Thursday, June 30, 2022

exploring the possibilities...

Back at the beginning of the Trump regime, many of us said: it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Little did we know HOW bad - and the worse is still coming! The singer/songwriter, Carrie Newcomer, recently put it like this:

We are weathering a terrible storm, and so we find shelter, create sanctuary, and share hope and courage. Now is when we feel what we feel, find community and ground ourselves in our deepest most beautiful values and practices. Remember working for positive social change is daily and personal, but needs to be sustainable. What brings you hope and keeps you centered? I just got back from traveling in CO where I cycled and hiked, went to an uplifting concert, took photos of amazing wildflowers. Today I took time to meditate, ruffle my dog’s ears, ate a really good apple for lunch and put my feet in the pond and listened to the birds. I started a new poem. I am finding that staying in touch with beauty in this broken time is essential for centering myself in what I love - and our best work for the better kinder world will always rise up from what we love. When so much feels wrong and broken, what is still whole and beautiful? What still makes sense in senseless times? Spend time there…where ever that is for you.

I resonate with Ms. Newcomer's music, poetry, and prose often but now with one exception - and it's a biggie: hope! Over the past few years a beloved friend has helped me realize that this is not the time to speak about hope. Possibilities? Choices and options? Of course. But not hope as I have traditionally understood it, because as the marine biologist, Avana Elizabeth Johnson, told Krista Tippett of ON BEING:

Facing climate change, with the effect on seas and melting ice caps, has led me to be a realist who is not a fan of hope as a guiding principle, because it by definition assumes that the outcome will be good, which I know is not a given, I am completely enamored with the amount of possibility that’s available to us. So that’s the word that I try to embrace when I think about what if we get it right, is how much possibility remains.

For ages I've affirmed this distinction intellectually with either Meister Eckhart's confession that "reality is the will of God - it can always be better- but we must start with what is real" or Reinhold Niebhur's "Serenity Prayer" which says: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Embracing this shift in my heart, soul, mind, vocabulary, and flesh, however, is still a work in progress. But living into our age of modern plague and political dysfunction has pushed me beyond the confines of abstractions towards embodied prayer. This feels like a season to leave magical thinking, bromides, platitudes, and sentimentality behind so that the sacred can become flesh within our ordinary lives. Jan Richardson is one of my quiet guides who helps me practice letting go again at a more profound level. Her poem "Plentitude" is instructive:

At lunch today
it was the purple
of the olive pits
against my cobalt plate
that stunned me.

At tea,
the gold of peach
bloodstained by its stone.

I do not know
where the greater part
of the miracle lies:
that I should pause
to notice this,

or that I,
a woman of
such great hungers,
should be so well satisfied
by such small things.

It's my hunch that this is something like what St. Paul was telling us in his letter to the emerging church in Rome. He put it like this in Romans 5: "We celebrate our suffering because living openly with our wounds strengthens us with 
endurance, and endurance can ead to a balanced and wise character which evokes hope within and among us because hope (or trust) is God's love being poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit." (my paraphrase) That is to say, the wisdom of our wounds have the potential to awaken us to new ways of living in balance with the sacred rhytmn of creation. It isn't automatic nor is it inevitable. It is simply a sacred possibility. Carrie Newcomer's poem,"Making Sense," strikes me as another way to imagine the wisdom of the ancient apostle.

Finding what makes sense
In senseless times
Takes grounding
Sometimes quite literally
In the two inches of humus
Faithfully recreating itself
Every hundred years.
It takes steadying oneself
Upon shale and clay and solid rock
Swearing allegiance to an ageless aquifer
Betting on all the still hidden springs.

You can believe in a tree,
With its broad-leafed perspective,
Dedicated to breathing in, and then out,
Reaching down, and then up,
Drinking in a goodness above and below
It’s splayed and mossy feet.
You can trust a tree’s careful
and drawn out way
of speaking.
One thoughtful sentence, covering the span of many seasons.

A tree doesn’t hurry, it doesn’t lie,
It knows how to stand true to itself
Unselfconscious of its beauty and scars,
And all the physical signs of where
and when It needed to bend,
Rather than break.
A tree stands solitary and yet in deepest communion,
For in the gathering of the many,
There is comfort and courage,
Perseverance and protection,
From the storms that howl down from predictable
Or unexplainable directions.

In a senseless time
Hold close to what never stopped
Making sense.
Like love
Like trees
Like how a seed becomes a branch
And compost becomes seedlings again.
Like the scent at the very top of an infant’s head
Because there is nothing more right than that. Nothing.It is all still happening

Even now.
Even now


In so many ways, this IS a senseless time: a season of confusion, despair, anger, and alienation. The world as we have known it is unraveling before our eyes and most of the time our response is unclear. To which the wisdom-keepers reply: "Hold close that which has never stopped making sense..." The late Langston Hughes was clear that we are to:


Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow
.

My first inclination, shaped by a broken heart and broken trust, is to become angry. Like many other men confronting our powerlessness to bring healing to this mess,
 I want to lash out, blame, punish, and overcome my impotence. But that only makes reality worse. To patiently and faithfully explore the possibilities... now there's a healthy alternative. To fortify love. To trust the sacred wisdom of creation so that I live like the trees who know that

A seed becomes a branch
And compost becomes seedlings again.
Like the scent at the very top of an infant’s head because there is nothing more right than that. Nothing.It is all still happening

Even now. Even now.

Friday, June 24, 2022

let's work together...

This may seem upside down, but here goes: NOW is the time for all people of good will to fortify ourselves with love, focus our attention on creative ways to circumvent the backwards SCOTUS decisions re: reproductive rights and gun control, follow the witness of Indigenous communities and African-American allies into new expressions of grief as well as solidarity (not appropriate their rituals and traditions but rather learn from them), fund alternative strategies so that NO woman lacks realistic and affordable options, face the fact that life in these United States is going to get worse before it gets better, and faithfully live into new expressions of community, trust, vulnerability, and resistance. There are options even as the religious and political right feverishly tries to impose their harsh theocracy upon us all. Our response to this brave new world will be costly on many levels. But, the alternative to accepting the status quo would be worse.

