Friday, May 24, 2019

playing for our lives: a concert to combat local homelessness June 15 @ 7 pm


In an interview with Krista Tippett a few years ago, the late Jean Vanier gave contemporary people of compassion his antidote for despair: the Ten Foot Rule. The whole interview is worth your time (check it out @  https://www.iheart.com/
podcast/563-on-being-with-krista-tippe-28288089/episode/jean-vanier-the-wisdom-of-28288581/) but the Ten Foot Rule is essential for times like our own. First, he invites us to reach out and touch what is real in our immediate life: bring a measure of presence, healing and love to those who are just 10 feet away. They are the only people we can impact anyhow; fretting about those beyond our reach not only reinforces our sense of impotence, but demoralizes us as well. Do what you can to touch the real lives closest to you. Second, and I gleaned this from the many articles written after Jean's death, only watch the news once a week. Apparently Vanier watched it on Sunday evenings - and it broke his heart - but he didn't keep beating himself up. He simply made certain the tv was off 6 out of 7 evenings.

It has been one of my spiritual practices for the past few years to do just as Jean advised: turn off most of the news on TV, computers and print except once a week, and give my attention to what is immediately within my world. To that end, we are putting together a small benefit for the local Berkshire homeless network - Barton's Crossing - on Saturday, June 15 @ 7 pm. Not only will this event bring back together some of my favorite musicians from First Church (and we'll be performing back at First Church, too) but the concert will highlight our long-standing friendship with local singer/songwriter, Linda Worster, who became a trusted ally in many of our musical offerings. My old friend, Patricia Mason-Martin, will bring her brilliant poetry to the evening, too. And our new band, Famous Before We're Dead, will share a set of upbeat and community building tunes. It has been a gas to bring some of the old gang back together. It has been rewarding to partner with Service.Net the agency bringing direct services to those most in need. And, to be honest, it has been a blessing to be able do this all back at what was once home base for us at First Church on Park Square. Our old buddy, Rob Dumais, will return to work his magic on the sound board. Jon Haddad will delight us on the drums. And, joy upon joy, John Hamilton - the current interim minister at First Church - will ground us all by playing the keyboards. 

If you're in the area, please make a point to stop in. It will be a blast and our sisters and brothers in in need of the shelter could use your support.

Playing for Our Lives
 

A Music and Poetry Benefit Concert to Combat Homelessness
In Solidarity with Service.Net and Barton’s Crossing

Saturday, June 15, 2019
Special Guests
Linda Worster, Famous Before We’re Dead
Patricia Mason-Martin

 



First Church of Christ on Park Square
27 East Street, Pittsfield, MA 01201
7:00 PM
Service.Net is our community resource that offers a progressive pathway out of homelessness through local shelters and housing programs. 70% of its funding comes from local, state, federal and United Way contracts – but 30% must be raised through private donations. All proceeds from tonight’s concert will go to direct services to support our homeless sisters and brothers.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

stillness is what I need...

Some of us are in the vanguard, others are late to the party - and a few others, for a variety of reasons, don't seem to know that there's a party going on. As a rule, I tend to fall into the second group: slow to act on important matters. It is not that I don't know something's going on all around me. No, I just seem to need a long time for discernment. When I have acted against type, jumping into decisions without lots of conversation, prayer, study, and waiting, more often than not it has been a disaster. I used to fight my inclination to pause. I wanted to be spontaneous as a full fledged member of the age of Aquarius. But over the years I have come to trust that joining the party late is, for me, the path of wisdom. For as the poet said, "Yo no soy yo - I am not me - I am that long shadow I drag behind me that I cannot see." So I have learned to trust my inner voice and find a few trusted souls to both help me see what is true that I cannot see, and, encourage me to move to honor taking small, deliberate steps.

Those who work with the enneagram - especially Heurtz, Rohr and Bourgeault - suggest that our deepest nature holds simultaneous blessings and curses. Our deepest virtue is infused with comparably deep fixations and passions. When we are living lives of balance and self-awareness, we can self-correct if we find we are moving towards disintegration. As Huertz writes in The Sacred Enneagrm:
""If we can't self-observe, we can't self-correct."


The path of disintegration is surely an indication that we are unwell, but recognizing when we are moving in this direction helps us wake up to the destructive tendencies that keep us at our lower levels of mental, emotional (and spiritual) health. Think of this as a warning sign or flare signal, designed not to condemn a person, but to guide them back home. (p. 70)

The purpose of recognizing both our deepest virtues and fixations is to learn from the darkness as well as the light. Indeed, our shadow is not ever to be construed as condemnation nor punishment. As the Eastern Orthodox teach: missing the mark, sin, disintegration is how we learn to rest and trust God's grace. If we are paying attention, these wounds can lead us into wisdom. And even a measure of healing. Elbert Hubbard was on to something the Orthodox call divinization when he wrote, "We are punished by our sins not for them." Or as Fr. Ed Hays taught: there is wisdom in our wounds that can lead us into grace if we realize that the wisdom is usually the polar opposite of our feelings.

When I was in Tucson working with a spiritual director, he used to remind me that growing up as the oldest son of an alcoholic family gave me some unique tools. That startled me and struck me as absurd. But he went on to note that out of necessity I had learned to read a room for safety within a minute. I had also cultivated an acutely developed BS detector. Further, I was often able to bond with other wounded souls giving them both space and safety. At the same time, however, my need to be accepted and valued - yea, to be treated with love and respect - often made me emotionally vulnerable. And fragile. And easily hurt. There was real wisdom to my wounds as well as a whole lot of hurt. When I started to see this truth, he added: "And its not going to change. What is, is. All you can do is deal with what is real. And honor the wisdom of both the light and the shadow as well as you can." It is a life time commitment.

