Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Foolish Love

November 5, 2012

Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 27 (year B), November 11, 2012
“The Widow in the Temple”

detail, Old Woman Dozing, Nicholas Maes, 1656

I know it’s too easy to get angry with the widow for giving her money to the Temple. But I always get angry anyway. The Temple was corrupt. Surely she knew this. What did those pennies matter to the Temple anyway?

Where did she get the pennies? Does someone give them to her so that she might take care of herself, however temporarily? Does someone give her the pennies to help relieve the burden of similarly struggling relatives or neighbors who can’t afford to add the concern for her health, her food, her shelter to their own impoverishment?

Does she find the pennies? If so, maybe she reasons that God gave her the pennies. So, in her holy fool sense of irony, she gives God the pennies in order to let God know she knows God gave them to her. “Here, take these ! I found you out! These are yours!” The pennies are love-tokens.

The old widow trusts in God. The old widow loves God. Jesus, a holy fool himself, understands this foolish love. In the economy of the sacred this love is reckoned to her as righteousness.


To whom can I go?

August 20, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 16 (year B), August 26, 2012
“to whom can we go?”

“How long will you go limping with two different opinions?” Elijah asks the crowd on Mount Carmel. Maybe he even hopped around in a circle to illustrate how an uneven loyalty brings you nowhere but back to where you started from.

“If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. I suppose they were waiting for a spectacular outcome. They got one.

But first Jezebel’s 450 prophets of Baal prayed as “they limped around the altar they had made.” At noon Elijah mocked them. “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is musing, or he has gone aside, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” One of the sharpest satires on paganism ever penned. He has gone aside is probably a euphemism for attending to natural needs, says the footnote in my Oxford Annotated Bible.

And now in a gesture of prophetic showmanship Elijah pours so much water on his bull and altar that it runs into the trenches around the sacrifice. Yahweh zaps the soaked offering. And the 450 prophets of Baal who eat at the table of Jezebel must die.

detail from Scenes rom the Life of the Prophet Elijah, Jorg Ratgeb, 1517

Jezebel’s soldiers chase Elijah into the desert where, alone, he complains to God that “I, even I only, am left” to help the people turn their hearts again to God. And gives up.

I love this story. I love Elijah, the dejected, lonely prophet curling up under a broom shrub to die of despair. I love the practical angel who brings him a pancake and a jar of water and says without a hint of condescension, “You have to eat for the journey to the mountain of God.” I love that Elijah gets up and continues his journey forty days and nights to Horeb and squeezes himself into the very cleft of the rock where, in midrashic tradition, Moses saw the backside of God. (Exodus 33:17-23).

And I love that Elijah did not hear God in the wind breaking the rocks in pieces, nor in the earthquake and fire. But Elijah perceived the Divine Presence in a silence so profound it was like gauze touched by the most gentle breeze.

I love that God is revealed in silence. Silence has carried me these 39 years of my desert journey. Silence. The beginning, the ending, the middle, the center, the perimeter and beyond the perimeter – silence within, silence without when I rise, when I sleep. Deeper and deeper silence. Deeper and deeper love in darkness. Where can I go then from your Presence? (Psalm 139).

To whom else can I go?

June 25, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 8 (year B) July 1, 2012
“reaching and touching”

How is it that each time I am healed (and in the overall ongoing process of healing) a spiritual gift seems imminent? I don’t believe that illness is “caused” by some defect in character or sin or is inflicted upon you for some message you’re supposed to get. But I can’t help noticing the spiritual component that comes with healing. Maybe because I’m trained to watch for the movement of the spirit I see grace mending the emotional chasm left by illness. Maybe it’s because I consciously practice gratitude, which is like wearing a pair of corrective glasses (and not rose-colored ones, in case that’s what you’re thinking. Gratitude, a subtle and sometimes painful and exacting teacher, pries opens consciousness. Try it.)

But maybe I’m attuned to the gift that comes with healing because each time I’ve been healed I have received a gift, and the more horrible the trauma, the greater the gift. I’m almost afraid to write this, as if it is some dangerous, cosmic secret.

A woman holding her child for the first time after the horror of childbirth knows this cosmic secret. That pain brought forth this love.

The older woman with the hemorrhage is untouchable in her culture because of her flow of blood. The girl dies before she’s fertile. The woman reaches for Jesus and is healed. Jesus touches the girl and wakes her from mortal sleep. Isolated by their illness, Jesus now joins them to their loved ones. Jesus not only heals but restores the two women in the Gospel story to the ability to bring forth life themselves.

A healing occurs within my healing. Creative and generative, I am my old self with new grace infused where pain once hollowed me out. Like that dangerous and cosmic secret, the crucifixion, that pain brought forth this love.


The Late Laborer

September 12, 2011

See Proper 20 (year A)
The Edge of the Enclosure

I began: “Peter was a low-down, goddamn, son-of-a-bitch.”
The congregation sucked all the air out the church. Then, a titter. Then a breath of relief. Then laughter.

I was telling the truth.

“Peter said, ‘You’ll get me into that church over my dead body!’ Well, we had a nice party in the narthex last night around your coffin, Peter! And we laughed a lot!” Thus began the funeral homily for Peter.

Peter was so mean he was lovable.

When I first met him, he was smashing a low brick wall in front of the cottage he shared with his wife Sheila. “Oh, he knocks it down and then he builds it up. It’s how he deals with his anger,” said Sheila.

Peter and Sheila had AIDS.

The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, Johann Christian Brand, 1769, detail

One of the several times we thought he was dying, Peter rallied enough to chase away the priest Sheila had summoned. But I often came to sit with him, although I knew enough not to pray with him.  Once, when I thought he was unconscious, Peter suddenly responded to a TV news report highlighting Joey Buttafuoco, the lover of ‘Long Island Lolita’ Amy Fisher. Grasping his oxygen mask and tearing it off his face Peter barked, “That guy’s full of shit!” then replaced the mask and went out cold.