Over the past 50 years, I have witnessed an incremental loss of inclusive, safe, and creative places for progressive people to celebrate in solidarity, lament our shared pain, and renew our souls through relationships of trust and compassion. This is not true for the right wing of the Western world. They consistently find ways to strengthen one another in their mass gatherings. As was reported during the truckers blockade that spread like wild fire throughout Canada, many of those who participated confessed to being surprised at the loving welcome they experienced in these new societies of protest: there were rituals and songs, there were dances and feasts, too, so much so that a festival atmosphere of inclusion ruled the day. On the left, we tend to come together more like a circular firing squad than the Beloved Community. (Thank God Bobby Weir and others have taken Dead and Company on tour this summer! At least for a few hours everyone who shows up will be an equal in pursuit of peace and love.)
Don't misunderstand: I know there are hundreds, if not thousands, of small grassroots associations striving for solidarity and struggling to be heard over the bullhorns of our emerging fascism. But reality in the so-called progressive realm tends to favor ideological purity over strategic coalitions. With the exception of BLM and the Poor Peoples Movemnt, 2022 feels like it's WE (fill in the blank re: your discrete concern) against EVERYONE else. But as the semi-spontaneous protest currently taking place in front of the Supreme Court at this moment makes clear: we can no longer accept the MY way of the HIGH way approach to social change. How did Canned Heat put it right after Woodstock? "Let's work together..."
I genuinely don't understand why or how the forces of progressive engagement in the USA chose to abandon culture and spirituality; but for the most part the animating energy of creativity and the arts has died on the vine. Twenty years ago, Mako Fujimura, a theologically conservative visual artist, urged us to reclaim beauty again in the arts rather than naked self-expression. Not that our distinct charisms are to be buried, hidden, or censored, but that they come into birth in ways that bind us together rather than polarize in crude and/or sensationalistic ways. Another conservative religious and cultural warrior, the late Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, proclaimed to the world in his Nobel Prize speech that Dostoevsky was right: beauty CAN save the world. 

Dostoyevsky once let drop an enigmatic remark: “Beauty will save the world.” What is this? For a long time it seemed to me simply a phrase. How could this be possible? When in the bloodthirsty process of history did beauty ever save anyone, and from what? Granted, it ennobled, it elevated—but whom did it ever save?There is, however, a particular feature in the very essence of beauty—a characteristic trait of art itself: The persuasiveness of a true work of art is completely irrefutable; it prevails even over a resisting heart. 

A political speech, an aggressive piece of journalism, a program for the organization of society, a philosophical system, can all be constructed—with apparent smoothness and harmony—on an error or on a lie. What is hidden and what is distorted will not be discerned right away. But then a contrary speech, journalistic piece, or program, or a differently structured philosophy, comes forth to join the argument, and everything is again just as smooth and harmonious, and again everything fits. And so they inspire trust—and distrust.

Like other artists concerned with cultural renewal in pursuit of a safe, sustainable society, I trust that this is more of a birthing moment than just a chaotic death sentence - but make no mistake there IS death happening all around us, too. That's a piece of what is driving our stagnant and retrograde politics: fear of living through the end of one way of being where mostly wealthy, white men call the shots for everyone else. You can see evidence of the new world struggling to be born. But it appears it's going to be a complicated and extended birth so we need to equip ourselves with resources that will allow us to hang tough during the long haul. 

Part of our small musical ensemble's raison d'etre is cultural and civic renewal of beauty as bread for the journey. If you want to join our small get together this Sunday @ 4 pm, there's still room for a few more. Drop me an email and I'll give you the details.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

hearing and trusting the sacred with our ears NOT our minds...

The guitar became my friend, companion, mentor, source of solace, and prayer partner almost 55 years ago.
My confirmation class ally and long-time friend, Ross, taught me five basic chords each Wednesday after school before we went to the "Pastor's Class" at First Congregational Church. His family had recently returned from living in the UK - and we were both obsessed with the Beatles. He had an electric guitar. So, when Sergeant Pepper came out in June 1967, Ross and I would listen with wonder and awe as we sat religiously before the family stere0. When his family vacationed on Martha's Vineyard later that summer, I practiced my ass off on those five chords so that when he returned we could start a band. Like most "garage bands" of that era, our repertoir was limitted to 
"Stepping Stone," "Louie, Louie," "Twist and Shout," "Midnight Hour," and "Heart Full of Soul" which we played over and over and over again. In August, we added another guitar player, a drummer - and a few months later a "lead" singer - and gave our first music house party performance in the basement of Ross's home in the company of our girlfriends and one or two others.

This coming Sunday, June 26th on what is the liturgical feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, we'll be doing another music house party. We hope to raise some funds for the Ukranian refugee resettlement work being done by the UN as well as raise the spirits of some friends during this third summer of covid. I continue to know in my soul that being together physically in the same place so sing and make music is one of the best ways to fortify ourselves for life in general and especially so in times of stress and trauma. As William Congreve wrote in 1697: "Music has charms to soothe a savage beast." 

Covid precautions have only accelerated our social isolation as Western culture has long been neglecting the spirituality of shared music. For the past 40 years, fewer and fewer people have attended public worship of any type, funding for school music programs has been slashed and trashed, the once fighting and singing union movement has been in radical decline (with a few hints of revival), and social movements - with the exception of the Poor Peoples Movement - have simply given up on public singing. A few notable exceptions during the first year of covid would include the musical doctors and nurses of Iran and the balcony singing in Italy - but they were the beautiful exceptions to the rule.

When Andy and I recently took up the challenge of teaching a diverse group of elementary school children how to play the ukulele, my own isolation bubble was exposed. "Ok, let's sing "Bingo" I suggested to which the teacher said, "Nobody knows that any more." "Old MacDonald Had a Farm?" I queried. "Nope, that's totally forgien territory, too" I was told. Each young player knew Michael Jackson. Justin Bierber and a ton of hip hop. They could all mimic the synchronized dancing so popular on Tic Toc as well. But carry a tune? Recognize a golden oldie? Or belt out what was once a standard like "Amazing Grace?" Not a chance. We ended up with "You Are My Sunshine" and returned thanks that it worked.

