Archive for the ‘OrdinaryTime’ Category

The Day is Approaching

November 12, 2012

Please See
Soulwork Toward Sunday : self-guided retreat
Proper 28 (year B), November 18, 2012
“Nothing Left But Love”

Detail from the Bamberg Apocalypse, The Fall of Babylon, c.1020

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”  -Mark 13:1-2

People on the East Coast of the United States have had a fore-taste of apocalypse recently. For many, the horror continues. Homes washed away or burned to the ground. Having to negotiate stairs in high rise buildings in complete darkness, no elevators, no heat. Hospitals evacuated – neonatal and ICU units with complicated equipment for each patient, the post-op patients getting themselves down flights of stairs, or the comatose, sick and immobile being slid gently down on plastic sleds. Back-up generators flooded, or run out of gas. No gas or oil. No deliveries. No sanitation pick-up. No credit card use and no ATM machines to get cash, no traffic lights, no public transportation, no food in the few markets that remain open. Cell phone and internet disrupted – so communication of distress is almost impossible. How very fragile our civilized life!

Stress brings out the best and worst of people. Heroes emerge from obscurity – wading through chest-high muck to ferry people to a waiting fire truck, or walking long distances to get to hardest hit areas to bring food, water, to clean up, to get prescriptions filled for the infirm. Occupy Wall Street dissidents use their organizing skills to become emergency care workers. Perfectly respectable people fight in gas lines and loot and cheat and hoard.

And thankfully governors and mayors publicly acknowledge that the infrastructure of our cities and shores have to be re-designed to accommodate climate change – waking up to an apocalypse of our own making. Will the rest of us rise to the challenge of the radical change in life-style required of us?

“Watch. You do not know the day or hour…”. The Day is approaching.


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.


The Alchemy of Suffering

October 15, 2012

See : Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 24 (year B) October 21, 2012
“Cup of Suffering”

Meal at Bethany, Unknown Illustrator of Petrus Comestor’s Bible Historiale, 1372

To be engaged with the world is to suffer. Even after the painful trauma of birth is over, a little child suffers the pains of the digestive system learning to manage itself, first teeth breaking slowly through the gums, the panic as mother incomprehensibly leaves the room even for a moment. In the best of economic and social circumstances, there is always sickness, tragedy, death, unexplainable twists of fate, love-sickness, home-sickness, hurtful disagreements, mental illness, the death of loved ones. Add poverty, war, natural disasters, political oppression, and brutality and you have life. How can I bear this suffering?

Christians, who ritually embrace the suffering of Christ and the world in worship can nevertheless devolve into Why did God do this to me? Why isn’t God answering my prayers? during a bout of suffering as if God is a personal necromancer and prayer a magical incantation.

By concentrating on the exclusively personal in this way I can avoid the questions pertaining to both theodicy and personal responsibility as a human being. If I wallow in Why did God do this to me? I don’t have to worry about someone half way around the world, or even down the street, for that matter.

But the moment my suffering meets your suffering, the moment our eyes meet, an alchemical change takes place. I am in you and you are in me. Suffering makes us one. Learning to suffer with you, I learn empathy for others I don’t know. Suffering opens my soul to love.

And when my suffering meets God’s suffering, we become one in that suffering, incarnate in the world, bearing this suffering for I-Know-Not-What. Christian practice helps me to trust living in the incomprehensible vortex of the cross. My suffering, your suffering, God’s suffering, bringing forth new life. How can I bear this joy?


Soul-devouring Poverty

October 8, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 23 (year B), October 14, 2012
“the rich young ruler”

For he had great possessions, George Frederic Watts, 1894

Poverty is no romance. Poverty makes you sick in body and spirit and psyche, and poverty eventually kills your soul. Even in my own wealthy country, widespread unhealthy diets limit brain, bone, and neurological development, putting children at risk. Environmental toxins disproportionately affect the poor. Sheer soul sucking despair creates a perpetual state of crises and stress. The exceptions of those escaping poverty only prove the rule.

I’ve seen the gap between rich and poor widen exponentially in my own lifetime. Public schools in better neighborhoods are pre-eminently better than schools in poorer neighborhoods. In this age of information and technology a person without a good education is lost. In some states a person can’t vote without a driver’s license or photo ID. (I loved a recent personal interest story in the news about a frustrated middle aged woman trying to get a photo ID and being blocked repeatedly. Rhetorically she asks the reporter, “Who do they think I am, Osama bin Laden’s wife?”)

