holy ground. Not only does it bring a measure of intelligibility to the realm of spirit and intuition - a nuanced, one-word poem for real but non linear truths - it also provides a rational way to consider the mystical without degrading or limiting the numinous. Jung wrote:

How are we to recognize acausal combinations of events, since it is obviously impossible to examine all chance happenings for their causality? The answer to this is that acausal events may be expected most readily where, on closer reflection, a causal connection appears to be inconceivable.




That is, just as some events share a common source, others share commonality through a "meaningful coincidence" or even "acausal parallelism." As Jesus was want to say, "The Spirit blows where it chooses: like the wind you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born (nourished/cognizant) of the Spirit." (John 3:8) The Hebrew Scriptures are equally resonant on this matter, too: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55: 8-11)

I note all of this because snchronicty is about specificity. In my tradition, we call this the "Word becoming Flesh." Fr. Richard Rohr recently wrote that authentic Christianity:

... does not teach individualism but incarnation. The universal incarnation always shows itself in the specific, the concrete, and the particular—refusing to be an abstraction. Poet Christian Wiman puts it this way: “If nature abhors a vacuum, Christ abhors a vagueness. If God is love, Christ is love for this one person, this one place, this one time-bound and time-ravaged self." we come to universal meaning deeply and rightly through the unique and ordinary, not the other way around, which is the great danger of all the ideologies (overarching and universal explanations) that have plagued our world in the last century. Everything in the universe is a holon and a fractal, where the part replicates the whole. Go deep in any one place and we will meet all places where the divine image is present. (Rohr)

When I read these words this morning I couldn't help but think back to a conversation that took place yesterday while working on some new music. In response to an emerging song currently called "Little Things," we started talking about our search for meaning in the patterns of real life. "Perhaps that is what all ways of knowing (or religion) is about" we mused. My thoughts went directly to 21st century mystics like Rohr, Bourgeault, Coakley. They make a strong case for non-dual thinking as essential for discerning patterns of truth in the specificity of our existence. "The kingdom of Heaven is really a metaphor for a state of consciousness," Cynthia Bourgeault observes. “What the theologian shrinks from," she likes to say, "the poet grasps intuitively." So, too, the artist, the musician, the dancer, the film maker, etc. That's because our discernment of meaning "is not about right thought or doctrine or belief, it's about right practice." Like Richard Rohr, Bourgeault then articulates the creative meaning of the law of three:


One can only imagine how greatly the political and religious culture wars of our era could be eased by this simple courtesy of the Law of Three: (1) the enemy is never the problem but the opportunity; (2) the problem will never be solved through eliminating or silencing the opposition but only through creating a new field of possibility large enough to hold the tension of the opposites and launch them in a new direction. Imagine what a different world it would be if these two simple precepts were internalized and enacted. (Bourgeault)

One of the many reasons I am so energized about this new music project is that I get to make music with one of my oldest and dearest friends. He became a friend in 8th grade. Later we played in the same garage band doing Stones, Yardbirds and Zeppelin covers. A few years later, we reconnected and did folk tunes. As lives changed, we drifted apart only to rediscover one another 40 years later - and now we're making songs again. Another reason is that while our paths have been profoundly different - and we often speak words that begin in different places - the poetry and music evokes congruence. There is a startling unity taking place among us that is grounded in beauty, compassion and honoring human vulnerability. Fr. Rohr uses words from my tradition to speak about our shared music:

(Unless what we create) gets to concrete acts of charity, m
ercy, liberation, or service... (we will) just argue about theory and proper definitions without incarnating a meaningful and practical way to live that compassionately focuses on the now, the particular, the concrete, the individual. (The early Franciscan John Duns Scotus) makes love, and the will to love in a particular way, more important than intellect, understanding, or any theories about love or justice. (The key is to) start with loving one situation or one person all the way through. That is the best—and maybe the only—first school for universal love. (Rohr)