In John Philip Newell's most recent book, Sacred Earth/Sacred Soul, he recounts
the work of Alexander Carmichael who devoted himself to gathering, transcribing, and then translating the music and public prayers of the Hebrides in Scotland. He discovered that despite his homeland's radically rigid shift to Calvinism in the 16th century - a social and religious movement that despised and feared the arts as the work of the Devil - the old pre-Christian melodies and images continued to linger in these remote places of the land. In the Hebredes, the songs of resistance to the Clearance Movement were also alive and well although without Carmichal's collection, they were one generation from extinction. That rendered the 
Carminia Gadelica a monumental work of cultural preservation. Newell calls it an "icon for us today which shows the power of poetry and song in keeping alive a vision of the sacredness of the earth and every living being." He notes:

For hundreds of years in the western islands of Scotland it was song that helped the people remember that the physical and the spiritual are interwoven. It was song that was used in the cycle of the seasons and in the journey of human life to keep them connected to the heart of their being made of God. And it was song that sustained them in their times of loss, suffering, and exile. For the people of the Hebrides this was passed down in oral form. The songs, prayers, and poems were intoned by one generation to the next over many centures. Most of us today, however, do not belong to an oral tradition. We depend instead on the written world of our literary culture and the world on online communications and recordings. So, perhaps for us today, it is a matter of accenssing written prayer,s printed poetry, and recorded music to help awaken us on a daily basis to the sacred rhythm within and around us. (p. 119)    

That's not a good idea, but only as astarting place because I believe that our soul sickness requires stronger medicine including experiential encounters with shared songs. That's the foundational reason we're starting our small summer experiemtn in music house parties. We'll play a variety of tunes, from a host of sources, that evoke joy, sorrow, resistance, and lament. We'll take some time to talk about what songs stir our spirits - and try out a little group singing, too. Add our outdoor venue plus some snacks and libation... and we shall see.

If you are in the area and would like to join us, please drop me a note and I will forward to you the specifics. My prayer is that we do this one or two more times this summer - and then find other small venues to keep the groove going when the weather starts to shift.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

relearning what our souls already know...

There is a profoundly wise statement John Phillip Newell makes in his most recent book, Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul, that has been swimming around inside me for a few months. Newell's wisdom percolated up inside me again this week urging me to give it my full attention: he writes that this moment in time must be about "relearning what our souls already know."

We know things in the core of our being that we have not necessarily been taught, and some of this deep knowing may actually be at oddes with what our society or religion has tried to teach us... In the Celtic tradition it was said that we (often) suffer from soul-forgetfulness. We have forgotten who we are and have fallen out of true relationship with the earth and with one another.

I can't say exactly why this moment is any different from all the others, nor do I know why my soul grabbed me by the scruff of the neck a few nights ago and literally awoke me from a sound sleep with this recollection. I do trust, however, that when the student is ready, the Buddha will appear. 

St. Paul noted that "now we see as through a glass darkly, later we shall face to face." My hunch is that this type of "seeing" is both a part of creation's cyclical pattern of helping us process life's wisdom from: 1) a series of encounters; into 
2) contemplation and reflection; so that 3) in time we can embrace and incorporate our experiences in a healthy way. It also seems likely that such vision is a mirror of the deeper manner of how truth is embedded and revealed to us at the end of our journey. Like Henri Nouwen confessed: "If God is love, and we come from God, then we shall return to love when this journey is complete." Integrating life's lessons leads us into an organic wisdom that simultaneously enriches our existence even as it trains us to rest into our demise. (Talk about the paradox of the Alpha and the Omega!)

Before turning off my reading light last night, I had to jot down a short list of "spiritual" truths I've long known in my soul but had either forgotten or hadn't yet discovered words to describe. This list looks a lot like a mystical "rule of life" that has been taking shape incrementally within me for five or six decades. 

1.  All spirituality comes down to noticing when we tense-up in life and when we let it all go in trust. As Cynthia Bourgeault teaches in The Wisdom Way of Knowing: holding on and becoming rigid causes our heart to atrophy and our soul to shrink; while releasing our feelings into trust opens us to compassion and strengthens our intimacy with all that is human and holy. In this, all prayer and spiritual discipline becomes an incarnational and experiential encounter as the Word communicates grace to us through our Flesh. This does not discount other ways to practice resting into the presence of the holy, it simply clarifies how each discipline actually works.

2. We are the midwives of creativity and love, NOT their source.
We cannot control most of what takes place in our lives. But we can choose to assist the birth of beauty, truth, solidarity, and trust. These blessings can be twarted, too through arrogance, selfishness, or ignorance. T
he symbolism of midwifery, therefore, is all about where and how we give our attention to others. Having assisted the two different sets of midwives who guided the delivery of our two daughters led me to trust that our calling as human beings is to tenderly partner with others in their celebrations and sorrows. We are not in charge. We are allies whose humble presence can help or hinder those we cherish.

3. The trajectory of authentic Christian spirituality is not one of ascent, but descent. This is not always honored in Christian orthodoxy as it was taken hostage by the promises of neo-Platonic binary thinking. Still, at its best, we love the God who "comes down at Christmas" like Christina Rossetti sang. We worship the "marriage of heaven and earth, where justice and peace kiss one another and compassion and humility embrace." (Psalm 85) We seek to follow the path and presence of the Word becoming Flesh. (John 1) And we look for the holy within the human and material rather than etherial abstractions. St. Luke tells us in chapter four of his gospel that at the inauguration of his public ministry, Jesus proclaimed:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Historically, spiritual wisdom in both the East and West has been shaped by the confines of ascent: our goal and destination supossedly points upward to the top of the mountain, to the heights of heaven, to a release from human suffering into the blissful anticipation of noncorporeal eternity. Jesus articulated and embodied a whole new way of exploring intimacy with the sacred with his spirituality of "small is holy." Ours is not a journey of escape, but solidarity. Phillipians 2 summarizes this downward mobility well:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, assuming human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human, he humbled himsel and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
Therefore God exalted him even more highly and gave him the name that is above every other name, so that at the name given to 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.

4. The Holy Trinity shows us how to search, wait, and then enflesh the integation of competing truths rather than fight them into a synthesis of inadequate compromise.
  Most deep thinking about conflict resolution in our culture is guided by Hegelian patterns wherein one truth bumps into a competing truth as they battle it out until a compromise can be achieved. (i.e. thesis - antithesis = synthesis) 
The presence of the sacred Three in One and One in Three, however, celebrates a different process where progress and resolution are realized as opposing realities are embraced equally into the presence of love, trust, and surrender. Professor Brueggemann is clear that the prophets of ancient Israel tell us that injustice, suffering, and oppression require grieving until our hearts are broken open by reality. When this takes place, and we are finally empty and beyond all illlusion of control, then in God's time but not our own, we are able to be surprised by new truths born in love that most often arrive from the periphery of the status quo through our creative artists. Relinquishing our long romance - dare I claim addiction - to binary thinking is essential in cultivating a commitment to the sacred deep healing and transformation promised by God.

