November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving

Back at the beginning of the season of Pentecost I used the image of the Holy Bridegroom and quoted from St. Patrick’s Breastplate. It seems a fitting way to end this season of Ordinary Time, which really isn’t ordinary at all, but full of the action of the Holy One. God is our Bridegroom, God is our partner, God is indwelling in all parts of our life. Next Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent-the time of preparation for Christmas. I’ll be offering ideas on how to live as if we really Expect God to be present and act.  

Thanksgiving is this Thursday. In the midst of the feasting, we could perhaps pause to remember those less fortunate and also offer thanks to the One who is our reason for being, our companion and our guide. The One always above, below, behind, before us, on right hand and left as the hymn says. The Holy One who is in our troubles and in our joys. The God of Love to whom we are bound as a bride to bridegroom and who holds us forever in that love. And not just you and me, but everyone in the world (even those we don’t personally find lovable)!

Thank God for God’s great love and offer yourself to him in St. Patrick’s hymn of praise, which you can view above:  

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spic├Ęd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord

November 17, 2013

God of Ordinary Time

So we come to the end of this series of thoughts taken from Madeline L’Engle’s book, A Stone for a Pillow and Richard Rohr’s book Things Hidden, chapter 9. At the same time, we are drawing to the end of the season of Pentecost-that long stretch between the Feast of Pentecost and the start of Advent, sometimes called Ordinary Time. Because it is such a long season of the church, we might think that we can just ignore it and go our way without considering the actions of God much during those 6 or 7 months. Just because there aren’t any grand high feast days doesn’t mean that God is napping. In the Northern Hemisphere, the months of the season of Pentecost are the times of ‘seedtime and harvest’. In the Southern Hemisphere, the months are the times of rest and fallow for fields. As city-dwellers, we forget that the land needs fallow times to regenerate, just like we do. This ‘Ordinary Time’ is the opportunity to see God at work all around us, if we open our eyes!

Madeline L’Engle says, “We do not ever stop being part of God’s plan, part of the unity, part of the work of the coming of the Kingdom when all shall be made new.” Whether your life is in the time of seedtime or moving into the harvest time, each of us is part of God’s whole and holy plan. Times of rest and laying fallow are to be welcomed because there is a new seedtime coming and new fruit to bear. If you are in a time that seems fallow-rejoice, for new growth is coming.
In God’s plan, L'Engle reminds us, we are given “vulnerability…We are promised not that we won’t be wounded, that we won’t bleed, but that we will be transformed. We are promised not that we won’t die, but that we shall live.” Rohr agrees. He says, “to hold the contradictions with God, with Jesus, is to be a Christian and to share and participate in the redemption of the world.” Throughout the Bible and our lives, we see how times of trial and wounding bring forth new ministry, new direction, and new faith. You have only to look at the martyrs and saints to see that their lives were not a garden path, yet their faith grew and strengthened because they knew God was in it all.

The whole process of planting and growing, harvest and fallow fields reminds us of this cycle of seeming to die, in order to live. Jesus himself uses it as a metaphor: "Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." (John 12:24) As part of that new creation we can grow deep roots into God. This graphic (from a Facebook post) reminds me of that truth and calls each of us to work for the peace of God in our own lives and in others.
Joseph, son of Jacob, although he has much reason to seek vengeance tells his brothers, “Fear not, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:19-20) Like many other people of God, he understands that God WAS present in all that he endured and as Paul reiterates, “in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Because God is in all parts of our life, Rohr says the Cross with “those two bookmark images, the blood being the price of letting go and the water being the invitation to union and divine feeding” is the guidepost we need. Through the mystery of the cross we learn “how to stand against hate without becoming hate, how to oppose evil without becoming evil ourselves.” He asks, “Can you feel yourself stretching in both directions-toward God’s goodness and also toward recognition of your complicity in evil? If you look at yourself in that moment, you will feel crucified.”
According to Rohr, the revelation of the cross is that we see “the opponent is not so much evil as a symbol of a greater evil of which he or she is also the victim.” Only then can we “agree to carry that victim status together with Jesus. We agree to bear the burden of human evil, of which we are all victims and are all complicit.” In that acceptance and being open to the vulnerability and contradiction we learn “we can’t do it alone…only by a deep identification with the Crucified One…[do we become] his ‘new creation.”

The vulnerability, scary though it can be; and the wounding with the scars it brings, are instruments of our transformation. It is an odd and Divine paradox that very often plays out in the ‘ordinary times’ of our day-to-day lives. It can be easy to forget that God is in the vulnerability, fears, wounding and scars because they are all around and within each of us. That is exactly where God is, too-in the midst of us! God is with us even, maybe especially, in the ‘ordinary times’ when we think we are abandoned.
Are you in a time of planting or harvesting, in a time of fallow or growth? How can you, as the graphic says, pull others into your peace-which is grounded and rooted in God alone?

