Archive for the ‘Soul Stuff’ 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

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.

Shadows of Evil

August 27, 2012

Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 17 (year B), September 2, 2012
“from within the human heart”

When I was four or five years old I was playing outside with kittens on a farm belonging to our Michigan relatives. Twilight turned to night and the only light came from the kitchen window. One of the kittens scratched me. I was so angry I grabbed the kitten and ran into the darkness and threw it in the well.

Fortunately, the well had a cover on it. That evening, and for days and years afterward, I thought about how it was possible that I’d almost killed a kitten. Even before I went to kindergarten I discovered the evil just beneath the surface of my good little girl self.

I’m not at all shocked when Jesus says, “there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

All these things cower just below the surface of a good life. If you don’t think so, ask yourself what shadows of evil are you projecting onto other people or vulnerable populations? Who do you hate? And why?  If you do not know that you are capable of evil, it is much more likely that you’ll act upon it.


Cain and Abel, Lorenzo Ghiberti, 1425-52, bronze doors of the baptistry in Florence

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.


Three More Thoughts Regarding the Trinity

May 28, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Trinity Sunday (year B), June 3, 2012
“a communion of subjects”

Three More Thoughts on the Trinity:


I love that the collects of the prayerbook guide the devotee to pray to God, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. That shaping of prayer imprints early in childhood, and liturgically imbeds in us that deeply rooted relationality, the continuous motion, that perpetually open system, and an intimacy with both transcendence and immanence even when we’re not particularly paying attention. But when you do get around to paying attention – oh, the impact!


Julian’s ginger cat, Norwich Cathedral

The “Showings” of Julian of Norwich is the one book I know of besides the Gospel of John that reflects the multi-layered Reality of the Resurrection throughout the whole manuscript. Not only that, but who makes the Trinity so available, so easy, so intimate? Although my own copy (copies!) are falling apart and overly marked up, some Eastertide/ Ascensiontide/ Pentecost/ Trinity I’d love to go away someplace and just read her again for the first time. I never quite get through Eastertide without her. And Trinity Sunday? How can I manage without “And the deep wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother, in whom we are enclosed. And the high goodness of the Trinity is our Lord, and in him we are enclosed and he in us. We are enclosed in the Father, and we are enclosed in the Son, and we are enclosed in the Holy Spirit. And the Father is enclosed in us, the Son is enclosed in us, and the Holy Spirit is enclosed in us, almighty, all wisdom and all goodness, one God, one Lord.” ?


Augustine goes inside himself to try to uncover the mystery of the Trinity. This quote is from the last chapter of the Confessions (Maria Boulding’s translation):

The Holy Trinity, Andre Rublev, early 15th century

Can anyone comprehend the almighty Trinity? Everyone talks about it- but is it really the Trinity of which they talk? Rare indeed is the person who understands the subject of his discourse, when he speaks of that. People argue and wrangle over it, yet no one sees that vision unless he is at peace.

I wish they would turn their attention to the triad they have within themselves. It is, to be sure, a triad far distant from the Trinity, but I propose it as a topic on which they may exercise their minds, by way of experiment and in order to make clear to themselves how great the difference is. The triad I mean is being, knowledge and will. I am, and I know, and I will. Knowingly and willingly I exist; I know that I am and that I will; I will be be and to know. Let anyone with the wit to see it observe how in these three there is one inseparable life: there is one life, one mind and one essence. How inseparable they are in their distinctness! Yet distinction there is. Everyone has himself readily available for inspection; let each, then, scrutinize himself, and see what he can find, and tell me.

But when he has verified this unity between his powers, he must not suppose that what he has discovered is that which exists immutably above our creaturely minds, that which unchangeably is and unchangeably knows and unchangeably wills. Do these three coexistent acts constitute the Trinity? Or are all three found in each Person, so that each is this triple reality? Or are all three found in each Person, so that each is this triple reality? Or are both these propositions true, the simplicity and the complexity being reconciled in some way beyond our comprehension, since the Persons are defined by their mutual relationships yet infinite in themselves? Thus the Godhead exists and is known to itself and is its own all-sufficient joy without variation for ever, Being-Itself in the manifold greatness of its unity. Who can find any way to express this truth? Who dare make any assertion about it? (Chapter 13:11-12)

Of course we know that Augustine himself takes the project on in De Trinitate.

Well that’s enough fun for one day.


“Thou shalt have battles enough”

May 21, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Pentecost (year B) May 27, 2012 

“For as you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.” John 17:18

King sends out a Knight, French Miniaturist, French Bible of Hainburg, 1300-1320 (actually, I think this is King David sending out Uriah, which changes everything, but please pretend it’s just some anonymous king and knight. Thanks. )

I was looking for an image to take me into the week of preparing for Pentecost and I remembered Suso’s meditation/dream about his elevation from squire to knight. (Henry Suso, 1300-1366, was a popular devotional writer in the Middle Ages. With Johannes Tauler, Suso was a student of Meister Eckhart. The three together are known as “the Rhineland Mystics.”)

Evelyn Underhill, in her book Mysticism, introduces Suso’s vision:

Some weeks later, when he had been rejoicing in the new bodily comfort which resulted from his relinquishment of all outward mortifications, Suso received a still more pointed lesson on his need of moral courage. He was sitting on his bed and meditating on the words of Job “Militia est.” “The life of man upon the earth is like unto that of a knight.” Job 7:1 (Vulgate) and during this meditation, he was once more rapt from his senses, and it seemed to him that he saw coming towards him a fair youth of manly bearing, who held in his hands the spurs and the other apparel which knights are accustomed to wear.

And he drew near to the Servitor, and clothed him in a coat of mail, and said to him, ‘Oh, knight! hitherto thou hast been but a squire, but now it is God’s will that thou be raised to knighthood.’ And the Servitor gazed at his spurs, and said with much amazement in his heart, ‘Alas, my God! what has befallen me? what have I become? must I indeed be a knight? I had far rather remain in peace.’

Then he said to the young man, ‘Since it is God’s will that I should be a knight I had rather have won my spurs in battle; for this would have been more glorious.’

The young man turned away and began to laugh: and said to him, ‘Have no fear! thou shalt have battles enough. He who would play a valiant part in the spiritual chivalry of God must endure more numerous and more dreadful combats than any which were encountered by the proud heroes of ancient days, of whom the world tells and sings the knightly deeds. It is not that God desires to free thee from thy burdens; He would only change them and make them far heavier than they have ever been.’

Then the Servitor said, ‘Oh, Lord, show me my pains in advance, in order that I may know them.’

The Lord replied, ‘No, it is better that thou know nothing, lest thou shouldst hesitate….”

Nevertheless, the young man hints at three things. One, that Suso’s reputation will be ruined : “Thou shalt be an object of contempt to blinded men.” Two, that he will endure unfaithfulness, sufferings and griefs. And three, that he will seem abandoned by God and that he will be “publicly persecuted by the friends of thine enemies.”

These particular humiliations ultimately strengthened the somewhat over-sensitive Suso, and helped him mature spiritually and morally.

Bearing love, bringing love into loveless situations, requires humility, honor, bravery, and not a little quixotic foolishness. And each of us brings his or her own weakness, rough spots, tragic flaws into the quest. I hope this chivalric image finds you girding your loins for the Pentecost event and the trials awaiting you thereafter in your love-bearing.

And now,
“send us out to do the work you have given us to do,
to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

(Post communion prayer, page 366, American (1979) Book of Common Prayer)

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.