Archive for the ‘Epiphany Season’ Category

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.


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


Lingering in the Light

February 13, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Last Epiphany, The Transfiguration, February 19, 2012
“the soul becomes all eye”


Brueghel, Temptation of St. Anthony, detail

I love Epiphany, the season of befriending the Light. I love the liminal days between the Transfiguration and Ash Wednesday. I can linger on the mountain as the light fades. Soon, too soon, I have to confront those grayish shapeless lumps in my character that obscure the Light from radiating throughout my soul. In Lent I must tend to the lumps.

An Orthodox teaching posits that hell consists of the unmitigated Light of God, like heaven. However, the torment of hell involves the slow burning of all that ego residue, unrepented sins, unformed lumps of deficient character, unresolved conflicts clung to in life. So the lumps of sin-stuff burn in the Uncreated Light of Presence.

Wednesday I’ve got to get to work on my heavy gray lumpish sins and wickedness, things done and left undone, the devices and desires of my own heart.* But lingering in this Tabor light, just for these few days, the last of Epiphany, reminds me why I need and want to work so hard in my Lenten repenting.

Lingering in light,

*phrases from the wonderful penitential resources of The Book of Common Prayer

“If you choose…”

February 6, 2012

see Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
For Epiphany 6 (year A), February 12, 2012
“two outlaws”

detail, Jesus heals the leper, Unknown Illustrator of Petrus Comestor's Bible Historiale, 1372

The leper kneels.
Don’t let that fool you.
This story is not about a humble man asking sweet Jesus for healing.
The leper is not humble and Jesus is not sweet.
Jesus is angry and speechless.

This leper is more like a Zen master.
Or, a relentless political revolutionary.
In any case, he shatters Jesus’ composure to the core.

The man says,
“If you choose, you can heal me.”
But if Jesus does, he will set in motion a series of events he will not be able to control.
And we’re only in the first chaper of the Gospel of Mark.

But Jesus chooses.

…in my weakness

January 30, 2012

see Soulwork Toward Sunday: self -guided retreat
Epiphany 5 (year B)
“she rises and serves”

Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law, Byzantine mosaic, Chora Museum, Turkey

…but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  -2 Corinthians 12:9

It is in my weakness that God finds me and transforms me. Perhaps because in weakness I’m vulnerable enough to make room for God. Life is beautiful and exciting and interesting and I’m ambitious and curious and reckless.* But every tragedy I’ve survived (I haven’t survived them all, parts of me lie dead with grief, no resurrection stirring yet)  – every tragedy has given me a gift.

God didn’t cause my griefs. I caused most of them,  co-created them, and naively set myself up for them. Some griefs come simply with the aching beauty of life and some from genetic randomness.  God didn’t cause Peter’s mother-in-law’s illness. My guess is that she was up a bunch of nights with a passel of Peter’s sick children (HE wasn’t around to help, obviously) compromising her immune system. Or maybe something serious settled into her bones.

But something more than healing occurs when Jesus “grasps” her. The word used is the same as the word for Jesus’ resurrection – he “raises her up”. She embodies the Easter mystery of resurrection and the Pentecost mystery of apostleship – of service. Her home, 2,000 years later, is the site of documented healings. She’s a mother of the church. A deacon. A template of holiness.

Had she not been sick, she probably would have served Peter’s friends in any case. But the transformation makes her a full participant in Jesus’ ministry and ongoing mystery of the church. Her weakness becomes her strength, just as my weaknesses continue to create a meeting place for my recurringly impoverished soul and infinite, Divine Love.

* I don’t think any of my friends would call me “reckless”, exactly. But in retrospect I think some of the most “sane,” “expected,”and conventional decisions I’ve made in my life have been rather reckless, quite honestly.

Empathy for the demons…

January 23, 2012

see Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Epiphany 4 (year B) January 29, 2012
“authority and authenticity”

The Temptation of St. Anthony, Mathias Grunewald, 1515, detail

I’ve always felt sorry for the demons in these stories. In Sunday’s Gospel, this demon realizes his danger. “Have you come to destroy us?” The demon recognizes Jesus. “I know who you are, Holy One of God.” Both these traits endear me to the demon. After all, no one else seems to recognize so clearly the danger inherent in letting Jesus, the Light, into their lives. And nobody else recognizes him as the Holy One of God.

But I couldn’t let myself fully understand why I felt sorry for the demons until I found this passage in The Divine Names by Pseudo-Dionysius.

And as for the demons, the Good is their source and the fact of their existence is itself good.  They are evil insofar as they have fallen away from the virtues proper to them.  They have changed in the domain of what was permanent in them.  A weakness has appeared in the angelic perfection suitable to them.   They too desire the Good, at least to the extent that they have a wish for existence, for life, and for understanding, and their desire for what has no being is proportionate to their lack of desire for the Good. Indeed this latter is not so much a desire as sin against real desire.

I appreciate the demons because their dilemma is so like mine. All my life I’ve been trying to desire the Good even beyond the “wish for existence, for life, and for understanding.” But I, too, have fallen from the virtues proper to me.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I’ve spent the last few months with an altered routine to make room for meditation, yoga, rest, healing massage, and alternative medicine treatments. I suppose I’m trying to change my brain, my priorities, my ways of thinking, my very “domain.”

“A cage went in search of a bird,” wrote Franz Kafka in his diaries. It’s time for the cage to move on.


Avoiding The Call

January 16, 2012

see Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Epiphany 3 (year B), January 22, 2012
“The Call”

The Entombment of Jonah, Franco-Flemish Illumination, detail











When I was twenty-two, when The Call was new and fearsome, I felt overwhelmed by those famous and simultaneous qualities of attraction (mysterium fascinans) and repulsion (mysterium tremendum) so many people experience. I thought at the time that a threshold appeared before me, and I knew eventually I’d go through, but for now, I fought against that inevitable surrender. A cartoonish image came to mind, a Warner Brothers kind of character – except rather than Wile E. Coyote or Sylvester – it was me comically straddling the door jamb, resisting being sucked into what seemed a featureless, infinite, foggy, nothingness whirlwind beyond.

That was The Call for me – inevitable, but unknown, and, of course, beyond my control.

Finally, exhausted, somehow I took the step, or slid through, or, fell asleep and woke up on the other side.

You’d think that after forty years, faith would get easier. But I still struggle intellectually and morally and spiritually. I resist every threshold of widening consciousness, opportunities to grow and to love and to grow in love. I question, doubt, grumble, guffaw, choke on my pride, revel maniacally in distractions and exhaust myself with avoidance of Divine Presence.

Nevertheless, The Call is renewed every day, and I’ve learned to respond in some way. And all I want is the very thing I resist, that is, to surrender in love.