This commitment requires a serious dose of regular stillness. Some need 
solitude. Others need silence. I need stillness. Because I am "obsessed with quieting my inner distress in an effort to create external peace and security," (Huertz, p. 94) my spiritual core must be bathed in stillness. And if I don't make that happen on a regular basis, I am at war with myself and everyone else. It can be said that feeling frenetic for me is one of the ways God speaks to me: be still and know...

When we learn to tune into the ways God is speaking in and to us, we are guided into wise living. Can we learn to listen to God in our minds, trusting the silence underneath the clutter of noise? Can we learn to trust the voice of God that speaks in our hearts, through feelings of pain and peace? Can we learn to sense God at work in our bodies, speaking to us through our resistances and our openness? Listening to thoughts, feelings, or instincts... is the beginning of learning to hear how God has always been speaking to you. (And is speaking to you still!) (Huertz, p. 89)

Yesterday, I let myself get distracted. Frazzled. Pressed for time. One result was rushing to get to an important meeting on time. I hate that I did this to myself but I did. Another consequence was not paying enough attention to the GPS and finding myself across town at the wrong address. How many times have I done this to myself and others? When I realized I was in a downward spiral - and was not going to get to my meeting on time - I had to take five minutes of quiet breathing and Centering Prayer. "Nothing is going to be made better by letting myself slip into anxiety and self-blame. You blew it. So own it and move on, man!"  Making sure I have ample time - and real inner stillness - to live into the most important daily commitments brings a measure of healing to my being. I suspect it makes me easier to live with, too. 


The poet Maxine Kumin speaks to this obliquely in her poem: Mulching. Like the late Jean Vanier, who advised living into the 10 foot rule (only watching the news once a week and only giving your energy to what you can physically touch in a 10 foot circle around yourself), Ms. Kumin realizes the chaos that surrounds us yet trusts that the simple act of composting will evoke a new blessing from the mess. Such is the Paschal Mystery in the practice of Christian contemplation.

Me in my bugproof netted headpiece kneeling
to spread sodden newspapers between broccolis,
corn sprouts, cabbages and four kinds of beans,

prostrate before old suicide bombings, starvation,
AIDS, earthquakes, the unforeseen tsunami,
front-page photographs of lines of people

with everything they own heaped on their heads,
the rich assortment of birds trilling on all
sides of my forest garden, the exhortations

of commencement speakers at local colleges,
the first torture revelations under my palms
and I a helpess citizen of a country

I used to love, who as a child wept when
the brisk police band bugled Hats off! The flag
is passing by, now that every wanton deed

in this stack of newsprint is heartbreak,
my blackened fingers can only root in dirt,
turning up industrious earthworms, bits

of unreclaimed eggshell, wanting to ask
the earth to take my unquiet spirit,
bury it deep, make compost of it.

Monday, May 20, 2019

the all vulnerable God rings true...

For the past 40 years, an incremental exploration of theological images for God has been taking shape and form throughout the West. As Richard Rohr recently wrote: "I think we are in the beginnings of a Trinitarian Revolution. History has so long operated with a static and imperial image of God—as a Supreme Monarch and Critical Spectator living in splendid isolation from what he (and God is exclusively envisioned as male in this model) created. His love is perceived as unstable, whimsical, and preferential." This is not new to Christianity as Frederick Buechner's The Faces of Jesus should make that clear. This brilliant and accessible visual testimony documents the way our understanding of the one we call Christ has changed.

What is new is the creative depth and breadth of the movement to ground the gentleness of Jesus as the most authentic living icon of God. Let me suggest that this movement includes: the post WWII work of German theologians like Jurgen Moltmann and Dorothee Soelle; the intuitive albeit it heavy-handed insights of the "God is dead" writers; the playful but profound words of Matthew Fox; much of the feminist/womanist schools; the best from Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan; the confessional theology of Barbara Brown Taylor, Annie Dillard and Kathleen Norris; much of Henri Nouwen's writing; the life and writing of Jean Vanier; Rene Girard; as well as Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault. All of these writers and schools of thought - and more - have been struggling to do three things simultaneously: a) link the mystical tradition of Christianity to contemporary living; b) construct and articulate an understanding of the holy that bears witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; and c) dismantle the violent legacy of empire that has shaped so much of Christian history and experience and replace it with Christ's tenderness. Rohr put it like this:  

Humans become like the God we worship. So it’s important that our God is good and life-giving. That’s why we desperately need a worldwide paradigm shift in Christian consciousness regarding how we perceive and relate to God. This shift has been subtly yet profoundly underway for some time, hiding in plain sight. In order to come together in politics and religion, to take seriously new scientific findings in biology and quantum physics, and for our species and our planet to even survive we must reclaim Relationship as the foundation and ground of everything.

