At The Edge of the Enclosure

March 4, 2013

Dear Readers,

At The Edge of the Enclosure –
Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat

I’m putting my meditation blog on the actual “retreat” page so you won’t have to go to two different sites for each Sunday’s meditations.
(You can subscribe to Soulwork Toward Sunday,  on the upper left hand side of the home page, and receive a weekly reminder of the coming week’s posts. My contact information is also available.)

See you At The Edge of the Enclosure !



Nurturing the Barren Fig

February 25, 2013

Please see
Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Lent 3 (year C), March 3, 2013

AlexanderMstrJHlsCrppWmnPrblBrrnFigKoninklijke BibliotheekTheHague1430CROPThen he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” – Luke 13:6-9

Ruthlessness: the one uncompromising rule of gardening – pruning, chopping, weeding, deadheading, dividing, removing the weak and sick, throwing away the plants that inhibit or crowd the others. Out go the plants that don’t produce fruit or function as a helpful neighbor to another plant. Out go plants that do not offer beauty or scent or pleasure or visual interest. Alex, one of our interns last summer, observed that “When I imagined that I’d spend my summer gardening, I never thought that so much of my day would involve killing”[ – not only plants, but harmful insects and rodents.]

In Jesus’ parable the owner of the garden observes a barren fig tree. Reasonably, he orders it yanked out. But the gardener suggests that the owner give the fig another year. In the meantime he’ll break up the hard earth, aerating the ground around it so the roots can breathe and drink and take in nourishment. He’ll put manure around it, that golden substance which is the very ground of life and fertility – changing the very soil nurturing the fig tree.

What blessed good news for my soul! Not only do I have a reprieve, but in that time I will be loved, nurtured, brought back to a life of creative regeneration. The mercy of God may not necessarily reflect good gardening practice, but proves a boon for us clueless procrastinators and late bloomers.

But in the parable, mercy has an expiration date. You can’t let the garden languish full of weeds. Repent, says Jesus. You don’t know when some tyrant or madman will take your life, or even when some building will fall on you as you walk by. (Luke 13:1-5) The land owner will come yank out that fig sooner or later. Repent. NOW.

Most people live lives so crammed with responsibility it’s necessary to push repentance into the background, like many other beautiful and important things. I have all these emergencies to deal with immediately. They occupy my attention like demons screeching and jumping up and down on my desk. Our culture demands that most people live from emergency to emergency. Some day I’ll get some time off and go to the desert for 40 days to repent.

Repent, NOW, says Jesus. You do not know the day or hour. (Matthew 25:13)The sense of immanent of Death can shake priorities. Suddenly those daily emergencies shrink in fear and slide off the desk when the Great Emergency enters the room with hooded cloak and sickle. Welcome the apparition, say the saints. Day by Day remind yourself that you are going to die, said St. Benedict in the Rule. Anchorites dug a trowel full of dirt from their grave each day, or hemmed their shrouds or slept in their coffins, not for some morbid exercise, but to emphasize life! Breathe now. Look at beauty now. Let the holy in you rise and be fruitful now. Now. Now.

Lent offers the time to develop the habit of repentance in daily life. Lent is the time of aerating the soil and adding humble manure.  Time to develop habits of daily repentance. Lent is a time of taking care of things, while being taken care of.

And, to be fair, the detritus pulled from the garden goes to the compost pile. After decomposing it becomes that magic and holy humus nourishing the garden. Ultimately, you can’t lose. But you can be creative and fruitful now.


The New Jerusalem

February 18, 2013

Please see
Soulwork Toward Sunday : self-guided retreat
Lent 2 (year c), February 24, 2013
“Lament Over Jerusalem”

So, this is longer than my usual posts, mainly because the meditation is obviously working its way toward a sermon. Hope you float through it happily…. -Suzanne

Part 1
Lament over Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! -Luke 13:34

Jerusalem is both a city and a concept. A place to leave from and return to.

During the exile in Babylon, Jeremiah laments,

How lonely sits the city
that was full of people!
How like a widow has she become,
she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the cities
has become a vassal. -Lamentations 1:1

Meanwhile the exiles bitterly complain,

By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the wills there
we hung up our lyres.
for there our captors
required of us sons,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the sons of Zion!”