So the music we are playing and creating is mystically connected to leaving behind the work of the local church as well as a specific friendship that is over 50 years old. My calling beyond the local church is connected to the way L'Arche Ottawa has nourished my heart. The compassion of L'Arche Ottawa has opened me to a spirituality of tenderness born of the school of love that must always be made flesh (Vanier.) My own vulnerability has awakened me to the shared fears and shame each individual knows and struggles with. This morning's reading from the Gratitude book my daughter gave me last week says: "Wherever you are is the entry POINT. What can I do right now, big or small, to help make a change I long for?) The phone call I placed this morning about an emerging, multi-media ballet grounded in the Golden Rule painting of Norman Rockwell resonates with every a pattern of clues that have been bubbling to the surface. Once I started to pay attention to the patterns the Holy Spirit took root in reality. St. Paul enjoyed telling us: "Now we see as through a glass darkly, later we shall see face to face... Three things remain - faith, hope and love - and the greatest of these is love." In ways that were calling to me but I did not grasp, the creative movement of love has awakened me - and I am grateful.



credits
+ Sound Scape, Sandra Duran Wilson @ skwduran@msn.com
+ Evolve and Ascend, Synchronicty @, http://www.evolveandascend.com/tag/synchronicity/
+ Synchronicity, Larry Lewis @ https://www.artsy.net/artwork/larry-lewis-synchronicity
+ Sofia Bonati @, http://www.evolveandascend.com/tag/synchronicity/

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

music, time and beauty redux...

So, for what's it is worth, let me offer a word of clarification re: making music and time. My intent was not to offend my musical colleagues and friends who work as choir/music directors, band leaders or composers. As I heard earlier today from a modern music composer: I write the notes on the page precisely - and that is what I want. That is what I rehearse. No question about it. Same would be true for those directing various levels of musicians who are performing compositions by classical composers or contemporary artists. I have sung in enough choirs to know that improvisation is not called for in those moments.

My post, however, was not addressing this type of precision. Nor was it wrestling with time in relationship to a set composition. There are musical experiences that need a leader, a well written score, and a practical timetable for beginning and ending. What I was articulating was a different relationship to time: I was noting that musical exploration as a collaborative encounter requires a more fluid relationship to time and outcomes. Not everyone is cut out for this; some excellent artists I have worked with simply go crazy without a clear road map to follow and perform. Others get rattled and anxious when asked to discover the map as a part of the musical process in community. And still others discover that they don't know what to contribute and feel superfluous to the birthing of beauty.

But for those who are able to bring both a Zen sensibility to the creation of new music and a willingness to be co-creators, it can be ecstatic. To collaborate in concert with loved ones in pursuit of beauty and hope is a religious experience. Sometimes it can be chaotic and unsettling for a spell, too. But deep trust and playfulness are always hard won. Tonight I return thanks for the people I have been able to collaborate with in pursuit of new music. I also rejoice in the new project Hal, Jon and I are working on and trust the love greater than ourselves to bring it to light.


Monday, March 19, 2018

solitude, solidarity and service...

This morning I sat at my local auto tire shop and listened to the folk talk. I was waiting for two new tires, a tire rotation and a spare tire repair. These guys - and they were all guys - are fast, reasonable and honest. I like to go there even though I am like a fish out of water. The conversation centered on our shitty weather, pot holes in the roads like unto the Grand Canyon, and the culinary distinctions between Dennys and TGIFridays. (Apparently, Denny's is the local favorite but we're not getting one where the old Country Kitchen Buffet now stands empty.) It was good to get out. The car needed it and I did too: Breaking out out of my bubble puts me in touch with a world I rarely experience.

Think about it: I was sitting there reading Henri Nouwen listening in on a running commentary about Taco Bel's "spicy fries!" NOBODY I know talks about spicy fries. And, given my proclivities, this led me to a consideration of Nouwen's three-layered spirituality: prayer, worship, engagement. He uses the words "communion, community and commission" by which he means: 1) nourishing an inner journey, 2) making time for worship and acts of caring, and 3) going into the world to share acts of healing and hope. As a mystical Trinitarian, I resonate with this three-in-one and one-in-three spiritual practice. His organizing words, however, don't resonate with me.  I prefer something like solitude, solidarity and service. They seem more direct. Regardless of your preferences, each category holds a wealth of implications.