Fortunately, some people choose material poverty, living on the prophetic boundaries as witnesses. Witnesses to the degradation of poverty. Witnesses to the shallowness of a society that refuses to look at the long term detriment of poverty to democracy. Witnesses to the soul crushing consequences to the rich who choose to ignore the needs of the poor.

Jesus, in the tradition of the prophets, proclaims good news to the poor and not so good news to the rich. But many who are first will be last.  And, It is easier for a camel to go through a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Gandhi was once criticized for helping Untouchables. “You should not help them. This is their karma,” said the critic.
“You do not understand karma, replied Gandhi. “The Untouchables are there for you. How you respond to them determines YOUR karma.”


Eldad and Medad

September 24, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 21 (year B), September 30, 2012
“ego trip”

John Singer Sargent, Study for Two Heads for Boston Mural, The Prophets

A young man runs to Moses complaining that Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.* These two reluctant prophets skipped the ordination. Out of protest? Humility? But the Holy Spirit not only consecrates Eldad and Medad, but bestows upon them Gifts surpassing all the other legitimate prophets. In a parallel story in Mark’s Gospel,** the disciples complain to Jesus that others not of their circle cast out demons in his name. The disciples are surprised by Jesus’ response, just as Joshua was surprised by Moses’ response. Jesus knows what Moses knows – you can’t contain or control the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, Moses and Jesus, not slaves to the ego, don’t need to possess or hoard the power of God. “That’s the thing about grace and love,” says one of our sisters, “The more you give away the more there is – there’s enough and more than enough for everybody!”

I think openness to surprise can be the beginning of the death of the ego. Not only allowing myself to be open to the endlessly changing scenes around me as I go by, but extricating myself from comforting ruts in the road of my own sense of self.

“…One must abandon every attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, a converted sinner…a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. This is what I mean by worldliness — taking life in one’s stride, with all its duties and problems, its successes and failures, its experiences and helplessness. It is in such a life that we throw ourselves utterly in the arms of God and participate in his sufferings in the world and watch with Christ in Gethsemane. That is faith, that is metanoia, and that is what makes a man and a Christian (cf. Jeremiah 45). How can success make us arrogant or failure lead us astray, when we participate in the sufferings of God by living in this world?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Letters and Papers from Prison” (pg 226-7)

Eldad and Medad were probably as surprised as anyone. Hooray for Eldad and Medad and the eternally mysterious Spirit!


*Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29 (lectionary choice)
*Mark 9:38-50 (Sunday’s Gospel, full selection)

The Blessing

September 17, 2012

See This Week’s

Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 20 (Year B) September 23, 2012
“last and greatest of all”

detail from Christ Blessing the Children, Nicholaes Maes, 1652-53

Here’s a picture of the state of my soul.
The hand of
the King of Kings,
the Lord of Lords,
the Light,
the Word,
the Good Shepherd,
the Gate,
the Resurrection
and the Life,
The Paschal Lamb,
the son of
the Queen of Heaven,
the Son of the Most High,
rests upon my head, blessing me. But I’m attentive to some movement in the crowd, another child’s misbehavior or clowning. Or I’m absorbed in my own daydreaming, usually of more interest than what’s happening to me or around me.

But who can blame me for this? I’m a three dimensional being, a mere child in the ways of wisdom, and the Holy One reaches to me from behind time from the eternal present. How can I possibly know how deeply I am blessed?


Thomas and Dismas

September 10, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 19(year B), September 16, 2012
“sign of the cross”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Mark 8:34-37

“Let us also go, that we may die with him,” said Thomas when Jesus decides to head into Judea to attend to Lazarus’ death. The disciples protest and remind Jesus that the authorities want to stone him.

The Good Thief, Russian Icon, Moscow School, 1580

I love Thomas. I can hear him. “Oh, hell, let’s just go die with him,” he says with utter candor but not without thinking through the implications of his devotion. This moment presses itself into my mind like a dream that won’t dissipate during the day – a dream pressing its images upon me again and again when I’m not looking directly at it. I see the moment in time, the disciples standing at a crossroad of intersecting paths leading to Galilee via Jericho or Samaria or any number of places safer than Judea.