Specifically, we must reclaim communion with Christianity's earliest wisdom that confesses that: "God’s power comes through powerlessness and humility. The Christian God is much more properly called all-vulnerable than almighty, which we should have suspected and intuited by the shocking metaphor “Lamb of God” found throughout the New Testament." Indeed, the work of RenĂ© Girard re: the revelation that Jesus as the Lamb of God exposes what history looks like from the perspective of the scape goat - a challenge to claim solidarity and salvation from the experience of the vanquished rather than the victors - is essential for a new ethics let alone the well-being of creation. (For more insights, please see: http://www.imitatio. org/brief-intro)

Poets, of course, have long claimed the freedom to cherish the tender God that Jesus reveals. I think particularly of Mary Oliver, Lucille Clifton, Denise Levertov. Pam McAllister, Scott Cairns and Carrie Newcomer. Musicians like Newcomer, Springsteen and Bruce Coburn do similar creative work. And now there is vigorous theological energy for tenderness:

When you experience God as all-vulnerable, then perhaps God stands in solidarity with all pain and suffering in the universe, allowing us to be participants in our own healing. This does not make sense to the logical mind, but to the awakened soul it somehow does. (Rohr) It certainly does for me...

The Gift - Denise Levertov

Just when you seem to yourself
nothing but a flimsy web
of questions, you are given
the questions of others to hold
in the emptiness of your hands,
songbird eggs that can still hatch
if you keep them warm,
butterflies opening and closing themselves
in your cupped palms, trusting you not to injure
their scintillant fur, their dust.
You are given the questions of others
as if they were answers
to all you ask. Yes, perhaps
this gift is your answer.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

while scrubbing the floor...

Funny day today turned out to be: unexpected hassles and blessings. I did a lot of interior cleaning in anticipation of some spiritual direction appointments next week and then the arrival of the Brooklyn gang for Memorial Day. There was lots of vacuuming Lucie hair as it infects the whole house in relentless and even unimaginable ways. When I got to the kitchen floor, after one serious scrubbing there were white, blotchy spots all over the wood. After another remedial wash I searched for a scrub brush and a plastic scouring pad - and used my thumb nail - for the three hours. Eventually, most of the spots were taken up. It seems that something I used to wash the wood recently left a filmy residue. I am clueless what caused the problem. But after a few hours of elbow grease, the natural wood had been liberated - even if it will need to be refinished this summer. 

Ordinarily I wouldn't bore you with such quotidian concerns, but while working to get things clean, two thoughts kept swimming around my heart. First, I had set this whole day aside for chores. I have always known that surprises happen, but for most of my life I haven't planned for them. For the past few years that is different. Whether baking bread, doing yard/garden work or cleaning the house I set my schedule up to allow for a full day. That gives me space and permission to fix the problems without feeling frazzled. Or anxious. Or resentful. That is crucial for me, allowing time for surprises be they delightful or challenging, so that I don't feel pressured to react. Rather, I can simply be, dealing with what is real, and carefully taking care of business. Unplugging from compound demands or multi-tasking lets me be gentle and tender in many trying moments. Not always - and not consistently - but with greater frequency. And from where I live, tenderness seems to be in short supply these days.

That was the second thought that kept popping up while working on the floor: the call to tenderness. Pope Francis said that the late Jean Vanier was a disciple of revolutionary tenderness - and that spoke to my heart, mind, body and soul. For many years, I believed the story and witness of Jesus as it was taught by the empire. To be sure, mine was a liberal take on religion, but still I built both my public and private life around winning. Acquiring power of different sorts. Even in pursuit of justice, winning was essential. Yes, it often felt like a dead-end. And more often than not left me feeling empty even in the various victories. But power is how I learned about God - God the Almighty - and the gods we worship shape our ethics, politics and habits.

Maybe twenty years ago, I sensed that the dominant paradigm for the holy was not only worn-out, but wrong. I didn't know an alternative, however, so like Luther under siege, I chose to trust that as one baptized into the grace of Jesus a new vision would be revealed at the right time. Even at his lowest, Luther would confess: "I have been baptized." During my sabbatical from pastoral ministry, two additional pieces of the puzzle were revealed. First, I was truly done doing ministry in the traditional manner. Second, I found that I was powerfully attracted to the Taize practice and theology of horizontal worship. Sitting on the floor as equals energized me. Inspired me. Lifted my heart. At the same time that I was moved to tears of joy while sitting on the floor in Taize worship in Montreal, I began to read Jean Vanier. His words about the tenderness of Jesus connected my feelings with a new/old theology that gave me hope. 

I have been letting the old notions of the empire's God slip away for the past four years. More and more, I have trusted the witness of Jesus as expressed by Vanier and L'Arche. So as this day became one of scrubbing the floor, there was time to reflect on how Archbishop Pierre d'Ornellas of Rennes put it during Jean Vanier's funeral mass: 

Bending down to wash his disciples' feet, Jesus makes himself weak before us, To touch our hearts and heal them he uses no other means than presenting himself as weak, as the least of the servants. And through his weakness, he washes our hearts, which are hardened by pride and barricaded in power, security and the certainty of being right, He is 'master and lord, but he lowered himself out of love. He is 'master' because of his tenderness and unending forgiveness, which raises us up and sets us back on our feet with trust and joy.

On that same day, Richard Rohr had written that a new and liberating theology of the Trinity was arising that teaches that: "God is all-vulnerable... (and when this is our foundation) then perhaps God stands in solidarity with all pain and suffering in the universe, allowing us to be participants in our own healing." I believe in paying attention to the connections. So, as old friend in Tucson used to say, "THAT dog hunts!" That understanding of God rings true. That way of being with Christ opens my heart and sets me free. 

Thinking of Jean's funeral while scouring my kitchen floor - and the call to real revolutionary tenderness unplugged from the empire - filled my heart. It was a small thing, those three hours on my hands and knees, but it was holy time for reflection and gratitude. At the end of the day, my mind went to this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye called "Shadows."