+ Solitude:  Setting aside time for silence is essential for a mature spiritual life. In the quiet, there is space to listen and feel. There is time to study and reflect. There is a chance for our fears and shame to rise to the surface above our busy distractions long enough for us to maybe realize that we ache for God's grace just like everyone else. Spicy fries or sushi, Jean Vanier got it right when he wrote: "We all have a deep fear of our own weaknesses, because my weakness is what makes it possible for someone else to crush me. So I create mechanisms of defense and compulsion to protect myself. We all have protective systems designed to prevent people from seeing who we are." A regular and disciplined practice of solitude creates a time and a space for us to own our weaknesses. Over time, and very slowly, its possible to learn how to relinquish them, too. Solitude also allows us to cultivate practices like meditation, centering/walking prayer, deep breathing so that we tap into the "love that will not let us go." Nouwen learned that there can be no spiritual maturity without a regular soul care. Call it solitude, communion with the sacred, or prayer: it is the non-negotiable vertical beam of the Cross that unites our hearts with the heart of God.

+ Solidarity:  A faith community is essential, too. It is the horizontal bar of the Cross that keeps us in connection with the Lord of Life. Community is where we share worship. It is where we learn how to care for others and let them care for us. It is a place of safety and challenge, a collection of hearts joined together beyond race, gender and class, in what St. Paul called "the Body of Christ." As in the body of Jesus after the Cross, it is always wounded. Vanier insists that "there are three activities that are absolutely vital in the creation of a community. The first is eating together around the same table. The second is praying together. And the third is celebrating together. By celebrating I mean to laugh, to fool around, to have fun, to give thanks together for life. When we are laughing together with belly laughs we are all the same." Whatever its form - church, synagogue, mosque, ashram, AA - there is a gathering that is structured for the sharing of joys and concerns. Community is where we learn to get over ourselves and welcome others into our bubble. 

+ Service:  Someone once told me that "mission - that is, engagement in the world through acts of compassion and justice - is how God saves the church from itself." Our communities of faith can quickly become soul gymnasiums, morality museums, or burial societies if our only purpose is to care for ourselves (or our building.) Back in the day, it used to be said that the community of faith was called into existence by the holy to "find a hurt and heal it." In our 21st century, post-Christian world I sense faithful service is all about partnership with those beyond the confines of our comfort zones. And by partnership I mean radical and humble silence in the company of others so that we might listen to the cries of another's suffering; and, sharing our gifts in ways that enflesh justice and hope for all. Bonhoeffer came to understand during his opposition to the Third Reich that we are to live the love of Jesus without calling attention to ourselves. We are to be the flesh of love beyond the ubiquity of "charity" work. Our efforts are not to self-serving but socially sacrificial. 

I am discovering a new balance of solitude, solidarity and service for myself. And one key, I learned today, is simply getting out of my bubble and being in reality as it exists. I like this prayer for the Fifth Sunday of Lent from Vanderbilt University:

Sisters and brothers,
as Jesus, in the days before his passion,
offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears,
let us pray for those who suffer, those who are in need,
and those who seek reconciliation.

God of compassion,
you know our faults and yet you promised to forgive.
Keep us in your presence and give us your wisdom.
Open our hearts to gladness,
call dry bones to dance,

and restore to us the joy of your salvation. Amen.


credits:
1) iglinavos.wordpress.com
2) kiathess.gr
3) icanvas.com

Sunday, March 18, 2018

trust, patience and heart in music-making....

Making new music that is from the heart - as well as from skill, practice, soul and commitment - takes time. There is a place, when time is precious and the clock is running, for fast and efficient rehearsals. Choirs, jobs, deadlines, productions and all the rest demand a degree of cranking it out and moving on. Been there and done that - and I get it. But creating new music in cooperation with equal partners? Discovering nuance in the unique combination of sounds? Listening for both the movement of the Spirit and the energy of a composition's soul? That takes time: it warrants patience, honors serendipity, and insists upon trusting a wisdom greater that each individual musician. Dare I suggest that it takes love? In Eugene Peterson's brilliant reworking of I Corinthians 13, deep musical collaboration sounds a great deal like love:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Today for over three hours we worked on two songs. In between, of course, we told stories, considered the philosophy of art, made practical plans for various auditions and open mics in the next few months, and went over complicated aspects of one tune four and five times. We tried each song out with different emphasis. I switched from electric to upright bass - and added bowing to one section, too. In doing this not only did we hone our craft, but we grew closer by nourishing trust and vulnerability along the way. And in a time such as our own, love and solidarity are acts of resistance. They become bread for the journey and help us learn to live from our center. 