November 10, 2013

God's Eyes

I took a break last week, but now we’re back to looking at some insights from Madeline L’Engle’s book, A Stone for a Pillow and Richard Rohr’s book Things Hidden, chapter 9. This week we consider seeing the world through God’s eyes.

Rohr claims that mystics throughout the ages, “knew … by gazing upon the one that we have pierced, praying from a place of needed mercy [allowed] Love which changed them from the bottom up…God gazed at them through the suffering and sad eyes…to stand under is still the best way to understand.” It is not just mystics but artists and musicians who name this paradox and this reality. George Studdart Kennedy’s protagonist in his poem Well knows that the eyes of the London whore are God’s eyes. Gordon Lightfoot sings about a “child born to a welfare mom…a week, a day, they’ll take it away…” and even the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in the Suite Beethoven’s Last Day finds Beethoven at the point of having to choose whether to exchange longer life for himself for the life of a poor child in the street. “It’s the arching of a life…”
Because “God is the God of love and love will not rest while there is any suffering left, any rebellion, any anguish” Madeline L’Engle notes we have to be willing to accept the vulnerability of our call to live in love and to name and empower those we encounter. She goes on, “Jesus said, ‘what I want is mercy, not sacrifice’.” All we are really called to do and be is open and involved in the cosmos. To be a butterfly on a leaf and let the wings we flutter echo in the universe and beyond.

We are called to see the world through God’s eyes. We must see that the London whore and the beggar in the street are just as important as royalty on a throne or the latest teen idol. According to Rohr that happens when we stand under the Cross-then we see that in and through the Cross “God [is] somehow participating in human suffering instead of just passively tolerating it and observing it…that also changes everything-at least for those who are willing to ‘gaze’ contemplatively.” In the Cross is the “very pattern of redemption…Jesus is, in effect saying…’I’m going to take the worst thing and turn it into the best thing, so you will never be victimized, destroyed or helpless again!’”
There is nothing outside the control of God. As Paul said, “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31-39)

Because the Cross changes everything, we can agree with Paul, that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us…We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now, and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved.” (Romans 8:18-24)
Rather than bemoaning the inequalities and the pains of our circumstances, we can instead be like this child who knows that “God is SOOOO good!” That might just free us to be more like the butterfly exalting in being freed from her cocoon and experiencing the first breath of air on her wings!

Would changing the way you look at the suffering of the world and the challenges of your own life change if you really believed Paul’s words, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”? What if you understood in your heart that Jesus’ work on the Cross was in effect saying “I’m going to take the worst thing and turn it into the best thing, so you will never be victimized, destroyed or helpless again”? Would you then be more able to see the world and our fellow humans in it through God’s eyes? Something to think about, for sure.

Next week will be the last in this series based on L'Engle and Rohr's work.

November 3, 2013

All Saints'

On this Sunday when we remember the saints and the Saints of the Church, I'd like to remind you that we are each a saint. The Church Universal recognizes some people through the ages as extraordinary Saints and gives them special honor. Depending on your tradition, this can include a special 'feast day'. These are people like the Apostles, like St. Francis, like Julian of Norwich, like Martin Luther King, Jr. All of them as the hymn says "just folks like me."* Each of us is indeed a saint-a servant of the Living God.
How do we get from just ordinary person to saint... Well, it's the action of God. There is a story that is especially appropriate to this time of year when there are pumpkins all around...

A little girl was asked "What is it like to be a Christian?"
She replied, "It's like being a pumpkin. God picks you from the pumpkin patch, brings you in and washes all the dirt off of you. then he cuts open the top and scoops out all of the yucky stuff. He removes the seeds of doubt, hate, greed, etc., and then He carves you a new smiling face and puts His Light inside of you to shine for all the world to see."

Remember this if you feel discouraged about whether or not you are a saint of God-you are indeed. This hymn might help you too:

*I Sing A Song of the Saints of God (by Lesbia Scott)
I sing a song of the saints of God, 
patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green;
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.

They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
and his love made them strong;
and they followed the right for Jesus' sake
the whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
and one was slain by a fierce wild beast;
and there's not any reason, no, not the least,
why I shouldn't be one too.

They lived not only in ages past;
there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus' will.
You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store,
in church, by the sea, in the house next door;
they are saints of God, whether rich or poor,
and I mean to be one too.