How shall we sing the lord’s song
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
If I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy! -Psalm 137 1-6

And when they returned they sang,

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the water courses of the Negev!
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy!
He that goes forth weeping,
bearing seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him. – Psalm 126

From ancient times Jerusalem became a metaphor for exile, longing, pilgrimage, return, and fulfillment. Throughout the world, in Diasporas ever since, prophets, saints, mystics, and communities could say with Rabbi Nachman of Braslav, “Wherever I go, I go to Jerusalem.”

Begin from Jerusalem,” said Jesus to the Apostles (Luke 24:47), as he sent them to the “ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Jerusalem would be for every missionary, a place for the heart to dwell, even while facing martyrdom. How fraught this image, then, of Jerusalem. No city can live up to these layers of metaphor, meaning, memory, and emotion. Jerusalem becomes something other than Jerusalem. Jerusalem becomes heaven itself.

Part 2
The New Jerusalem

John the Divine from his own exile in Patmos, sees or fore-sees the New Jerusalem:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” -Revelation 21:2-5

As the New Jerusalem descends, does the blessing settle like ash over the dwellings and lives of earth’s inhabitants? Or does the hovering New Jerusalem draw out the latent holiness already present but not fully realized in her prospective inhabitants?

Noah's Ark with towers - the church? Jerusalem? c.1400-1500

Noah’s Ark with towers – the church? Jerusalem? c.1400-1500

Many would have the New Jerusalem descend like a spaceship, taking only the ‘righteous,’ that is, the homogeneous likeness of any given group claiming the New Jerusalem as theirs alone, leaving a despoiled Earth behind. Who will be saved in this Noah’s Ark of exclusivity? Is the New Jerusalem a closed community with golden pavement defended by twelve pearl gates? This vision, like poor Noah, is foolish and flawed. Commentators lament ever afterward that while God waited for Noah to beg for mercy for his neighbors, Noah simply built the ark and saved himself. But after the ordeal, Noah planted vineyards and got drunk, not able to bear the guilt and shame of survival. [Zohar Hadash 22c-d, 23a, Midrash ha-Ne’elam]

Such an exclusive New Jerusalem dooms itself to inhabitants weighted with guilt, finding solace in drunkenness, and denial. Isn’t such a place actually hell?

If, instead, the vision of the New Jerusalem reflects the Gospel, the golden city is peopled with the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the possessed, eunuchs, widows, orphans, the insane, the unclean, the masses of broken-hearted people bearing caverns of loneliness. And, sinners- magnificent sinners and slight sinners. A whole Noah’s Ark of beasts of every kind. Plus, one would assume, the aforementioned ‘righteous.’

Is such a ship of fools foolish enough to float away without a plan for survival, a strategy for conservation of resources, an acknowledgment of mutual danger aboard this planet-boat? Such foolishness remind me of a famous joke:

A devout man fully trusted God would save him from any danger. When a flood surrounded his house he climbed out onto his roof waiting for God. A neighbor came by with a rowboat, but the man refused to be rescued, waiting for God. Next, the coast guard arrived, ordering him to come aboard, but the man refused again. A police helicopter came and dropped a rope ladder but the man stubbornly clung to the roof waiting for God. Soon, the flood waters swallowed his house and the man drowned. In heaven, the man met his Maker. “Why did you let me drown?” accused the man, “I trusted you to save me!” “What are you talking about?” said God. “I sent two boats and a helicopter!”

Waiting for New Jerusalem to descend is like the foolish man on the roof refusing rescue. Here is an impasse like the line of thinking in the joke – waiting for God to save while God waits for you to take responsibility, or like Noah building the ark while God waits for him to make the case for his neighbors. Meanwhile we humans waste our resources hoping the New Jerusalem will descend before we wreck the place, treating this holy planet like a carelessly broken toy which Papa will replace if we whine hard enough. As resilient as Earth is, she is still unique and vulnerable. What if this beautiful planet IS the New Jerusalem?

Earth has born and thus has to bear the ultimate ship of fools – humanity. Will we take responsibility? Poor Earth, she carries within herself the seeds of her own destruction. O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, she laments, How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!