5. In an age filled with noise and chaos, many intuitively hear God with their ears in music even if we don't believe in God with our minds. For most of my life I have listened to creativity's call as the presence of the sacred. I have lived this, trusted it, and encouraged it without having the words to describe it. Upon reading American philosopher and eco-theologian Jay McDaniel, however, his words resonated with my history of "hearing God" with my ears even in my intellectual questioning and/or disbelief. He cuts to the chase saying:

Three voices singing in harmony are an invitation to imagine that we
humans can dwell in creative community with one another, keeping our differences while holding on to each other in caring, non-suffocating ways. When we sing together our singing (becomes) a coordinated act of kindness and creativity, courage and compassion, delight and sharing. Jews call this shalom; Muslims call it salam; and Christians call it peace. Whatever words we use, the spirit of this peace is fluid and changing (filled with possibilities) which means that you can never fix it in a single frame and say gotcha.

Increasingly, I trust that singing and sharing beauty is essential.

6. Laughter that is guided by self-deprecating humor is an incarnational way of nourishing sacred humility. Some humor is cruel. Some is shallow and even stupid. But it is not coincidental that the word humor and humility are etymologically linked to the word humus which the Oxford Dictionary defines as: the organic component of soil, formed by the decomposition of leaves and other plant material by soil microorganisms. That is, to paraphrase Ernest Kurtz, its the shit out of which new life emerges. When we can laugh at ourselves, living as part of the whole rather than the center of the universe, when we've learned NOT to take ourselves too seriously, there is room for others to thrive. There's space for us to ripen and grow deeper. There are possibilities for all of us. Our culture is one of hierarchy that tends to use humor as a weapon or else a defense mechanism. But that is sadly stagnate and does nothing to welcome change or progress. 

7. Given enough space, safety, encouragement, and time most people are able to ripen into their best selves. Not always, of course. And some wounds are too deep to be healed in this realm. But rather than nag, cajole, push, shove, judge, or make ultimatums, I have come to see that waiting and trusting God's love is always the best course. This requires a deep comfort with silence. And holding one's tongue. It also necessitates a deep self-awareness, too because if what I want for myself is any indication of what is useful for another, then I need to shut up more than sound off, right?

I owe a world of debt to Cynthia Bourgeault and Richard Rohr (as you might have gathered.) Same goes for the faith communities I participate in: L'Arche Ottawa, Iona, and the Dancing Monks of the Abbey of the Arts. What do you think? I would love to know your thoughts and reactions, ok?





Thursday, May 26, 2022

how then shall we live in this season of loss...

From time to time I just can't help myself so today I once again wade into the volatile waters of my nation's politics and culture to share a few thoughts. The catalyst was the opeing essay in Rebecca Solnit's A Field Guide to Getting Lost. She makes the observation that there are two distinct understandings of lost:

Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the
familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possession; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know where you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control. Imagine yourself streaming through time shedding gloves, umbrellas, wrenches, books, friends, homes, names. This is what the view looks like if you take a rear-facing seat on the train. Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realization, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before. The material falls away in onrushing experience. It peels off like skin from a molting snake. Of course to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.


Her comment that "getting lost... is a case where the world becomes larger than our knowledge of it" hit home after pondering Tom Friedman's most recent column in the Sunday NY Times where he states:

For all you knuckleheads on Fox who say that Biden can’t put two sentences together, here’s a news flash: He just put NATO together, Europe together and the whole Western alliance together — stretching from Canada up to Finland and all the way to Japan — to help Ukraine protect its fledgling democracy from Vladimir Putin’s fascist assault. In doing so, he has enabled Ukraine to inflict significant losses on Russia’s invading army, thanks to a rapid deployment of U.S. and NATO trainers and massive transfers of precision weapons. And not a single American soldier was lost. Alas, though, I left our lunch with a full stomach but a heavy heart. Biden didn’t say it in so many words, but he didn’t have to. I could hear it between the lines: He’s worried that while he has reunited the West, he may not be able to reunite America.
(check it all out here: 
(check it out here: https://www.nytimes.com/ 2022/05/22/opinion/biden-trump-republicans-democrats.html?)

This loss is sad and sobering: it is certainly a case of reality becoming bigger than my comprehension and way beyond my control. It's an assesment by a savvy and time-tested pundit: you may not agree with Friedman on some things - and I often don't - but you can't argue with his sense that something vital and valuable is slipping away and may soon be lost:

It’s clearly (Biden's) priority, above any Build Back Better provision. And he knows that’s why he was elected — a majority of Americans worried that the country was coming apart at the seams and that this old war horse called Biden, with his bipartisan instincts, was the best person to knit us back together. It’s the reason he decided to run in the first place, because he knows that without some basic unity of purpose and willingness to compromise, nothing else is possible. But with every passing day, every mass shooting, every racist dog whistle, every defund-the-police initiative, every nation-sundering Supreme Court ruling, every speaker run off a campus, every bogus claim of election fraud, I wonder if he can bring us back together. I wonder if it’s too late. I fear that we’re going to break something very valuable very soon. And once we break it, it will be gone — and we may never be able to get it back. I am talking about our ability to transfer power peacefully and legitimately, an ability we have demonstrated since our founding.

This is loss as tragedy. It did not have to happen. It is neither snipping from the sidelines of relevancy as is the want of so many pundits on the left nor the salacious carping for ratings practiced by the pitiful right wing entertainers of Murdoch's TV network. No, Friendman is a mainstream media professional who paid his dues covering the politics of disintegration in Israel and Lebanon. His feelings of fear and analysis of loss resonate with my own. Reading this report from our most trusted ally in Canada amplified my concern. CBC Montreal carried a story this morning that should shake and wake everyone who values living in an open and democratic society.

Canada's intelligence community will have to grapple with the growing
influence of anti-democratic forces in the United States — including the threat posed by conservative media outlets like Fox News — says a new report from a task force of intelligence experts: "The United States is and will remain our closest ally, but it could also become a source of threat and instability," says a newly published report written by a task force of former national security advisers, former Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) directors, ex-deputy ministers, former ambassadors and academics. Members of the group have advised both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former prime minister Stephen Harper. Now is the time for the federal government to rethink how it approaches national security, the report concludes.