Some people feel lost inside their days.
Always waiting for worse to happen.
They make bets with destiny.
My funniest uncle gave up cursing bad words
inside his head. He says he succeeded
one whole hour. He tried to unsubscribe to
the universe made by people. He slept outside
by himself on top of the hill.

When Facebook says I have "followers"––
I hope they know I need their help.
Subscribe to plants, animals, stars,
music, the baby who can't walk yet but
stands up holding on to the sides of things,
tables, chairs, and takes a few clumsy steps,
then sits down hard. This is how we live.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

returning thanks through jean vanier's funeral...

Like many whose life has been changed by Jean Vanier and the communities of L'Arche around the world, I watched his funeral from Trosly this morning. Like so many others, I prayed - and wept - and listened as Jean's life was celebrated and honored. And when it was complete, I was moved as people who loved him stood to bless Jean Vanier in preparation for his burial. 

The liturgy was infused with Jean Vanier's charism: the first reading came from the prophet Isaiah; the second lesson was St. Paul's confession that God is hidden but revealed to us through what the powerful consider foolish, weak and small; and then St. John's gospel where Jesus not only washes the feet of his friends, but demonstrates a new commandment with his body by loving one another in tender humility just as he has loved us. The homily was clear and faithful. It rang true and could not have been otherwise. The chapel resonated with chants from Taize. The wider community was given shape and form through personal reflections as well as those who carried symbols of Jean's life. And all were enveloped in grace as the Eucharist was celebrated. Perhaps the three most moving moments for me included:

+  Jean's helper and long time home companion who told us how he grew ever more weak during the last months of his life - unable to speak - but sharing with his hands. And then only his breath.

+ the prayers of blessing the community leader of Trosly offered while young people shared symbols of what each blessing meant to Jean.

+ and finally the song leader's invitation to sing "Jesus We Adore You" which Jean regularly shared with those who visited with him towards the end of his life.  

I woke early today and lit my own candles - inviting communion with the body in Trosly but also Ottawa - and felt gently surrounded by love. The liturgy closed with friends, family, core members and assistants stepping to the casket and sprinkling it with water as a final blessing - and my heart went to the Prayer of L'Arche... 
Father, through Jesus our Lord and our brother, we ask you to bless us.
Grant that L'Arche be a true home, where everyone may find life, 
where those of us who suffer may find hope.
Keep in your loving care all those who come.
Spirit of God, give us greatness of heart 
that we may welcome all those you send.
Make us compassionate that we may heal and bring peace.
Help us to see, to serve and to love.
O Lord, through the hands of each other, bless us; through the eyes of each other, smile on us.
O Lord, grant freedom, fellowship and unity to all your people 
and welcome everyone into your kingdom.
AMEN

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

unexpected tears for jean...

Last night, I began to weep over Jean Vanier's death. Everyone even remotely connected to L'Arche knew it was coming, perhaps Jean himself being the most aware. On the occasion of his 90th birthday last year, he posted "Ten Rules for Life." It was shared for the community but also for the world. I watched it when it was first made public and then again last night.

I never met Jean Vanier, but felt close to him nevertheless. Especially since I started visiting/volunteering with the L'Arche Ottawa community. After reading his books on a regular basis, I needed to know and experience more. By the grace of God I was led to the community of L'Arche in Ottawa, CA. Here my new friends welcomed me, invited me to make connections, taught me about love and forgiveness and humility, shared supper and hospitality with me, teased me when I took myself too seriously, laughed and prayed with me - and invited me to go deeper. The more I visited - the more I listened - the more I loved. I came to know and love Jean through L'Arche Ottawa. Of course, I knew I would never have the honor of meeting Jean in this life time; but growing closer in love to those in community impelled me to make a commitment a few years ago. I felt called to live into the L'Arche spirituality of embodied tenderness as a way of being real and whole in a broken and overly busy world. 

After serving God as a public person of faith and church pastor for 40 years, you see, my heart told me it was was time for a change. My soul knew that my days of public engagement was over. That era had its own measure of meaning and value, of course, and I would never want to exchange any of the profound pastoral connections I made in the four local congregations I served. Still, I was now fraught with anxiety, felt the chill of emptiness within, and knew the sacred was calling me into a new way of being faithful. As Jean himself had to learn - and Fr. Richard Rohr made so clear to those of us in the second half of life - it was now time for me to make peace with my weaknesses and fears before I could authentically share more of Christ's love. “All of us have a secret desire to be seen as saints, heroes, martyrs," Vanier wrote in Community and Growth, "We are afraid to be children, to be ourselves... and true growth only starts when we begin to accept our own weaknesses." In fits and starts that still continue, I found this to be true; and began to slowly reorder how I used my time, gifts, resources and prayer to live into the truth of this insight as faithfully as I could: 

Love doesn't mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.... To love someone is to show to them their beauty, their worth and their importance. (Vanier, Community and Growth)

When news of Jean's death came across the Internet, I was in San Francisco. I had been blessed when one of my oldest friends invited me to be the celebrant at his wedding. It was a festival of joy and commitment and I was filled full to overflowing with love. Being on the West Coast also gave me the chance to see my younger brother, Phil, and his wife, Julie. That, too, was grace upon grace.