Whore of the Mundane (2)

February 11, 2013

Please See
Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Lent 1 (year C), February 17, 2012
“until an opportune time”

 The following is the blog for Lent 1 re-posted from last year.  It’s inspired by a quote from Karl Rahner which can be found below.

It’s a good thing that in meditation it’s important to gently bring yourself back to the Beloved, “without judgment or recrimination.” For one as passionate as I think I am, the humbling fact that the time I set aside solely for Divine Love fills up with mundane trivialities, makes me laugh at myself day after day. I usually end meditation with another cluster of laughs, saying aloud, “I REALLY DO love you, you know!”

David Roberts, St. Katherine's from the plain, detail

David Roberts, St. Katherine’s from the plain, detail

So goes my daily dose of desert.

After escaping from Egypt and before entering the land of their ancestors, the people of Israel sojourned in the desert for forty years. Here, once again, they became God’s people. Centuries later, Israel looked back at that time poetically as a honeymoon:

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. … And there she hall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. And in that day, says the Lord, you will call me ‘My husband.’ …And I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord. Hosea2:14, 15b-16a, 19-20

I’m like Hosea’s prostitute wife, Gomer, in my meditation. From time to time it’s interesting to watch the sort of thoughts I try to let go of. All of them trivial, silly, non-sequiturs. Not even a profound idea here or a poetic phrase there that I’d want to cling to if one should come up. I’m a whore to the mundane. Nevertheless, may God reckon my distractions to me as righteousness!

It’s comforting to read the book of Exodus. The forty years in the wilderness was anything but a honeymoon. But I know from decades of serious praying that the experience of Presence is often perceived in retrospect and not in the moment. Perhaps, someday, I’ll look upon this Lent as a turning point; an intimate dedication to “the one thing necessary.” In the meantime, I’ll keep praying, meditation, and probably laughing.

Here’s the Rahner quote:

Therefore Jesus goes into the desert, therefore he fasts; therefore he leaves behind everything else that a man needs even for bare existence, so that for this once not just in the depths of his heart bu in the whole range of his being he can do and say what is the first and last duty of humankind – to find God, to see God, to belong to God to the exclusion of everything else that makes up human life. And therefore he fasts. Therefore through this cruelly hard act, this denial of all comfort, this refusal of food and drink, through the solitude and abandonment of the desert, through everything else that involves a rejection, a self-denial of the world and all earthly company, through all these he proclaims this fact: one thing only is necessary, that I be with God, that I find God, and everything else, no matter how great or beautiful, is secondary and subordinate and must be sacrificed, if needs be, to this ultimate movement of heart and spirit.

-Karl Rahner 1904-1984
The Great Church Year

Transfigured Soul at Dusk

February 4, 2013

Please see:
Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Last Sunday of Epiphany, year C
“ineffable light, dark path”

…with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart. This
guided me more surely than the light of noon… *

detail, Vase of Flowers, Francisco Sierra Perez, c.1690

detail, Vase of Flowers, Francisco Sierra Perez, c.1690

I love white flowers. Most of the time I’d rather arrange an all white bouquet than gather together a diverse palette of vibrant color. When we lived in Highland, NY, I even turned our backyard into a white garden. At dusk, white flowers holding the day’s sunlight, transfigure. Long past darkness, the petals glow from within.

From time to time the soul gathers Tabor light. Then, in distressing times of of life and in dark nights of the spirit, it is a remarkable thing to see your own soul transfigure with this hidden light absorbed unknowingly. You might never know this transfiguration if your journey had not brought you into darkness.


* John of the Cross
  excerpt from The Dark Night

Edge of the Cliff – Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt by Richard Holloway

January 27, 2013

Please see
Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Epiphany 4 (year c), February 3, 2013
“Becoming ‘you’ ”

Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt
Richard Holloway

It takes only seven verses for Jesus to go from “gracious” to getting himself nearly hurled off a cliff. From ultimate insider – “Is not this Joseph’s son?” to “all in the synagogue were filled with rage,” Jesus pushes on truths beyond the comfort of the righteous. Jesus, now ultimate outsider, exits stealthily.

