Archive for the ‘Advent’ Category

Full of Grace

December 17, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Advent 4 (year c), December 23, 2012
“Prepare Him Room”

Mercy, photo by Patrick J. Paglen

Mercy, photo by Patrick J. Paglen

Something happens when I visit the cows that makes me think of the Visitation (Luke 1:39-55). Early in her pregnancy, Mary travels to the hill country of Judah to see her cousin Elizabeth. The Angel Gabriel had told Mary that Elizabeth in her old age had also conceived a child. As the two women approach one another, Elizabeth’s son leaps in her womb. The future John the Baptist recognizes womb to womb One Who is to Come: the Christ.

And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

It is at this moment that Mary, in a state of ecstasy, improvises that great subversive hymn of praise, the Magnificat.

The moment of the womens’ greeting is portrayed movingly in art and literature. But lately, the Visitation comes to mind when I greet the cows.

I’m not involved with the care of the cows. I’ve never milked them. I’ve never given them hay or treats. I only bottle-fed Mercy once. I don’t even visit them every day. And yet, Silmarill, Jiffy, and Mercy respond to my visits with full attention. I feel a connection that evokes a strong sense of Presence that reminds me of deep prayer. An interior shift happens when I am with them that moves the same part of the soul that quickens in meditation. We recognize one another.

Recognition implies a knowing, an acknowledging, a perceiving of truth. What truth emotes from those huge, warm, graceful creatures that fills me with a sense of calm and connection? What sacred thread unites us in that silent and tender mutual acknowledgment? What do we know together that makes me feel at one with them in so short a time?

The answer is probably as complex as the milky way and as simple as prayer. No matter. Something in me leaps for joy, and I leave the pasture full of grace, as the cows return to grazing.

Here is the link to an article I wrote an article about Sister Carol Bernice and the cows for Christian Century earlier this fall.


Brood of Vipers

December 10, 2012

Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Advent 3 (year c), December 16, 2012
“What must I do?”

Ax laid to the root of the tree, detail of the Baptism of Christ, Unknown Illustrator of Petrus Comestor's Bible Historiale, 1372

Ax laid to the root of the tree, detail of the Baptism of Christ, Unknown Illustrator of Petrus Comestor’s Bible Historiale, 1372

John the Baptist says to the shallow and cynical side of my soul, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruits worthy of repentance… Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  (Luke 3:7b-9)

John the Baptist speaks forcefully to my unconscious collusion with the oppressive powers of my culture and society and our collective and my personal degradation of the environment. I can’t ignore that I live a certain life style at the expense of exploited people around the world who I do not see, who receive our garbage, our toxic waste, who supply us with cheap goods and services, working in slave conditions. I’m implicated in the powers that promote consumerism, monoculture, and unending short term gratification at the expense of earth and peoples and generations to come and even life itself.

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” (3:10)

But John speaks gently to the humble, even the most hated inhabitants of his country. The sinners, including tax collectors and soldiers who nervously listen to John’s condemnation of the hypocrites, ask, What should I do? To tax collectors he says, “Don’t cheat.” To soldiers he says, “Don’t bully.” (Luke 3:10-14). To me, he says, “Just try.”

He invites me, and the tax collectors and soldiers and sinners to the Jordan for a ritual cleansing. He says,The One who is Coming, who is mightier than I, whose sandal I’m not worthy to stoop down and untie, will call you to leave your tax collector’s booth, he will forgive you as you pound his flesh into the wood of the cross, he will baptize you with fire.

Repent. Begin again. Do what you can. Now.

Vulnerability in the Soul’s Desert

December 3, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Advent 2 (year c), December 9, 2012
“How Long?”

The following is an excerpt from the text “A Geography of Grace” a slide show of the Christian Year, a new retreat I developed this past summer. If you are interested in my giving this retreat to your parish or organization contact me –

Advent II (excerpt)

El Greco, 1577-79

El Greco, 1577-79

The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Luke 3:2b-4

Having entered the Portal of the Last Judgment,

rather than finding myself the narthex of a great cathedral,

my Soul finds herself in a desert wilderness –

a dangerous place, a place of spirits, wild beasts and demons,

of hardship, of testing.


Master of the Life of John the Baptist, 1330-40

Master of the Life of John the Baptist, 1330-40

A place I am utterly vulnerable, like a child.

I come here, away from distractions of my life,

to come to know myself at the core.

I am not alone.

John the Baptist, in a parallel to the mythic hero’s journey,

is the threshold guardian here.