And now add yet another mass slaughter of innocent children and educators by one more unmoored young man with a battery of guns. A constellation of middle-of-the-road analysts throughout the world, especially those above the 49th parallel, have concluded that the USA is on the verge of breaking. Friedman asks what other conclusion is possible now that we're living through an era when lying about telling the truth (a la Kevin McCarthy) is normative. The credibility of the United States, often compromised like every institution but also historically striving to build a more perfect union, is crumbling. This troubles and frustrates President Biden as Friendman observes:

(This) clearly weighs on him... we have built a global alliance to support Ukraine, to reverse the Russian invasion and to defend core American principles abroad — the right to freedom and self-determination of all peoples — while the G.O.P. is abandoning our most cherished principles at home. That is why so many allied leaders have privately said to Biden, as he and his team have revived the Western alliance from the splintered pieces that Trump left it in, “Thank God — America is back.” And then they add, “But for how long?” Biden cannot answer that question. Because WE cannot answer that question.

As a rule, I find solace in God's first word - Mother Nature - both for the clues creation offers us re: the sacred presence in our reality as well as the personal perspective she brings to my journey of trust in chaotic times. In my part of the world, there is a modicum of order playing out as Spring ripens into early Summer and each day grows warmer and more alive. As the wise old preacher, Qoheleth of Ecclesiastes fame, reminds us: "There is NOTHING new under the sun" because there:

Is a season and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to throw away; a time to tear and a time to sew; a time to keep silent and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.

But even the well-ordered serenity of my rural solitude and its beauty cannot hide the loss taking place within and among us. The once arbitrary disasters in nature are becoming as common place as mass murders given climate change which suggests that we're NOT going to be able to dodge another political/cultural/spiritual/ecological bullet: this has become our season of disintegration and we're going to know break down, weeping, and the gnashing of teeth. Leonard Cohen prophetically told us: "I've seen the future, man, and it's murder."
I have studiously avoided TV news this week - and chosen not to read the editorial commentaries, too - because some simply recycle the self-righteous platitudes of the past while others only evoke despair without redress. At this moment in time I can only say: "Stick a fork in them - they're done!" Still, I ask how, then, shall we live into this time of loss, collapse, fear, and disorder? Two clues rise to the surface: 

+ First, our long suffering indigenous neighbors are offering some insights. With grace as well as irony, their elders insist 
that sharing wisdom about enduring during disaster is NOT cultural appropriation, a must to avoid, because caring is what a good neighbor does. Siku Allooloo wrote in YES! Magazine:

Last spring I spent some time with a very knowledgeable and beloved elder, Ethel Lamothe. We were at Dechinta Bush University—a Northern organization based outside of Yellowknife that delivers Indigenous education on the land and one of the saving graces in my own educational journey. I was helping her scrape a moose hide in preparation for tanning, and as our hands worked we talked about womanhood, spirituality, and bush medicines. She told me about the work she and others did in previous decades to advance decolonization, social transformation, and healing in Denendeh and also shared insight about the challenges. I had been troubled lately about the gap between elders and young people, the cultural inheritance being lost, the growing alienation I see in current generations, and the complexity of overcoming all these challenges when we are starting from such fragmentation. At one point Ethel stopped and said: “Our society is full of holes now, like the ones in this hide. So we have to sew them up. Where there’s a hole there instead of a mother or a father, an aunty or grandparent steps in to raise the kids. We have holes in our spirituality and culture, how we relate to each other and deal with things, so we have to find ways to relearn that. You know, we lost some of our own ceremonies and ways of praying, but we can learn from other cultures who still have it. You don’t have any grandmothers to teach what you need to know as a woman, so you adopt a new grandmother who can teach you. So we do it like that. We sew it up.”  

+ Second, the time-tested medicine of First Nations wisdom-keepers resonates with the prophets of the Hebrew Bible concerning lamentation: when we find ourselves by the waters of Babyon, and those in power ask us to keep singing our old songs as if nothing had changed, we must refuse. We cannot hurry along our descent into grief nor self-medicate our way out of our anguish. We must face it. Own it. Listen to it and embrace it. This is sack cloth and ashes time where weeping by the waters of Babylon is prelude to understanding and resistance. anything. Humility is to become our guide - and so many of us in the dominante culture have yet to practice letting go. We still think and act as if doing what we've always done can bring about something salvific when the truth is that until we own that we are lost we can't be found. Another indigenous wisdom keeper, 
Taiaiake Alfred, tells us:

There is a role in Indigenous resurgence for non-Indigenous people. They can play a part in the decolonization of this land simply by disassociating themselves from the privileges that are built into being part of the settler society, softening the stifling grip mainstream society has on Indigenous existences. Forgoing the need to be right, to be in charge, and to possess. Embracing the discomfort of the unsettled existence of an ally committed to the strength and well-being of Indigenous nations. Just as with the Indigenous people who are defining resurgence through their unscripted creative contention and generative acts of love for the land, there is no template or menu for allyship. For all of us, Indigenous and settler alike, there is only self-questioning and embracing this commitment: Listen to the voices of our Indigenous ancestors channeled through the young people of our nations, learn from Indigenous culture how to walk differently, and love the land as best you can.

My take on this season of loss and disintegration is becoming clear: the politics of self-imolation that now energize the elite of the United States is also birthing a new humility among some of us. Our loss is breaking our hearts open. We are starting to intellectually comprehend and spiritually sense that before new life and resurrection can happen among us, a great death must take place. It will be every bit as apocalyptic as the prophets portend - and it is going to much worse before it gets better. There must be a critical mass committed to grief work in the US where we empty our soul. As ancient Israel's prophets and our own indigenous wisdom-keeper know: only when we are empty, bereft and accountable for our hubris, are we free to grasp and respond to the presence of grace that God aches to share with us. 

Already some of the insights of resistance and resurgence are taking shape within
the artistic periphery of our culture. But there's too much arrogoance, busyness, shame, and deceit taking place for us to hear it with clarity. We're still too moored to the past to give birth to the future. So, we must wait for the Spirit while we groan with sighs too deep for human words. As Brother Leonard told us: I've seen the future, man, and it's murder. 
How, then, shall we live? Our indigenous neighbors suggest what the Hebrew Bible proclaims: exile is real but it is not the end of the story. Look at post WWII Germany that continues to rise up from the ashes of Nazi devastation. By creating and savoring as much beauty as is possible; by grieving what is being lost within and among us; by owning our arrogance and violence; and by listening carefully to those on the periphery who have learned how to renew their souls and communities in the worst of times we, too can mature and overcome. 