Because I read Richard Holloway’s memoir with this week’s Gospel hanging in the air, I could not help comparing this passage with Holloway’s fearless push toward seeking truth within himself and institutional religion. When the church dragged him to the edge of the cliff, I was right with him.

1HollowayHaving fallen in love with God at the age of 14, Holloway served the Anglican/Episcopal church in Accra, the Edinburgh slums, Boston, Oxford, and then back in Scotland. He is a priest, then bishop, then primus. His memoir shows how this ultimate insider becomes ultimate outsider.

Throughout, Holloway offers readers a deep sense of place, and within those places, his own awareness of “a presence at once given and denied.” He loves God through serving others but he becomes more and more awakened to the institution of the church as a benign perpetrator of repression if not engaged in outright harm. He’s onto the arrogance of arguments from tradition and infallibility, from ‘knowing’ the mind of God. He calls the church out on its magical thinking against women and homosexuals, covering up deeper issues to do with dominance and power. He watches with horror the way two Lambeth Conferences unfold. He symbolically throws a (biodegradable) miter into the Thames.

Because of the way we wield God to stress the rightness of our opinions and justify injustice, Holloway suggests in a 1999 book, Godless Morality, that we’re better off taking God out of ethical arguments. This is the point when the church wants to throw him off the cliff. He resigns in 2000. To me, he’s Job after the whirlwind: no longer righteous but loving life for what it is, not what he thinks God thinks it should be.

Throughout my reading I laughed. I gasped. I copied quotes. I ran to Bill a dozen times to read aloud passages delightfully crafted, honest, and beautifully shocking. I feel liberated. I want everyone – in church and out of church – to read it. I’ve never seen so clearly where we are. Or where I am.


On Not Clinging to the Light

January 21, 2013

Please see:
Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Epiphany 3 (year C), January 27, 2013
“The Light of the Spirit’s Initiation”

There is no radiance greater than the light
of the spirit’s initiation;
no wisdom on earth possesses comparable power.
It cannot be measured on the scales
against pearls or precious gems;
no priceless thing can be compared to it;
nothing approaches its inner beauty;
all other beautiful things fail in comparison.
It is more desirable than anything on earth,
and its beauty can even lead the world
captive in desire,
seducing angels and humans alike.

-Narsai of Edessa *

How many [insert your denomination/ parish/ organization/ or your own name HERE] does it take to change a light bulb? Five. One to change it, and four to stand around talking about how much better the old one was.


David praying, French Miniaturist, Bible of Haidenburg, 1300-20

One temptation of a life of prayer is to enshrine the “soul’s initiation.” Instead of realizing the experience of conversion nudges you into the long, deep, wide journey of the soul, you want to access that one energy over and over like grabbing brass rings on a carousel. So you go in circles instead of moving forward. And you wonder why God has “abandoned” you! The Spirit has moved on, waiting for you to move on, too. (I go before you to prepare a place for you… so that where I am, you may be also. -John 14:2-3)

Church folks cling to decaying buildings, the arrangement of pews bolted to the floor, even broken metal chairs rusting in the parish hall closet. So it is with the soul. How much spiritual debris can I cling to? What do I want with those rusty chairs and brass rings?

A spiritual experience can gain clarity in retrospect. Time offers a perspective that reveals the miraculous behind the mundane in the moment. Israel wakens to the luminous holy time in the desert generations after the actual event. Gratitude sanctifies memory. But, after all, Israel left Mount Sinai and entered Canaan. God says to David,”DON’T build me a house!” (In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have not not built me a house of cedar? -2 Sam7:7)

One of the functions of the season of Epiphany is to push the initiate onward toward Lent – the next place of purgation, a cleansing ‘night of the soul’. Lent purifies the initiate for the Easter mysteries – requiring careful preparation. The Easter mysteries unfold the reason why we are initiates in the first place. The initiate must leave this light and into the next darkness to enter the next and purer light.

So let’s GO. We can help each other on the journey toward New Life and union with the Beloved.

God is always coming to you the the Sacrament of the Present Moment. Meet and receive Him there with gratitude in that sacrament. – Evelyn Underhill.