Clothed in camel’s hair, living on “locusts and wild honey”

John lives on whatever the wilderness provides for him.

Carravaggio, 1607-08

Carravaggio, 1607-08

He is utterly vulnerable, dependent upon God.

In this I want to be like him, in his humility, his trust in God.

The desert is a landscape I need to get used to

and learn to love

and come back to again and again.

Here I learn to avoid distraction,

learn to begin the process of continual conversion toward God.

Domenico Veneziano, c.1445

Domenico Veneziano, c.1445

Here I confront those things that get in the way of my loving God,

and God’s love for me. 


My Deepest Fears

November 26, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Advent 1 (year C), December 2, 2012
“The Portal” 


detail, Russian Icon, Novgorod School

And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Luke 21:25

Why does the new year begin with dread, darkness, portents in the sky: the sun darkened, the moon obscured, stars falling, the heavens shaken? Why does the new year begin with the ultimate ending : the end of life, the end of the world, the end of time itself?

A beginner in faith might come to church on the first Sunday in Advent expecting to catch an early glimpse of the baby Jesus. Instead, the sky roils with doom, earthquakes shaking us until our bones rattle. Why begin the liturgical year with the end of everything?

Keep awake! says the Church on the First Sunday of Advent. The very warning cuts to the heart of my deepest, unnamed fear. This fear lurking at the edges of my being arises from my implicit worry about existence itself. If I exist, I can be annihilated. Dread is the twin sister of consciousness. As soon as I realize I am awake, I know that I can die.

Surely I can choose to wake just a little, and stay oblivious to larger questions of the puzzle of existence. Surely I can fill my life with distractions and glittery things and a thousand lesser worries, to keep that one great worry in the shadows behind the lesser ones. But the church asks me right from the first day to enter my dread, my fear of death, my existential anxiety.

On the first Sunday of Advent the church says, Look! Keep awake! Face your profoundest fear, and then, my Love, I have something wonderful to show you!

I was not particularly thrilled when I realized that I was on a Christian path forty years ago. But at least I knew from the beginning that the Church kindly acknowledged my deepest fears.


At the Heart of Apocalypse

November 19, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
The Reign of Christ (year B), November 25, 2012
“Drawn Toward the Kingdom”

detail, The Last Judgment, Giotto, 1306

The Sacred Cycle of the Church year ends with apocalypse in the last Sundays of Pentecost. And the sacred cycle of the Church year begins with apocalypse on the first Sunday of Advent. Between apocalypse and apocalypse is the Feast of the Reign of Christ.

To begin and end the year with apocalypse reveals a profound and loving psychology. Face your deepest fears, says the Church. Unless you undertake the journey through your deepest fears, the shadows of the things you depend upon, the questions of existence and annihilation, you won’t approach the Real at the heart of reality.

Apocalypse (apokalypsis), although associated with the sun darkening, the moon not giving its light, the stars falling, earthquakes, and fire and destruction, literally means “unveiling.” The lifting of the veil, opening the curtain. Revealing. Revelation. (Ah, but there are so many veils to cling to!)

At the heart of the apocalyptic season Jesus reigns from a cross. It is the end. It is the beginning. His death is the catastrophic end that begets new life. Jesus is the High Priest of the Temple. A temple not made with human hands but through the spaciousness of his own self-sacrifice. Through the curtain of his flesh, he opened a new and living way. (Hebrews 10:20)

On either side of this revelation of Christ enthroned, not in suffering, not in glory, but in the human heart, every person must undergo great upheaval. The Church helps us practice year by year for the unveiling of the Real at the heart of the heart.


More Spacious than the Heavens

December 12, 2011
see Post for Advent 4 (year B)
December 18, 2011
“find in us a mansion”This is a poem/prayer I wrote a few years ago while meditating on the icon The Virgin of the Sign, or Panagia, as it is also known.  The “sign” refers to Isaiah 7:14 – Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Emmanuel.  This type of icon is also called Platytera ton aouranon, or, “more spacious than the heavens.”

Platytera ton ouranon, Kiev School c. 1114, Our Lady of the Sign

She looks upon you,

She looks beyond you

She looks through your soul

and into the eternity

behind your soul.

But suddenly, she is a mirror

For you are looking at yourself



in your own

fragile flesh.