Every musician needs to practice: heart alone is often glorious but not always beautiful. St. Bob Dylan was clear: "I will know my song well before I start singing." But as this morning's reflection from Henri Nouwen makes clear on the
Fifth Sunday of Lent, if our lives never learn to descend into the heart, we remain impoverished and shallow.

The great challenge is living your wounds through instead of thinking them through. It is better to cry than to worry, better to feel your wounds deeply than to understand them, better to let them enter into your silence than to talk about them. The choice you face constantly is whether you are taking your wounds to your head or to your heart. In your head you can analyze them, find their causes and consequences, and coin words to speak and write about them. But no final healing is likely to come from that source. You need to let your wounds go down to your heart. Then you can live through them and discover that they will not destroy you.

It has been a long time since there was the trust, time and respect to make music from the center of love. I am so grateful.


Saturday, March 17, 2018

a severe beauty...

Dear friends who live elsewhere, you may not believe that it is St. Patrick's Day in the Berkshires, but this is what part of our back porch looks like! Such are the brutal vicissitudes on New England in March amidst the realities of climate change. It is still lovely and with the sun shining right now, it evokes a severe beauty. Martin Marty once wrote an insightful little book, A Cry of Absence: Reflections for the Winter of the Heart.  It has been called "a cri du coeur: painful, eloquent Christian meditations on the dark side of existence."

One of the things that Marty and those who affirm the spirituality of winter understand is that "even the cry from the depths is an affirmation: Why cry if there is no hint of hope of hearing?" Rumi writes of the dog that wails for her master noting that the absence and howling is proof of a love beyond what is obvious. Winter spirituality, as I have come to experience it again after a decade in the desert Southwest, is more about stillness, solitude and solidarity than anything else.

All is still now. Dwellers in snow country remark how after winter thunder and a blowing storm, silence can pall the snowscape. Poets call this preternatural, because it seems to exist eerily beyond nature. No bird song, no whistle in the wind, no crackle of a twig interrupts the quiet. Plants are at rest, as are households. Often that means all is well. Souls seeking escape from the tumult of business and busy people welcome such hours and occasions. (Marty)

In their Practicing Spirituality website (http://www.spirituality andpractice.com/practices/features/view/20552/practicing-spirituality-in-winter) Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat offer a host of other practices that help nourish the wisdom of winter. They write that a winter spirituality calls us to celebrate our interdependence on one another.

Winter is a season of the year when we feel most vulnerable and fragile in the face of Mother Nature's power in storms and low temperatures. Often, too, we feel isolated, in need of friends and family. An important spiritual practice is to acknowledge and receive what others give us with great gratitude. Here are some ways to do this: Make a practice of consciously acknowledging your vulnerability and dependence upon others. For example, think about all the service providers who make it possible for us to ride in elevators, make phone calls, read a book at night in a lighted room, have food or supplies delivered, or have the roads plowed. Too often, we take this support for granted.

The last time Dianne and I were in Ottawa, we found ourselves trapped in a mud rut during the freezing rain. Try as we might, we could not rock the car out of the muck. In about 15 minutes, however, two young men came from different directions, realized our plight, uncovered their rock salt and helped us push the vehicle into freedom. We needed them - and rejoiced in their generosity. As tired as I am this year of the snow - and there's more to come next week or so I'm told - I give thanks this day for the wisdom of winter. It is an existential encounter with the Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Friday, March 16, 2018

making my calendar a prayer...