 * -Narsai of Edessa ca.399-ca.502 from The Book of Mystical Chapters translated and introduced by John Anthony McGuckin

Jesus Loses his Groove

January 14, 2013

Please See
Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Epiphany 2 (year C), January 20, 2012
“To Possess and to Impart”

detail, The Marriage at Cana, Jan Jornelisz Vermeyen, c.1530

detail, The Marriage at Cana, Jan Jornelisz Vermeyen, c.1530

I would have loved to see Jesus dance at the wedding at Cana. What kind of dancer was he? When he danced in a circle with other men – like Israelis or Greeks do now – did he stand out? Could he leap higher, turn in mid-air, plunge lower, spin to the left and to the right more radiantly than the other guys?

Or, was he a bit off, not jiving with the music, never hitting the groove. Oh, that Jesus, he’s a good storyteller all right, but dancing? Ehhh… not so much. Even though in the beginning, before the world began, dancing to the music of the spheres, he could leap like a man on the moon. Once the Word was made flesh, his rhythm choked. Jesus was ‘Tempted in every way as we are but did not sin’, but nevertheless he didn’t inherit the dancing gene from his ancestor David, who was brilliant, both as a sinner and dancer.

“Your boy needs to loosen up,” an observant matron with nothing better to do says to Mary. “Give him some more wine.” Mary checks on the wine. A little awkward with social skills herself, she brings the problem not to her host but to her son.

But he’s just finally found his groove, his eyes rolled back up into his head. She taps him on the shoulder. He complains, “What’s the wine situation got to do with you or me? Get thee behind me, Woman, I’m dancing.” But the interruption breaks his mojo and he’s all left feet among the circle of dazzling men practicing their manly arts.

Being a little tipsy himself, his rhythm off, he does what it’s not yet time to do. This is no party trick. Once again, he’ll have to get out of town fast. He attracted attention at Cana, but also some thirsty disciples.

Over the Face of the Waters

January 7, 2013

See This Week’s
Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Epiphany 1 (year c), January 13, 2013
“I felt the current take me”

detail, the Baptism of Jesus, Tintoretto, 1579-81

detail, the Baptism of Jesus, Tintoretto, 1579-81

Here I am, back at the Jordan. I was here in Advent — lost, clutching at straws, impressed by a mere reed shaken by the wind, broken and empty. I met a prophet in the desert. Turn toward the Holy One, he said. Repent. Accept the forgiveness of your sins and begin a new way. Come to the River, he said. Prepare the way of the Lord, he said.

And now, in Epiphany, at that same river, the prophet baptizes the One who was, who is, who is to come.  This One, this man, is manifested in absolute ordinariness. Is this the Good News he speaks of? Utter ordinariness? The sacred unfolding in the mundane? Can hope live in my broken life, raw-fleshed with loss?

A Voice hovers over the face of the waters. As if the man in the river must be reassured of this hope also. Beloved. You are my Beloved. What losses await this One manifested so fully in the human condition?

Let me hear the Voice above the waters whispering ‘Beloved’. Baptize me into your unseen hope. Call me to go with you into sacred spheres of ordinariness. Heal my poisoned flesh, my diseased soul.

Where are you staying?

Come and see


Any Day

December 31, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Epiphany Day, January 6, 2012
“mine and thine”

detail from Magi, Ferrari

detail from Magi, Ferrari

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. -Matthew 2:9-11

Just as the shepherds represent my instinctual self, the magi represent my reason. I’m much stronger in reason than instinct.

I understand the Magi occupying themselves with maps and charts and esoteric scrolls and interpreting books and cyphers and symbols. Unlike the shepherds who saw the sky dissolve right over them,  the magi prepared themselves like athletes for the moment of grace. It’s a wonder they ever looked up from their desks to catch the Star blazing from the heavens.

But they did. And they prepared for every hardship of the journey across deserts, mountains, and plains, for the occasional caravansary or watering site, for weakness, fatigue, boredom, and hardness of heart. It takes a wise person to know enough to go the distance, pace by pace, keeping perspective.

While I need to learn what the shepherds have to teach me about being present to the moment, I cultivate the friendship of the Magi, too, because their wisdom and poise can guide me through many an unlikely landscape toward my destination. I don’t need to wait for the sky to open in front of me. On any day, I can wake up and journey toward God.