Peter and Sheila fought often. But Sheila counted out his pills, never-mind that Peter often stole and abused them. He was a drug addict, after-all. He was angry with the world. Angry that he was dying. Angry with everyone. He was a genius at anger. And swearing.

But Peter got to see heaven. One day, the space beyond the television, beyond the wall and ceiling, opened into a billowing heaven. He saw dead relatives. He saw angels.  Peter described in detail to his family what he was seeing. In the next death crises, Peter allowed the priest he’d previously thrown out to hear his confession. And Peter died in peace, having seen heaven in the eleventh hour.

Some of us, who’ve worked in the vineyard of the Lord all our lives, have never seen heaven. Not once.

So Sheila and I chose the parable of the workers in the vineyard for Peter’s funeral.

… ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” -Matthew 20:12-16

This parable is now one of my favorite, hopeful, and most necessary of stories.

thought experiment

August 29, 2011

see Proper 18 (year A)
“what you bind on earth”

Contemplating the war in heaven

I sometimes wonder if heaven, if there is a heaven, is created by our consciousness, our actions, our love, our self-sacrifice. “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Our polluted, exploited earth begets a barren, poisoned heaven. Our humility and awe and cooperation with nature creates our paradise. Our war-making or peace-making here determines the state of being there. Our exclusion excludes us and our inclusion includes us all. If so, our actions, cooperation, sacrifices, and love binds and loosens consequences more far-reaching and vital than imagined. Even the smallest moral victories and heroics of daily life may link each of us to the unfolding plane of consciousness, unleashing forces of good and evil.

So here’s a Thought Experiment: Imagine what it means to co-create heaven as part of earth-consciousness. How do you contribute day by day to the great evolution of the sphere of heaven unfolding beyond time?


Apocalypse, Unknown Weaver, French, c.1380

Who do you say that I am?

August 15, 2011

See The Edge of the Enclosure
Proper 16 A

keys of the kingdom in a letter S, Lorenzo Monaco, 1395-98, detail

San Antonio, Texas
Mid- 1970’s.

I raged. I paced. I muttered under my breath and aloud. I sat in the back pew of church with a dark cloud over my head. I left. I came back. I muttered some more.

What kind of a Christian can’t fit Christ into the landscape? I had no problem with Jesus, the rabbi, walking “the dusty roads of Galilee.” But after the crucifixion? Resurrection appearances, ascension, the Christ of the Church, the Cosmic Christ? No. I don’t think so.

And yet. And yet. Something drew me to Christianity. To church. To community. To prayer, now getting quite intense. To study – already closing in on a masters degree in spirituality after two M. Div programs I didn’t finish because of moving and motherhood.

I met the Divine Presence in solitude and silence. In dark, loving, holy nothingness. Without words, images, agenda.

I stole those moments. I used to pray after dropping the children off at day care and the church nursery school. I had, say, twenty minutes to meditate in silence in the sanctuary before taking off to the north side of San Antonio to go to class.

But once, a set of words floated up from deep inside.

“Who do you say that I am?”

I knew the answer.

You are the Christ.

falling into the old grooves

August 1, 2011

See Proper 14 (year A)
fear not, you are mine

detail, La Navicella, Giotto, 1305-13

I’ve probably mentioned this before, how, so often in Bible study, one of us will say, “I’ve had this insight before, but I keep forgetting it!” “I keep having to learn this lesson over and over.” “Long time, same thing.” Why can’t I hold onto an insight, a life lesson, a revelation? What makes me fall back into the old unconscious groove?

On the other hand, Peter’s impulse to walk on water is a line of thought I can’t imagine even once. The disciples see Jesus coming across the wind-stirred waters. Terrified, they think the figure coming toward them on the water is a ghost! Recognizing Jesus, the terror intensifies. Jesus calls, “Fear not, it is I!” (Ego eimi, I AM.) Surely, the divine implication still more terrifying. 

Peter blurts out, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water!”

WHAT??? What put that into his head? Did the others think to themselves, Oh, I’d like to try that! Yeah Lord, call ME out on the water too! What made Peter think he could walk to Jesus across the water? If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.  And if it isn’t you, if you’re the devil, uh…I’ll just drown!?

“So come on out,” says Jesus. Peter’s impulses far ahead of his rational mind, he goes out and walks across the water. Then his brain catches up. Distracted, he loses … what? Concentration? Faith? Trust? Crazy-making adrenaline?  The wind frightens him, he’s gets back in the old groove, and down he goes.

Peter shouts for help.

Jesus response is often described as a rebuke but it doesn’t seem like that at all to me. Playfully, Jesus compliments Peter, “Why did you doubt, ye of little faith? You HAD it !” Like a parent teaching a child to ride a two-wheel bicycle, you let go and the child sails off in perfect balance. But in a moment of self-consciousness, he falters and falls. The parent calls out, “You did it! You were doing it! You can do it!” I remember those milestones of praise and encouragement, wonder, pride, and celebration – even the bandages and ice pack over well-earned wounds. And, not long after, the child forgets ever learning to ride the bike as he and his friends ride off at dizzying speeds to explore a much-expanded world.

(I wonder why Jesus didn’t insist that Peter get back on the water right away to try one more time?)

Jesus meets Peter’s panic with an outstretched arm and the gentle encouragement of a loving parent. Look! You transcended the deep. You see, your faith can move mountains! Why did you doubt?

Indeed. Why do you doubt? Especially when you’ve already walked on water?