For the time being, I believe people of faith must carefully and conscientiously model lament within our grief resistant culture: we must take the unknown path into the darkness trusting that there is light on the other side. For as our tradition teaches: we are to journey by faith not sight. We will need to maintain close contact with those who love us if we're to endure. Solidarity is not an add-on or incidental, but an essential spiritual discipline for our era of lamentation. So, too our periodic feasts and fasts and celebrations that keep us connected to the bigger picture. Other nations and cultures have lived through what we are entering and tell those with ears to hear:

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.” If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your needs in parched places and make your bones strong, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
(Isaiah 58)
credits:
1) Holly Van Hadt @ https://hollyvanhart.com/abstract-forest-painting-wandering-in-wonder/
2) Domen Lo @ https://www.artmajeur.com/en/domen-lo/artworks/7929388/the-wandering-eye
3) Flags @ https://flagwix.com/products/canada-us-friendship-american-canadian-flag-thh3749gf/?attribute_size=4x6+ft.&attribute_type=No+Flagpole+Mounting+Rings&gclid=CjwKCAjwyryUBhBSEiwAGN5OCHLQJRYOtHunGYqXuCeLHyGo7kzhTooYfrcif1WlvwxyujwNa7x6XRoC0SIQAvD_BwE
4) lumsden garden
5) First Nations Art @ https://www.mutualart.com/Exhibition/Juncture--First-Nations-Art-at-NERAM/595C75959BE3B7B3
6) Lament @ https://artandtheology.org/tag/lament/
7) George Grosz, Hitler in Hell @ https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2020/01/24/hitler-in-hell-german-historical-museum-acquires-george-grosz-painting
8) Marc Chagall, Isaiah @ https://www.imago-images.com/st/0126166663

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

time to shift gears...?

For the next few weeks I am going to try something different on "Small is Holy."
As a rule, I've been framing my reflections around liturgical prayers. I love good liturgy and celebrate the creative, compassionate, and conscientious innovative liturgies that hail from the Iona, Taize, Celebration, and Corrymeela communities. The flow of such prayers, songs, silences, chants, readiings, and Eucharist evoke both beauty and order in a chaotic world. They ground me in what is important and eternal. Back in the day, my daughters and I would laugh quietly to ourselves whenever various church people would complain that I was being "too creative" and outside the box. They used to say, "Man, Dad, do they not get it! If it was just up to you, we'd be chanting, bowing, bending with ALL the old smells and bells." True enough.

What I have tried to do during both my four pastoral ministry commitments and now in my journey into online community outreach is to find contemporary words to articulate the ancient wisdom. As Cynthia Bourgeault writes, there are four key components to the perennial wisdom tradition: ora y labora (prayer and work) as well as soaking up the silence and opening the heart through chanting. This is, however, probably best left for those deeply committed to the contemplative path. For those either new to contemplative reflection, those who have fled the oppressive nature of some aspects of institutional worship in their pasts but still seek a grounding in a spiritual path with roots, or simply those who know there is more than meets the eye but don't resonate with the existing communities of faith, I am wondering if a less formal, less liturgical Sunday evening prayer might be in order?

So, I am going to start an experiment this week to see if together we might discern a new rhythm for "Small is Holy," one that incorporates contemporary poetry, song and silence with an informal spoken reflection and a simple Eucharist. My hunch is that simpler might be better. We'll see over the next few weeks as I search for a new rhythm. Let me know your thoughts.

Monday, May 16, 2022

a new commandment to love... NOW



This week I was awakened again to a curious cultural paradox of my life – you might even call it a social or spiritual schizophrenia of sorts – where I am living a quiet, simple, nearly monastic life of gardening, writing, music-making, spiritual direction, and caring for those I love while whole clusters of people, as well as the flora and fauna, water, air, and cultures of creation must endure repeated acts of violence, trauma, chaos, and suffering. The merciless slaughter of people of color by a young, white, male domestic terrorist in Buffalo and the relentless carnage of the war in Uk-raine are just the tip of a vicious iceberg that includes a million lives lost to covid in the USA, our national addiction to drugs and mindless distractions, the harrowing loneliness and emotional trauma our young people have endured during the pandemic to say nothing of our political descent into fear, tribalism, and hatred.

This dilemma is timeless in some ways as walking by faith not sight has always
meant trusting a love at work among us that is greater than the obvious; but it is also uniquely modern quest, too as 21st century mystics and contemplatives seek ways to balance solitude with compassion in the digital age. When religious communities once lived solely within the confines of the cloister – and the flow of information moved among us at the speed of the seasons – establishing a well-ordered practice of work and prayer – ora y labora as the Benedictines say – was less complicated. In rela-tive isolation, we could maintain a measure of hospitality with the world, “unburdened by strange diets, esoteric devotions, or damaging denials of self.” As Sr. Joan Chittister suggests, “the true monastic walked through life with a barefooted soul, alert, aware, grateful, and only partially at home.” Today, however, and for most of the 20th and 21st centuries, people of prayer must learn to live into a reality that sees, hears, feels, tastes, and smells the celebrations as well as the lament-ations of creation without the protection of the cloister and without clear guidelines for balancing our contemplation with necessary social action.

With so much sensory data breaking our hearts open every day by the enormity of the world’s pain, you see, it’s no wonder so many feel overwhelmed, impotent, and despairing. I once heard Krista Tippett, the host of On Being, quip to her guest that she thought global technology could bring us back to a small is beautiful perspective: “We can now see the suffering and need all over the world in real time and respond instantly” she said. To which her guest ironically replied: well, maybe before adding:

Today we can look at an Iraqi or Ukrainian children, for example, whose agony wounds us and compels us to want to do something, yet because that child is NOT right there in front of you, you must confront your incapacity for action because what is really in front of you is an image and NOT the child herself. If that child was in front of you, you could take her in your arms. So, we must figure out how to live into a world where the imagination, the virtual, the long distance, sees things far away while they appear as close. But you can’t touch them. They’re close to the imagination, but they’re not close to our flesh and blood.