And then the news of Jean's death came. I sat quietly backing my suitcase. I held complex feelings of loss and sorrow within even as a few tears snuck out. For the next seven days I sat with these feelings; they did not rise to the surface nor did I know what to do with them. I was grateful that for Jean all suffering and pain was over. I trust the truth of Christ's life, death and resurrection that we will all be made whole in a life beyond life and death by God's grace. Like St. Paul said: "we do not grieve as those who have no hope." And that is true.

Then, without warning, silent tears burned my eyes. I ached to be in community with my friends in Ottawa even as I knew that was impossible. I found myself praying to the Lord about how sad Jean's death felt to me - and more than me for all those who knew and cherished him for decades - for the L'Arche communities across the world. For the Pope. For the Archbishop of Canterbury. For core members of every faith, race, gender, culture and class. So much sorrow. Such a vivid emptiness. Long ago, having read these words from Frederick Beuchner, I embraced their prophetic wisdom:

YOU NEVER KNOW what may cause them. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you've never seen before. A pair of somebody's old shoes can do it. Almost any movie made before the great sadness that came over the world after the Second World War, a horse cantering across a meadow, the high school basketball team running out onto the gym floor at the start of a game. You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next.

Tomorrow, in solidarity and faith, joy and sorrow, I will take part in Jean's funeral on-line with thousands of others across the world. I will have my candles lit especially for my friends in Ottawa as they weep and rejoice. And I will give thanks to God for the life, witness, teaching, death and new life given to the Lord's servant, Jean Vanier, by the grace of God.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

centering prayer, cynthia bourgeault and jean vanier...

"Let yourself become useless," wrote the late Henri Nouwen about the heart of prayer. "Prayer is not a way of being busy with God instead of with people. In fact, it unmasks the illusion of busyness, usefulness, and indispensability. It is a way of being empty and useless in the presence of God and so of proclaiming our basic belief that all is grace and nothing is simply the result of hard work." (Nouwen Society Daily Meditation, 5/13/19) I read much the same thing last night in Cynthia Bourgeault's book, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. In addition to articulating how to practice centering prayer, she offers readers both a concise history of Christian contemplative spirituality as well as a theology of this practice. At the theological core of Centering Prayer are two key Biblical texts from the New Testament. 

The first is found in St. Matthew's gospel, chapter 16, verse 25: "Whoever would save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life will find it." Bourgeault makes the point that living into the way of Jesus is a commitment to dying to ourselves - and by ourselves she means our false, broken and/or wounded realities. 

In classic Christian moral theology, dying to self is generally interpreted as dying to self-will. In other words, we all have our wants, needs, preferences, opinions, and agendas, some of which may be authentic expressions of our being, but many of which are motivated (or at least aggravated)by fear and self-importance. Dying to self means being willing to let go of what I want (or think I want) in order to create space for God to direct, lead, and guide me into a truer way of being.

Traditionally, this is expressed in the prayer, "Thy will - not my will - be done." It certainly has a time-tested place in the life of faith. But those nurturing prayers from the center of our being suggest another perspective: that of joining Jesus in his death. "The practice of meditation is indeed an authentic experience of dying to self - not at the level of the will, however, but at the level of something even more fundamental: our core identity and egoic processing methods that keep it in place."

When we enter meditation, it is like a "mini-death," at least from the perspective of the ego (which is why it can initially feels so scary...) We simply entrust ourselves to a deeper aliveness, gently pulling the plug on that tendency of the mind to want to check in with itself all the time ... In this sense, meditation is a mini-rehearsal for the hour of our own death, in which the same thing will happen. There comes a moment when the ego is no longer able to hold us together, and our identity is cast to the mercy of Being itself... (In this) we not only participate in the death of Christ, we also participate in his resurrection. At the end of those twenty minutes of sitting, when the bell is rung, we are still here! Something has held us and carried us. And this same something, we gradually come to trust, will hold and carry us at the hour of our death. To know this - really know this - is the beginning of a resurrection life.
(Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, pp.80-81)

As many of you know, Jean Vanier passed from this life into life eternal on Tuesday of last week. I have been praying for and with him almost daily since that time - and for my dear friends at L'Arche Ottawa, too. Jean clearly died a good death. He trusted in his heart, soul and body that God's love would continue after life in this realm was over. He went gently - saturated in grace - into a life beyond life. As the United Church of Canada puts it an their faith affirmation: In life, in death, in life beyond death we are not alone. Jean Vanier knew that on this side of eternity and trusted it as he crossed over. For me, his witness continues beyond the grave. (For those interested in joining Jean's funeral on Thursday, please go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload= 9&v= hUM3P61neXU&feature=youtu.be at 8:00 am EST.) 
The second New Testament passage that gives shape and form to Centering Prayer comes from St. Paul in Philippians 2: 5-11. It is a hymn that affirms and confirms the downward path of Christ's spirituality.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.


Christian theologians speak of this as kenosis - self-emptying - and it is often attributed to Christ's divine nature. Bourgault writes, "Eros (human love) is our way to God; agape (divine love) is God's way to us. Human love (traditionally) goes up, divine love comes down... But what if these two types of love are two pathways to the same love: two operational modes withing the cosmos with equally legitimate but very different purposes?"

Western Christian spirituality has favored hierarchy: ladders, stairways, and the journey of ascent. Many believe the Beatitudes as articulated by Jesus in St. Matthew 5 are discrete steps towards spiritual maturity: after achieving one level, we move on to the next, acquiring more wisdom and serenity in stages. But as Jean Vanier documented with his life - and Cynthia Bourgeault (and Richard Rohr and Thomas Keating) articulate in their articulation of Centering Prayer - while "the vast majority of meditation methods are built on the model of 'storing' or 'attaining' - where one concentrates so as to attain clear mind..."