Earlier this week I owned the reality that I am a techno-dinosaur. I can make a few early 21st century devices (love/hate that word) work - things like parts of my I Phone, an outdated version of Power Point and a few gizmos on the dying surround sound system that supports our 2000 TV set - but I find I am lost without a hard copy calendar. Yeah, yeah I know that the Google calendar I use on my phone is nifty and new. It is always up to date, blah, blah, blah. But like the tactile experience of reading a REAL newspaper, it helps me stay connected when I write dates, appointments and commitments down in a calendar that exists in real time.

I have been thinking about making my own for a few weeks. We have a beautiful one our daughter created for Christmas using her own glorious photos from her various adventures. I have neither the skill nor the interest in re-inventing that wheel. No, what I have wanted is: 1) something that shows me the whole month on one page; 2) space in each date for me to write down essential appointments; 3) room to post liturgical notes (I want to use this to help me stay grounded in the seasons of the church); and 4) pockets and paper for stray notes, printed prayers, etc. Two days ago, I found a decent calendar template and printed it to create my own Events and Prayers 2018 calendar. 

Three personal printed resources I have included in this calendar are: 1) a listing of all the daily lectionary readings for Lent - Pentecost; 2) Jean Vanier's "The Way of the Cross" liturgy to be used on Maundy Thursday; and 3) hand written reminders on key dates for wedding anniversaries, birthdays and holy days of obligation. I was also able to add my all time favorite icon, The Theotokos of Vladimir, as a cover. For some reason, having this calendar is reassuring. It is almost like having my prayer beads in my pocket or reading the Psalms from my beat-up Book of Common Prayer. I think it also helps me honor the dates when I make the effort to pay attention and write them in my own hand.

In an era that labels some of my favorite musical performers "vintage acts" and moves so fast I sometimes forget what day it is, this little handmade calendar is a quiet alternative. It is my small way of reclaiming some quiet and space - in returning and rest ye shall experience renewal as the prophet Isaiah sang - and this helps me withdraw from the hustle to doodle, jot down ideas I'm apt to forget, mark important commitments and events, so that I am consciously prayerful. Like the guy on the new "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" showing good old boys how to make homemade exfoliants from coconut oil and sugar. I need the tactile reality of this little resource - and my own handwriting, too.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

finding a way through the shadows...

Two days ago one of my guides through this season of shadows, Carrie Newcomer, posted a picture and poem that spoke to me like deep unto deep.

A morning walk in the beautiful not yet...

A gem of snow held in an elegant setting
Of last year's Queen Anne's lace. 

The play of light on air and water and cold. 
An heirloom ring lasting only for the morning.

Just because you cannot see it yet, 
Doesn't mean it isn't happening 
Or that something fine Isn't already here.

Such is the essence of faith: not doctrine, dogma or intellectual assent, but rather the marriage of trust and hope born of experience that is incarnational. Faith is neither delusional nor sentimental even if always incomplete. It is, as Ms. Newcomer notes, the beautiful not yet. As my journey into Lent beyond ministry ripens, insights continue to emerge.

Today's reading from the poetic prophet of ancient Israel, Isaiah, says that: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. Context is always important - especially whenever Christians appropriate Hebrew Scripture. So let me acknowledge: a) this portion of Isaiah, proto-Isaiah among some scholars (chapters 1-39), shares oracles of warning and repentance to the elite of the land; b) deutero-Isaiah (chapters 40-54) likely comes from an era after the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem and what is called the exile in Babylon after 537 BCE; and c) trito-Isaiah (chapters 55-66) hails from the time after priests, scribes and rabbis return from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem. The core of today's original message is, therefore, all about repentance - a change of moral, ethical and practical direction - and reflection - contemplation, physical and spiritual trust. The use of parallel emphasis underscores the importance Isaiah places upon nurturing confidence by trusting the way of the Lord. It is observed later in Isaiah's poem that "my thoughts are not your thoughts, saith the Lord, nor are my ways your ways." (Isaiah 55: 8-9) To stay grounded in the mysterious but healing ways of God requires rest, reflection, quiet and regular consideration of the "beautiful but not yet."