Okay. Let’s take up our crosses and follow the idiot. Well, maybe he didn’t say “idiot.” Then, again, when you live closely with other people and don’t always understand their motives for particular decisions which affect you, calling names under your breath can relieve a little tension. And facing the possibility of crucifixion surely offers some degree of stress.

The other person I thought about this week was Good Thief, known in the Western tradition as Dismas. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” says the thief dying alongside Jesus. Jesus replies, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

I have a distinct image of Dismas because of Christian iconography. He holds a cross and is often pictured accompanying Jesus in his descent to the dead, or standing alone at the last judgment.

Dismas takes up his cross after he is already crucified and dying upon it. And the Way opens to him during his impossible suffering.

When I can’t bear looking directly at the cross itself, I look to Dismas and Thomas to help me come as close as I can. They are good companions to me now, just as they have been to other timid souls for two thousand years.

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?

bread of life

July 30, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 13 (year B) August 5, 2012
“bread of life”

Due to a death in the family I will not post a blog this week. -sg

Swooning on the Sea of Galilee

July 23, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 12 (year B), July 29, 2012
“we become what we consume”

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.  -John 6:16-21

Whatever the 21st century equivalent of swooning is, I do it over passages from a book on John’s Gospel by Bruno Barnhart’s (OSB Cam.) The Good Wine: Reading John from the Center. (Paulist Press, 1993.)  No matter how small your personal spiritual and Biblical library is, this book belongs there.

The Good Wine contains a most extraordinary commentary upon the Crossing of the Sea. These ten pages are hard to describe because Bruno presents his points in imagery that begins one way and then loops back from another direction, leaving more depth as it weaves back, like thread on a loom. Not only that, but the overall pattern is a mandala, so that you must see the whole of the book to appreciate the parts. His writing is gorgeous. My poor, much-loved beat-up volume!

Bruno argues that the story of Jesus walking on the sea centers the whole of John’s Gospel, which lays out in a chiastic way. Thus, the crossing of the sea becomes the primary image around which all the other images in John’s Gospel radiate in concentric circles.

detail, Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch, c.1500

Within the darkness and chaos of creation, the “I AM” does not part the sea but walks upon it and subdues it.  This new exodus inaugurates a new creation.  As on the first day of creation the immanent presence of Jesus evokes the “Let there be light” of Genesis 1 and the “In the beginning” of John’s prologue.  The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. (John 1:5)

The “I Am” is spoken in the manifestation upon the sea of Galilee, by the creative Word that was in the beginning, according to the prologue, and that now appears in Jesus, striding over these dark waters which recall the primeval chaos of Genesis 1:1. (p.67)

All beginnings are born together in this place where, in darkness, the light shines over the waters. Here the world originates from nothingness; here the Word is generated from the invisible fullness of the Father, then shines in the night of the creation. Here, again, begins the new creation within the divine darkness and within the darkness of created being.

This meeting place of sea and land, of air and water, of light and darkness, becomes the boundary of boundaries.
… (p.70)

Within these ten pages, Bruno also references Hindu and Buddhist cosmology, contemporary psychology, liturgy and baptism. What a feast!

And somehow your own soul engages and belongs within this cosmic event:

Here upon the dark waters, at this boundary, is the place of awakening, of compunction and metanoia, the place of silent meditation and of creative inspiration. Here in this darkness is the womb of creative life. It is the place of poverty and expectancy, the place of all potential. Here we are all fishers. And here in our poverty we are in touch with the dark depths of God, from which the light is born into our world. (p.70)


I can not resist one more quote:

For a long time, without understanding why, I had found a particular fascination in these gospel stories of Jesus and his disciples upon the sea. While the context and details vary, in each of these stories one feels the surging forth of a majesty, a gravitational force, from Jesus, which silently reorders the cosmos around him. Suddenly in the midst of a churning universe, this man appears, a diminutive light in the immense darkness, and everything comes into harmony around him, all the tumult subsides into a wondering hush where he stands. We find ourselves in the presence of one who seems to have stepped out of John’s prologue into the midst of the world’s dark disorder, and swallowed it up in his peace. A sovereign center, gently emanating this mysterious power to which all being must respond, is revealed here in Jesus.  p.64-5