Centering prayer aims to attain nothing: not clear mind, steady-state consciousness, or unitive seeing. It is a prayer that simply exercises "self-emptying," (trusting) a love made full in the act of giving itself away.

Centering Prayer strikes me as the way of Jesus, who emptied himself in love by being present, alive and attentive in real life to the world. Jesus took time away from the busyness of life to rest in God's grace. He then returned, not to acquire power or status, but to be present in love with those who are often forgotten or marginalized. The path of Jesus is downward. The way of Jesus is small. The soul of Jesus is letting go in generosity and trust.

More than in any other place, L'Arche Ottawa has shown me what the love of Jesus looks like in real life. As I have visited and shared music, supper and chores with the community, I have encountered a love that is generous, small, and honest. By listening to the stories of others - and by being present in community from time to time - I have started to trust that Jean's wisdom is my path into holiness:  "Sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.” As he was fond of saying, we must not talk about love, we must do it! More than ever before, I believe that the combination of trusting community - and entering trust of God through Centering Prayer - is essential for my loving presence to ripen in this strange, often cruel but profoundly beautiful moment in time. I am not very good at being in either community or prayer, but trust by trusting grace it will slowly take root within. And for this, I am grateful.

Friday, May 10, 2019

gratitude...

With a head cold and sore throat after a full and satisfying trip to Northern California, I'm not quite able to work on the reflection I wanted to share. if it comes to birth, wonderful. If not, that's fine, too. Besides, this picture by Dianne De Mott and poem by Barbara Crooker probably say it better anyhow...

GRATITUDE

This week, the news of the world is bleak, another war
grinding on, and all these friends down with cancer,
or worse, a little something long term that they won’t die of
for twenty or thirty miserable years—
And here I live in a house of weathered brick, where a man
with silver hair still thinks I’m beautiful. How many times
have I forgotten to give thanks? The late day sun shines
through the pink wisteria with its green and white leaves
as if it were stained glass, there’s an old cherry tree
that one lucky Sunday bloomed with a rainbow:
cardinals, orioles, goldfinches, blue jays, indigo buntings,
and my garden has tiny lettuces just coming up,
so perfect they could make you cry: Green Towers,
Red Sails, Oak Leaf. For this is May, and the whole world
sings, gleams, as if it were basted in butter, and the air’s
sweet enough to send a diabetic into shock—
And at least today, all the parts of my body are working,
the sky’s clear as a china bowl, leaves murmur their leafy chatter,
finches percolate along. I’m doodling around this page,
know sorrow’s somewhere beyond the horizon, but still, I’m riffing
on the warm air, the wingbeats of my lungs that can take this all in,
flush the heart’s red peony, then send it back without effort or thought.
And the trees breathe in what we exhale, clap their green hands
in gratitude, bend to the sky


picture by Dianne De Mott: Greenwich Street, San Francisco

Thursday, May 9, 2019

chaos, fear, death and a new beginning...

A creative confluence of ideas, feelings, prayers, texts, images, insights, songs, poems, and events seems to be taking form within me of late. Or maybe I am just letting the influences in my soul connect. Whatever is going on, I felt my inner fog start to burn off last week while talking with my brother. As we entered City Lights Bookstore in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, he was telling me about the birthday party for the City's Poet Laureate, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who just celebrated 100 years of life "He's still got it," Phil said robustly, "and he's still talking about the dream." I was browsing through a graphic novel based on the life and wisdom of Herbert Marcuse - already a trip as a graphic novel, right!?! - when my brother's enthusiasm for Ferlinghetti's new book, Little Boy, and the German philosopher's commitment to a revolution of joy became one. Brother Lawrence put it like this in his free verse jeremiad, "I Am Waiting." 

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder.

Brother Herbert was more didactic, but no less passionate when he wrote:

Art breaks open a dimension inaccessible to other experience, a dimension in which human beings, nature, and things no longer stand under the law of the established reality principle...The encounter with the truth of art happens in the estranging language and images which make perceptible, visible, and audible that which is no longer, or not yet, perceived, said, and heard in everyday life. 

Later that afternoon, sitting outside Cafe Trieste sipping caffeinated brews, we pondered the fate of North Beach. Once the heart of the Beat Generation, a bastion of free thinkers exploring what it means to know that "the best minds of our generation have been destroyed by madness" and can only be healed by beauty and love, the hood is now awash with ahistorical young techy hipsters who became millionaires at 24 and raised the rent for everyone else. My mind went to T Bone Burnett's keynote address at SXSW. A music industry insider, Burnett sounded like a 21st century Ferlinghetti or Marcuse albeit with a 21st century awareness that in our technocratic age, our emotions and ethics are manipulated by social media. Our politics, culture and economics have been reduced to the lowest common denominator that can turn a fast buck, too:     

I am going to begin today with a quote from Marshall McLuhan from his 1962 book, The Gutenberg Galaxy“Instead of tending toward a vast Alexandrian library the world has become a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as an infantile piece of science fiction. And as our senses have gone outside us, Big Brother goes inside.” I would like to come to you today with a message of unity and love and peace, and I will try to get there by the end, but I have to begin by stating a fact that must be becoming obvious to most people by now - the fact that we are in a battle, a battle for the survival of our species, and our enemy, is within... and artists are our only hope for salvation. (check it out en toto @ https://livemusicblog .com/news/watch-t-bone-burnett-keynote-speech-sxsw-2019/