For the past five years, I’ve been learning at L’Arche what the late Thomas Merton – monastic, author, and activist – told Jim Forrest, a young peace activist during the war in Vietnam about just this quandary. The key to faithful living now Merton wrote is proximity – embracing the limitations of being small and even powerless – while managing our imaginations so that we do: “NOT depend on the hope of results.” Merton wrote:

When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work for peace, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be endured, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, as you yourself mention in passing, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.

This seems to be the wisdom consistently celebrated by contemporary
contemplative activists of every spiritual hue: embrace a simple but well-practiced rhythm of engagement, solitude and pray-erful reflection before returning to the fray; and, stay connected to real people who are close by. Let ideology and measurable results go and be like Jesus who kept asking his friend: “Peter, do you love me?” Small acts of tender love shared locally is how we reclaim balance and focus. I suspect that’s why I’ve been knocked out by this Leonard Cohen song. Its prescient lyrics and melancholic melody feels to me like our struggle to ground ourselves in small, local acts of love as we train our imaginations with simple, quiet prayer all bathed in love. Cohen calls it: “Almost Like the Blues.”

I saw some people starving, there was murder, there was rape
Their villages were burning, they were trying to escape

I couldn't meet their glances, I was staring at my shoes
It was acid, it was tragic: It was almost like the blues…

I have to die a little between each murderous plot
And when I'm finished thinking I have to die a lot

There's torture, and there's killing, and there's all my bad reviews
The war, the children missing, lord, it's almost like the blues

Though I let my heart get frozen to keep away the rot
My father says I'm chosen, my mother says I'm not

I listened to their story of the gypsies and the Jews
It was good, it wasn't boring: it was almost like the blues

There is no God in heaven, there is no hell below
So says the great professor of all there is to know

But I've had the invitation that a sinner can't refuse
It's almost like salvation, It's almost like the blues


The genius of this song, besides the couplets is, I think, the tag line: almost like the blues. That’s a mouthful of shorthand spiritual wisdom obliquely suggesting that often our lament is not QUITE as cathartic as the blues: it’s close, it’s almost there, but when anguish is not intimate, like it is in the real blues, when it’s more universal or abstract, it’s not attached to real flesh and blood. In his intentionally paradoxical way, Cohen wants us to know that many of our songs are not as gritty as Howlin’ Wolf, Big Momma Thorton, or Coltrane because they’re disembodied. The real blues moves through lament – it doesn’t stay locked in the pain – but reaches beyond it. Singing almost like the blues is what an emotional tourist does – dabbling here, watching there, grieving in the abstract before moving on. The real blues is salvific, transformative, while almost like the blues is honestly emotional but rarely anything more.

Which is what Jesus tells us in today’s reading from St. John’s gospel. At table with his be-loved friends, he says to us today what he told always told them then: God has been glorified – illumi-nated, celebrated, and incarnated – now. Whenever you love one another as I have loved you, God is glorified. Do this for it is my new commandment. Now, remember the setting of these words: it may be the 5th Sunday of Eastertide for us, but the text comes from St. John’s account of the last supper where three important things took place: First, Jesus anointed his friends for ministry using humble, ordinary water as he washed their feet; second, he shared a Passover meal with them; and third, he told them that loving real people we can touch is the key for moving beyond ALMOST like the blues.

Instead of despair or abstractions, let’s regularly gather around the table, share food and encour-agement with one another using the stories and songs of our tradition, and then go back into the world to love those closest to us. THIS is how God is glorified.

· Now I understand that my third insight is the minority report when it comes to this passage – and I’ve only come to it with any clarity recently. Most scholars want us to believe that God was glorified when Judas left the table to enact his betrayal: for these theologians it is the Passion that expresses Christ’s love most clearly.

· But the flow of the story seems to suggest that God was once glorified when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet before the Passover meal; so it stands to reason that God would continue to be glorified whenever we do likewise. Simple, humble acts of love to real human beings offered without any illusion of measurable results is the NEW commandment – compassion freely offered – is what gives shape, form, and honor to the holy.

Contemporary Bible scholars insist that “what Jesus has in mind here is distinctive, subversive, and surprising, with wide-ranging social consequences.” (SALT Project) That’s what I’ve come to believe, too. To glorify God, you see, is to “mirror God’s image” in real time: it is to make our words of love and commitment to compassion flesh. To glorify God, from the Greek doxazo, is to manifest the light, wisdom, beauty, grace, healing, and awe of the holy in observable ways. I think of it as sacra-mental as our inward and spiritual love is expressed in outward and visible acts that point towards their source in the sacred heart of the Lord.

That’s one of the gifts of this text: it reminds us that our outward spiritual worship
is more about spreading love than going to church. Or ending all suffering. Or getting trapped in feelings that we cannot act upon. As I’ve shared with you many times, St. Paul crystalizes this calling in Romans 12 clearly:

So, here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for the Lord. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God and you’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what God wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Sharing real love where we find ourselves, living with compassion among our neighbors, is one of the ways to resist our culture’s lowest common denominator. I’ve come to trust it is how God is glorified and how that glory becomes flesh in you and me. The poet and artist, Jan Richardson, rephrases this truth saying:

Let it be that on this day we will expect no more of ourselves
than to keep breathing with the bewildered cadence of lungs that will not give up the ghost. Let it be we will expect little but the beating of our heart, stubborn in its repeating rhythm that will not cease to sound.
Let it be we will still ourselves enough to hear what may yet come to echo: As if in the breath, another breathing; as if in the heartbeat, another heart. And let it be we will not try to fathom what comes to meet us in the stillness but simply open to the approach of a mystery we hardly dared to dream.


God is glorified when we don’t plot and plan so much as welcome, receive, and respond. When we consciously and with some consistency share Christ’s love with others like God has shared it with us. The context of this story adds poignancy to our emerging Eastertide spirituality which is easy to miss if we only read the appointed lectionary texts in isolation. Without the bigger picture, we might easily miss the revolutionary meaning of Christ’s rite of foot washing. So, keep in mind that:

· The first anointing in the arc of this story happens a week before Passover when St. Mary Magdalene anoints the head of Jesus with perfumed oil. Magdalene transforms her tradition not only by taking on the role of the priest – a truly revolutionary act for a Jewish woman in first century Palestine – but by anointing Jesus as Messiah: Lord and Savior.