Portents in the Sky

November 21, 2011

See Advent 1, (Year B)
“watching and longing”

Angel unfolds the world to reveal the golden New Jerusalem, Giotto, The Last Judgement, 1306, detail

At the turn of the new year the church offers scenes of chaos: portents and signs in the heavens, roiling clouds, floods, hail, fire. The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken,  And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. (Mark 13:24-26)

The Church gives these apocalyptic warnings as a gift, to shake away complacency, to shock into second sight, to awake to the immediacy of salvation wrapped in breathtaking clouds of doom.  Watch therefore – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.  And what I say to you I say to all: Watch. (Mark 13:35-7)

The soul’s journey begins in apocalypse. Cataclysm dims the safe filters of ordinary sight to heighten the view of Reality.  Shock, fear, grief, courage, and then, perhaps, curiosity, opens the door to the mystical life. Once you pass through the threshold of doom, ultimately, you’ll awake to and recognize the beauty of holiness.


sheep and goat

November 14, 2011

see Proper 29 (year A)
“the least of these”

detail, The Garden of Eden, Jacopo Bassano, 1570-73

Recently, when the story of the Wise and Foolish Virgins came up in the lectionary, a friend said, “I don’t subscribe to that parable.” I laughed, because the whole spate of recent readings involving weeping, gnashing of teeth, binding hands and feet and tossing poor clueless folk into the outer darkness doesn’t at all sound like Jesus. Jesus sought the company of sinners, tax collectors and other exploiters and cheaters, prostitutes, women and children in general, contagious lepers and losers of all kinds. Would Jesus suddenly turn face at the moment of death?

Nevertheless, I like these doom parables because, like a dream, I see myself in all the characters. I’m both a wise and a foolish virgin, I’m the fellow with the five talents, the two talents, and the one burying the single talent.  I’m the crazy, irrational king that lost his mind over the guest without the wedding garment. I’m always throwing myself out into the outer darkness.

A good story moves the soul to action. I need the threat of the pit and gnashing of teeth to dislodge me from my usual mediocre moral groove. But I also know that the good shepherd leaves the other ninety-nine sheep to gather up the one little lost goat balancing on a crag at the edge of darkness.


please wait until I repent…

November 22, 2010

From Sunday’s Gospel Reading: Advent 1 (year A)

Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Matthew 24:42-44

Come, Lord Jesus, but let me repent first…My soul wallows in its long habit of sleep: of disregard, of thoughtlessness, heartlessness, a psychic hibernation against feeling and against knowing for fear of pain. My soul reclines, suspended in a torpor of uncaring, I’m not ready to greet either the horrors or wonders of the dawning of the Great Day. My body stands dumbly looking at the sky, but my soul lies dormant like a rodent deeply buried in its underground nest in darkest winter, far from my cold heart.

Come, Lord Jesus. But wait until I’m ready…wake me gently.

(How can I repent? Who will teach me to repent?) 

How conveniently the Church places a figure –  coming forth from the boundaries of my desert soul. What is this –  a shaken reed? A man dressed in fine clothes? Some fancy prophet?    Next week … John the Baptist.

In the meantime, if you havn’t read Yeats’ The Second Coming recently (or even since high school) it’s worth a look. But for the theme of the last trump in a more playful mode, enjoy Edith Sitwell’s Solo for Ear Trumpet.

Meanwhile, here at the farm the gardens have been put to bed. We’re entering into what one of the sisters call “dream time”. And we’ll be spending Thanksgiving Day with the sisters in the city at the NEW CONVENT !!!
– Have a deep and wakeful Advent.

The Second Coming
W.B.Yeats, 1919

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand;
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

 picture: detail of The Wise and Foolish Virgins, William Blake

Solo For Ear-Trumpet

The carriage brushes through the bright
Leaves (violent jets from life to light);
Strong polished speed is plunging, heaves
Between the showers of bright hot leaves
The window-glasses glaze our faces
And jar them to the very basis —
But they could never put a polish
Upon my manners or abolish
My most distinct disinclination
For calling on a rich relation!
In her house — (bulwark built between
The life man lives and visions seen) —
The sunlight hiccups white as chalk,
Grown drunk with emptiness of talk,
And silence hisses like a snake —
Invertebrate and rattling ache….
Then suddenly Eternity
Drowns all the houses like a sea
And down the street the Trump of Doom
Blares madly — shakes the drawing-room
Where raw-edged shadows sting forlorn
As dank dark nettles. Down the horn
Of her ear-trumpet I convey
The news that ‘It is Judgment Day!’
‘Speak louder: I don’t catch, my dear.’
I roared: ‘It is the Trump we hear!’
‘The What?’ ‘THE TRUMP!’ ‘I shall complain!
…. the boy-scouts practising again.’

Dame Edith Sitwell