When I returned to City Lights to get a t-shirt, I read the opening quote in the recent edition of ADBUSTERS. It is taken from the March 2019 book, The Second Coming, by Italian neo-Marxist, Franco Berardi, who writes:

We have entered the gates to the apocalypse. This theological concept is the best metaphor to describe the world in which we are already living. Chaos is all around us: political folly, economic delirium ecological catastrophe, intellectual cynics, technological simulation of life. One century after the Communist revolution, the very idea that the world could be changed for the better seems dead once and for all. Every time a new change occurs nowadays, it seems a change for the worse. But the fact that nothing can save us anymore shouldn't be seen as a form of surrender or fatalism. On the contrary, if our world is dead, then the space is open for another to appear: a world where the apocalypse can shake us out of our contemporary zombie-like existence.

And later that night while reading the novel, Goulash by Brian Kimberling, about an American ex-pat teaching English in Prague, these words popped up before I went to sleep:

America (had become a nation of) guns, Republicans, megachurches, personal injury lawyers and five square meters of television screen per household, headache-inducing beer, and far, far too much space that was relentlessly paved. It had laws determined by pressure groups, a language debased by idiots, and a mythology based on subliterate kids chasing cattle.

Juxtapose the collapse of this era and the challenge and chaos of our current context with the joy of the wedding I presided over last weekend and the truly good, noble, hope-filled and holy death of Jean Vanier the founder of L'Arche. Such wildly different values were at work in these later events, yes? At the wedding, we paid homage to the unexpected and undeserved gift of love and grace that has come upon two old friends living into the second half of life. It was a festival of tenderness, of living into the risk of vulnerability, and stepping up to the ever-changing dance of intimacy. It was beautiful - and my heart was full to overflowing for both my dear friends and all who gathered. For a moment in time, we were all on holy ground.

And Brother Jean's death? While sad, to be sure, and not unexpected, his last message to the L'Arche community cuts to the chase: 
The cycle of God's presence continues: new life erupts from death beyond our wildest imaginations. A new world is being crafted by those willing to climb down the social ladder rather than just scrambling up to get ahead. New hearts are being healed by those living into their fears with the trust that God's love is greater than all our stumbling blocks - including death. New music, poetry, art, and movies are popping up through the cracks of the old order offering us a vision of beauty and awe beyond the carnage. And I have encountered new souls being reborn as we learn to experience and trust the first word of God - creation - rather than relying solely upon technology, stress or cash. After working in our yard and garden yesterday and today, I am certain of it.
Interestingly, the last page in the ADBUSTERS journal dedicated to "a new mythology" quotes the late Mary Oliver's poem, "When Death Comes" as part of our new consciousness:

When it's over, I want to say:
     all my life
I was a bride married to 
     amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking
     the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to
     wonder
if I have made of my life
     something particular, and
     real.
I don't want to find myself
     sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply
     having visited this world.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

the holy ground of quiet presence....

On Monday of this week, I had the privilege of playing DJ as some truly talented and brave poets gathered for the monthly "Word X Word Poetry Reading." About 55+ people gathered at the Berkshire Museum for an hour of poems, sharing, community building and being together with complicated differences, truths and insights. There was laughter and awe, tears and silence. We were old and young and in-between. We were women, men, bi and gender fluid individuals as well as rich, poor and working people who were open to trusting the spirit of truth and beauty together - at least for an hour. I had fun mixing songs between the poems and setting the groove before the reading opened. I can't wait to do it again next month.

After wards, a young man stopped me and asked, "Didn't you used to be the pastor of First Church right across the street?" I smiled and said, "Yes, it was my privilege to serve that community for 10 years." He paused and then smiled shyly adding, "I have wanted to stop over and tell you something that happened years and years ago... but I never got around to it. One morning, I woke up and just felt like I needed to go to church. I was raised in the church but was never particularly religious. But my girl friend and I had just gone through a horrible time. She was hurting and in grief. And my world felt upside down and ripped apart. So we just went. And wound up at your church." I nodded silently as he continued: "What I wanted to tell you is that just being there was so healing. And calming. The people were kind and open. And the music lifted me in just the right way. I am so glad I saw you tonight so that I could tell you how much being there meant to me."

Creating safe space - like at church or the poetry reading - is crucial when individuals find themselves aching and alone. To gather together with music, art, silence and gentle words in a non-judgmental setting can be life saving. I know it is life altering. In this too fast, too full, too demanding culture, this is quiet work - a ministry of presence - that goes on in good times and bad. I know that sometimes when I was doing ministry full time, I failed to appreciate the significance of just sharing a quiet presence. But over the years I cam to cherish it. I left the poetry reading on Monday returning thanks to God for the importance of sharing a quiet presence. I also thanked God for the poetry, community and music that was shared. It was holy ground.  

Thursday, April 25, 2019

beyond our differences in the resurrection...

I like the work Fr. Richard Rohr and others are doing re: the universal wisdom and presence of Jesus. Rohr recently posted this - and it rings true to me. He is talking about spiritual formation and notes that in our era, for a variety of good and often complicated reasons, "most folks do not seem to think they need (a road) map, especially when they are young." The Jesuit priest, James Martin, writes much the same thing in his book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. There are solid intellectual reasons for resisting traditional spiritual formation as well as valid cultural, emotional, historical and psychological ones, too. At the same time, both Martin and Rohr suggest that without focus, direction, training and interaction with a faith community, most of us will remain spiritually immature - or stagnant.