This resonates with me as I continue to discover that so much of my previous spirituality was shaped by community. My prayers, my focus, my attention and even my songs were driven by my calling as pastor. For forty years that was the way I listened to the still small voice of the Lord. That was how I practiced being prayerful and attentive. It was the core of my returning, rest and encounter with the saving love of grace. And now I am without a community to guide my inner life. There are no obvious external boundaries to this returning, rest or reflection. There are the rhythms of the Spirit in our shared liturgical seasons. And I am rediscovering their value. But, at the same time, it is a rediscovery in solitude. A returning and rest with which I have little practical experience. In this newness, I am now starting to find my balance:

+ First, I am finding it essential to practice some type of daily reflection and contemplation. Without the external resources of the past to move me into and through life, I find myself getting lost. Certainly distracted. I clearly need the help of others who have made similar journeys to point out dangers or stumbling blocks as I make my own way through the shadows. And, like those early days of sabbatical when I realized that left just to myself I could fritter away the whole time and not know it until it was wasted, so too in retirement. Reconnecting with the daily lectionary and the words of Nouwen and Vanier are tools to lead me deeper.

+ Second, a return to some form of community.  The external guidance and presence of being in community is equally vital. Like U2 sang so long ago, "Sometimes you can't make it on your own." So while I am constrained by both geography and protocol from my former community spirituality, the time is clearly here to deepen new connections. Small wonder my heart has been yearning to be back with L'Arche Ottawa during Lent. 

Other retired clergy have spoken to me about grieving their various losses. I grasp and honor that truth. My reality, at least thus far however, does not feel like a lament. Rather, I sense it to be a new season of discernment, more like Carrie Newcomer's song than anything I have experienced to date. It is the beautiful not yet in my own soul. In my own spirituality. In my personal and public persona. Once again, St. Paul's wisdom articulates my world: now we see as through a glass darkly, later we shall see face to face.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

the humility of washing our feet...

Today we're getting the brunt of the third Nor'Easter in 10 days that should have pummeled us yesterday. It is beautiful, but relentless. A pretty crazy Lent, for sure. All of the snow reminds me of an early complaint vigorously voiced when I suggested reclaiming the ancient foot washing ceremony for Maundy Thursday. "It would be too messy given all the boots and snow to do that here," was the consensus. Being a newbie I wasn't quite ready to call BS yet. But I did observe that snow boots and wool socks are a hell of a lot cleaner than the feet of Jesus and the disciples back in first century Palestine. The nay sayers prevailed - and I backed off. We made a few other lukewarm attempts at honoring this command from Jesus in John 13: 1-17, but the resistance was fierce. It is, after all, the most humbling of all liturgical acts and many 21st century people find the bold physicality too intense. Jean Vanier offers an insight into our resistance in a selection from "Living Gently in a Violent World." He writes: 

As we live with people who have been crushed, as we begin to welcome the stranger, we will gradually discover the stranger inside of us. When we welcome the broken outside, they call us to discover the broken inside. We cannot really enter into relationship with people who are broken unless somehow we deal with our own brokenness. I am not saying we have to go through psychotherapy. But what are we hiding? Or what are we hiding behind? We must discern our natural inner protectiveness and compulsive attitudes. Somewhere we are hiding our weaknesses.

Our bourgeois illusions of control run so deep. They plague me nearly every day. In reading Henri Nouwen's journal, The Road to Daybreak, I came across his description of attending the foot-washing ceremony at a L'Arche community in Paris. The community leader proclaimed the Gospel for the day, then stood and began to wash the feet of those who had gathered.

During supper Jesus... got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him... After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you: servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them... This is my new commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 13: 1-34)

Nouwen was moved to his soul by the experience of foot washing and Eucharist at L'Arche. He wrote, "Sitting in the basement room in Paris surrounded by forty poor people, I was struck again by the way Jesus concluded his active life. Just before entering on the road of his passion, he washed the feet of his disciples and offered them his body and blood as food and drink."

These two acts belong together. They are both an expression of God's determination to show us the fullness of his love. Therefore John introduces the story of the washing of the disciples' feet with the words, "Jesus... having loved those who were his in the world, loved them to the end." What is even more astonishing is that on both occasions Jesus commands us to do the same. (Daybreak, p. 158)

Nouwen concludes saying that as he saw the community leader wash the feet of his friends and give them the bread and wine, "it seemed as if - for the moment - I saw a glimpse of the new kingdom Jesus came to bring." I believe that is why I so cherish this ceremony, too. It exposes both my deepest wounds and my heart's desire to love as Jesus loved me. In that moment, at least as I experience it, both the blessings and the brokenness are embodied in real time, flesh and blood. 