· The male disciples had hoped that such an anointing would take place in the Temple, but Magdalene lets it be known that those who embrace the radical hospitality and grace-filled love of God in Jesus don’t have time to wait for the institutional leadership to catch up to the Holy Spirit. The Cross is too close for comfort. Fear is everywhere. So, at yet another table, she does what others should have done: she anoints Jesus as God’s beloved.

A week later, on the Eve of the Feast of Passover, Jesus builds on Magdalene’s revolutionary wis-dom when he strips off his outer garment, ties a towel around his waist, kneels before his friends and students, and washes feet still filthy from traveling the dirt roads of ancient Israel. This act, in and of itself, symbolizes a spirituality of humility, proximity, and servanthood where the supposed master now becomes like a slave. But just so that no one misses the point, Jesus ups the ante by in-verting and replacing the traditional perfumed oil with ordinary water and literally anointing the bottom of a person’s body rather that the top. Do you see the life-changing sacramentality of this act? Water instead of sacred oil is radically egalitarian, feet rather than head celebrates humility, and the holiness of the ordinary table instead of the grandeur of the Temple makes living in the love of Christ accessible to us all. We don’t needs special places or times to practice love: we can do it anywhere! Isn’t that what the new commandment says:

Behold, I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another, for in this God is glorified.

St. John places all of this within the arc of the Last Supper where prophecy is revealed at a simple dinner table. In this farewell discourse, the last words of guidance and consolation Jesus shares with his followers as he takes his leave… are that while Jesus is on his way out, the Holy Spirit is on her way in… As the post-Easter community is about to be born — a community that Jesus insists will go on to do even “greater works” than he did… the living community will incarnate the love they have experienced with the whole neighborhood without concern for results…and THEN God will be truly glorified.” (SALT Project)

· After the foot washing, after his humble anointing, as the Passover feast begins Jesus says: NOW God has been glorified. NOT at the Cross, or Resurrection, or Ascension. NOW – in the upper room. Before the Cross, the Resurrection, or Ascension.

· I don’t know how I missed the simple intimacy of this promise for decades, but I think I get it now: With tenderness Jesus recognizes our wounds and anxieties saying, “Little ones, beloved and humble, I am with you – I am with you now in one way; and as you love one another as I have loved you – I will be with you again. Just keep on doing what we have done tonight.”

The focus of a disciple now is as it was then: make friends with those around 
us without regard to status, bridge the divides between “above and below, insider and out-sider, clean and unclean,” gather regularly for simple meals of table fellowship where we can offer one another encourage-ment through storytelling, songs, prayers, poems, and acts of beauty. This is what the community of faith is to do when everything else around us feels like madness: we feast, we listen, we encour-age, and we love.

When communities are under assault, when hell becomes normative and hope fades from our memory, when war and violence rage and peace is forgotten: the followers of Jesus are asked to focus on three counter-intuitive, counter-cultural acts: gather together for a meal, listen with care to one another’s reality, and share love with those you can touch. That’s what Syrian priests told their congregations during the ugly civil war, it’s what the Christian remnant did when Isis ruled the land, it’s what empowered those consigned by chance to the evils of Stalin and Hitler, it’s what the African-American church preaches consistently, and, my friends, it is one of the ways we who are contemplatives can let go of singing ALMOST like the blues and get down to the real thing.

Back in 1983, during an international people-to-people peace pilgrimage to what was then the Soviet Union, on our way back to the West, we spent some time in Poland during Marshall Law as Solidarity challenged the brutality of communist totalitarianism with a few more days in the then GDR: the German Democratic Republic of communist East Germany. One night we had a long con-versation with some East German church leaders who later became instrumental in the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

These were men and women who, after the nightmare of Hitler’s brutality had the chance to leave Germany for at least the freedom of the West – or entrée into England or the USA. But they chose instead to stay where they were. Under the double whammy, as one dissident put it, of German autocracy and Stalinist cruelty, they chose to endure the worst of both worlds. Because, it was absolutely essential to love their ordinary neighbors. IF there was to be any hope of rebuilding a new and healthy free Germany: “We HAD to stay where we were if we were going to be faithful to Jesus and believed by those all around us. If we were to have any credibility, we had to stand and deliver love and not take advantage of our elite status and skip out on the pain.” We talked about this faithfulness – and the cost of such discipleship – for hours before one person lifted up the words of St. Paul from Romans 12:

So, here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for the Lord. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God and you’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what God wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

I think of that dark time in an East German apartment as we go deeper into the
chaos and pain of our trials: it is every bit as terrifying and broken as what the early church faced before and after the Cross. It’s going to get as horrifying in our own way as what our East German friends knew – and it is going to be costly for those who love the way Jesus loved us. In a recent interview, another of Christ’s servants, Wendell Berry, replied like this when asked what do we do now to challenge the fear and madness of our age and live as those nourishing God’s love within:

What can we do? We can take Gary Snyder’s good advice: “Stop somewhere.” He meant stop and stay and deal with the consequences. We can teach ourselves to think as community members rather than as individuals in competition with all other individuals. We can work, shop, eat, and amuse ourselves as close to home as possible. We can, on our own or with like-minded people, become mindful of all that we have in our places that is worth keeping, and of the best ways of keeping those things. And, to quote Gary Snyder again, we can: stay together - learn the flowers - go light.

The spirituality of Eastertide that I see unfolding from the stories of this season ask us to stop – be where we are fully right now. Reconnect with those around us with love and patience as neighbors. Open our tables to one another, listen carefully to one another’s stories. And trust that these small acts of tenderness are exactly what God asks of us at this moment. Then we won’t be living like it’s ALMOST like the blues, we’ll be singing a profound lament that owns our anxiety and danger, but trusts the love of God to be greater still.

Let it be that on this day we will expect no more of ourselves than to keep breathing with the bewildered cadence of lungs that will not give up the ghost. Let it be we will expect little but the beating of our heart,
stubborn in its repeating rhythm that will not cease to sound.
Let it be we will still ourselves enough to hear what may yet come to echo: As if in the breath, another breathing; as if in the heartbeat, another heart. And let it be we will not try to fathom what comes to meet us in the stillness but simply open to the approach of a mystery we hardly dared to dream.

exploring the possibilities...

Back at the beginning of the Trump regime, many of us said: it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Little did we know H...