This isn't to denigrate a faith journey - shaming through theological arrogance has no place in the community of Christ's compassion. In true tenderness and vulnerability, it remains true that no one matures and ripens without guidance. St. Paul put it poetically: when I was a child, I thought, spoke and acted like a child; but now that I have matured I must put childish things away. (I Corinthians 13) James Fowler, using a broad outline suggested by Erik Erickson's stages of psychological development and amplified by Piaget, posits a comparable overview in his Stages of Faith

To be sure, Fowler's overview has been used mechanically by some in a manner much like the rigidly linear applications some have applied to the stages of grief first articulated by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross - causing unnecessary stress, pain and judgment - but I believe that there is still wisdom to be mined from Fowler's work. If nothing else, it clarifies the need for creative spiritual formation. (For more information, please go to: http://www.psychologycharts.com/james-fowler-stages-of-faith.html)



Consider what Rohr posted about Easter: "Nowadays most folks do not seem to think they need that map, especially when they are young. But the vagaries and disappointments of life’s journey eventually make us long for some overall direction, purpose, or goal beyond getting through another day."

All who hold any kind of unexplainable hope believe in resurrection, whether they are formal Christians or not, and even if they don’t believe Jesus was physically raised from the dead. I have met such people from all kinds of backgrounds, religious and nonreligious. Personally, I do believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus because it affirms what the whole physical and biological universe is also saying—and grounds it in one personality. Resurrection must also be fully practical and material. If matter is inhabited by God, then matter is somehow eternal, and when the creed says, we believe in the “resurrection of the body,” it means our bodies too, not just Jesus’ body! As in him, so also in all of us. As in all of us, so also in him. So I am quite conservative and orthodox by most standards on this important issue, although I also realize it seems to be a very different kind of embodiment post-resurrection as suggested by the Gospel accounts.

James Martin, writing in the Jesuit magazine, America, stated something similar in his post-Easter reflection. "I believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the first Easter Sunday. I do not see that as any sort of parable or metaphor. This is, frankly, the very heart of my faith."

Theological approaches differ, but, in essence, some theologians offer the story of how, as the disciples came to reflect on the life and death of Jesus Christ, he became “present” to them in a new way, through the Spirit. This, in turn, empowered them to proclaim the good news of his Gospel. Some theologians offer this as a more credible or contemporary way of understanding the “resurrection.” But there is a problem with this idea of the resurrection as the after-effects of a “shared memory.” ... Only something as vivid, dramatic and, in a word, real as the multiple appearances by the risen Christ could have moved the disciples from abject fear (cowering behind closed doors) to being willing to give their lives for Jesus. Nothing else can credibly account for the transformation of terrified disciples into willing martyrs. (America, https://www.
americamagazine.org/faith/2019/04/23/literal-flesh-and-blood-resurrection-heart-my-faith)

Personally, my faith has been shaped and refined by my trust in the mystical and physical resurrection of Jesus. Like Martin and Rohr I trust - but cannot explain - that the glorified body of Jesus was one of "radical newness, a complete novelty, the unrepeatable quality of what the disciples were experiencing (was a revelation.) As the glorified body is something no one had encountered before—or has since." At the same time I hold the paradoxical belief that other encounters and understandings of Christ's resurrection are valid, too. I know that I do not have a monopoly upon wisdom. Neither do the Roman, Orthodox, Anglican, Reformed or Evangelical faith traditions. "Now we see as through a glass darkly," said St. Paul, "later we shall see face to face." And how many times have I had to learn this truth!?!

It is, for me, much like the various tradition's competing understandings of Eucharist: consubstantiation, transubstantiation, memorial meal, ordinance, commandment or mystical encounter beyond the limits of time and space? My hunch is that Eucharist is all of the above - and more - turning our limited truths into complimentary poems rather than competing doctrines. All I know is that whenever people of good will of any tradition - or none at all - come to receive something of Christ's body and blood at Holy Communion, they come in awe, reverence and openness. This experience leads me to apply the same generous mystery to Christ's resurrection.  Rohr adds:

In the resurrection, the single physical body of Jesus moved beyond all limits of space and time into a new notion of physicality and light—which includes all of us in its embodiment. Christians called this the “glorified body,” and it is similar to what Hindus and Buddhists sometimes call the “subtle body.” This is pictured by a halo or aura, which Catholics placed around “saints” to show that they already participated in the one shared Light. This is for me a very helpful meaning for the resurrection of Jesus, which might be better described as Jesus’ “universalization,” a warping of time and space, if you will. Jesus was always objectively the Universal Christ, but his significance for humanity and for us was made ubiquitous, personal, and attractive for those willing to meet Reality through him. Many do meet Divine Reality without this “shortcut,” and we must be honest about that. Only “by the fruits will you know” (Matthew 7:16–20). People who are properly aligned with Love and Light—“enlightened”—will always see in holistic ways, regardless of their denomination or religion.


Now it is time to get back to my garden. It is one of my learning places these days - a quiet center of holy renewal - that speaks to me of love, beauty and trust beyond all words. Yesterday, while taking down dead branches, I noticed a few hyacinths were in blossom And today the once shy daffodils are sharing their beauty throughout the yard. All shall be revealed at the right time, right?

playing for our lives: a concert to combat local homelessness June 15 @ 7 pm

In an interview with Krista Tippett a few years ago, the late Jean Vanier gave contemporary people of compassion his antidote for despair:...