That is why foot washing is essential to my faith. I do not want to seem scolding in this lament. I have had the privilege repeatedly of holding all types of feet in my weary hands: young feet, gnarled feet, broken feet and whole. I have had my arches bathed gently and dried respectfully by an ancient church elder one year only to repeat the encounter in the presence of an innocent confirmand the next. I have washed the feet of people I loved and those I mistrusted. I have experienced being humbled by the reverence of women, men and children as well as serving some close to the start of life and others who would die before the arrival of Pentecost. All of this, and so much more, changes the heart. Mine has been broken and mended time and again. For in the course of 90 minutes, the sacred mysteries of life are unveiled in the most ordinary manner. We move into the rhythm of suffering and solidarity - the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus is rehearsed as well as God's promise to each and all of us - we taste darkness, light, and confusion alongside trust, poetry and human touch. 

It is sloppy and sacred, holy and human all at the same time. No wonder Jesus commanded us to do this among one another. It will be the heart of my Lenten prayers to join L'Arche Ottawa for this ceremony later this month.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

a day to return thanks...

Today's post is going to be hyper-personal. That may strike some as ironic given the freedom I've experienced since retirement. Others may wonder what types of constraints have been employed that make other postings less personal. A few who visit here from time to time will wonder why I am not musing about music or spirituality or the current chaos spurting from the wounded heart of the Oval Office. Oh well... today there are four things I want to note.

First, today is my daughter's birthday. She is a young (nearly middle aged) woman I cherish and respect. She is funnier and smarter than almost anyone else I know and I enjoy her company tremendously. I could write volumes about her insight and wit, the things I have learned from her life's journey, or the music she has turned me on to. But let it suffice to say that I give thanks to God for her now and always.

Second, it has been just 45 days since my official retirement. And what has been most liberating is the total absence of heart-stopping emails. That is to say, I closed down one email address a week after I left public ministry - and that ended the volume. But more importantly, when we officially drew a line in the sand, I also quit receiving notes from administrative types that used to offend and wound my soul. No need to belabor this point, but the anxiety attacks are gone. The loss of self-esteem has been resolved (our trip to Tucson REALLY made a huge difference.) And I don't dread opening emails any more like I did for the past 30 months. A few clergy friends have wondered if I am feeling grief about my new condition: well, grief is not the word that comes to my mind. Ecstasy is more like it because of this one fact alone. 


Third, all of a sudden my musical awareness has exploded into a vibrant cornucopia of sounds, grooves and styles. Just last week I wrote about losing touch with new musical trends. Well, that may have been true for the past three years, but not so any more. Creating a new band with Hal and Jon has opened my ears and my heart to what is happening all over the world - and it is thrilling. I am researching world music. I am practicing like I haven't in years. And I can't get enough of working with our new ensemble. Tomorrow, come hell or high water (or snow flurries as the case may be) I am headed to Connecticut for a morning session that will build on Sunday's 5+ hour groove.

And fourth, my heart grows closer to L'Arche Ottawa. I will head north later this month to share part of Holy Week with my new faith community. I don't know all the reasons why but my heart is aching to reconnect. During Holy Week I will have a chance to pray, participate in Holy Thursday's foot washing ceremony, and Good Friday's stations of the Cross before heading home. Jean Vanier has written that making certain that there is time to share meals and fool around with one another in ordinary life evokes the holiness of the ordinary. I get that in spades. 

There is so much to be thankful for on this day: last year at this time our precious grandson was close to death - and now he thrives. There were soon other family health crises that were terrifying to say nothing of the professional life decisions that would change all our lives. And now, thanks be to God, we all rejoice. It feels as soulful as this song from Susan Tedeshci: Midnight in Harlem.

a spirituality of l'arche - part five

NOTE: I thought I would finish this series up earlier this week but on my way to some commitments, as John Lennon used to say, life happened...