Archive for the ‘The Mystical Year’ 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

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


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.


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.


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.

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

Love as strong as death

July 9, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 10 (year B) July 15, 2012
“calls and consequences”

I feel an uncomfortable affinity to Herod in this story. Not over the creepy lust for his step-daughter, obviously, but in his being torn between truth and self-interest. What draws Herod Antipas, the power-hungry ruler, Tetrarch of Galilee, son of Herod the Great, to the preaching of repentance, forgiveness of sins, turning in conversion toward God? Something inside of him must resonate to John’s message, and later, incites his eagerness to meet Jesus.

Drawn on the one hand to the messages of Jesus and John the Baptist, on the other he’s also enthralled by the ambitions of his wife, Herodias. Herodias means to help Herod Antipas realize his full potential. Her first husband, Herod’s brother Herod Philip, (with whom she had a daughter Salome), did not share her love of power. She met Herod Antipas, in Rome, about 28 A.D. and they fell passionately in love. Both obtained divorces and married each other, which created public scandal and family resentments.

Herod’s birthday dinner party reveals the cynicism of Herodias. Playing upon her husband’s lust for her daughter, she uses Salome to exite Herod into a promise he will regret. He admires his wife’s cunning. It mirrors his own cunning.

Jesus, attuned to this very craftiness calls Herod “that fox” when Herod sends Pharisees to warn Jesus to leave Galilee. Herod does not want to kill Jesus, but clearly wants him out of the neighborhood. Jesus sees through the murderous threat. And the close observer gets the sense that Herod nurtures a fascination with the message of the one Pilate will ambiguously name “King of the Jews.”

Herod will finally meet Jesus. In the night hours of the Passion, Pilate sends the prisoner to Herod who happens to be in Jerusalem at the time. Because Jesus is a resident of Galilee, perhaps Herod can save Jesus, thinks Pilate. One gets the sense the Pilate is reluctant to have Jesus killed. “What is truth?” he asks philosophically, washing his hands of guilt. Once Herod sends the prisoner back, however, Pilate acquiesces, “wishing to satisfy the crowd,” not unlike Herod in front of his guests at the banquet when Salome danced for the head of John the Baptist.

The long anticipated meeting between Herod and Jesus ends in fury and frustration. Jesus simply refuses to speak to him.

When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length; but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then, arraying him in gorgeous apparel, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other. Luke 23:8-12

Pilate appreciates Herod’s clever humor in dressing Jesus in an elegant robe. The execution takes place.

The sign “King of the Jews” Pilate has placed upon the cross adds another ironic twist to Herod’s story. Herod himself wishes to be King of the Jews.
Herodias’ ambition in that direction ultimately undoes them both. When Caligula grants her brother Agrippa (I) the title “king” she sends her husband to Rome to petition for the same title. Agrippa in the meantime presents accusations of Herod’s disloyalty to the Emperor which Herod can not disprove. Herod is removed from Galilee and exiled to a remote Roman outpost, Lyon, in Gaul.

Herodias, by virtue of her own connections, is exempt from this exile. Nevertheless, and perhaps surprisingly, she chooses to stay with Herod, and both of them disappear from historic record. Herod and Herodias play out their love story to the end and perhaps this one sacrificial gesture ennobles her at last.

The drama of John’s beheading and the crucifixion of Jesus are minor events in the passionate love story of Herod and Herodias.m disappear from historic record. Herod and Herodias play out their love story to the end and perhaps this one sacrificial gesture ennobles her at last.
“What was it about the Baptist and that Jesus person that fascinated you so?” asks the comely Madame Herod in the courtyard of their villa in Lyon.

“I don’t know,” replies the old man, puffing on his pipe. “Something interior, I think. Passion. Passion, that’s it. Those men loved God the way I love you, my Dear. But imagine, loving without the comforts of your scented breasts, your thighs like jewels, your belly a heap of wheat encircled with lilies, the ivory tower of your neck, and I, your king held captive in your tresses. What I admire about those men was that their love was stronger than death. I recognize the same thing in myself.”

“You’ve always been in love with yourself,” Madame Herod observes. “I hear there are followers of Jesus in Marseilles. Friends of his, apparently. Two sisters and a brother. They say one sister tamed a basilisk and the other lives in a cave. I’d love a few weeks on the Mediterranean, wouldn’t you?”

“The warm sea air would do me good,” says Monsieur Herod. “But this infernal Gaulish weather exacerbates my rheumatism. I can’t travel right now. Do you know what’s playing at the Lyon Coliseum this afternoon?”

And so their conversation drifts toward more immediate and sensate concerns.
Here is where my awkward sympathy lies with Herod. Are Jesus and John the Baptist footnotes to my own passions and the dramas of my own personal history?

Do I not make choices every day like Pilate and Herod, appeasing others, acquiescing to my culture, societal expectations, and to maintain my standard of living? Do I accept the way things are with such studied ignorance and self-interest? Is my love for God, for justice, for the kingdom, as powerful as my devotion to distractions, glittering things, and self-preservation?

Will I end my days torn between two loves – one worldly and the other drawing me toward the eternal heart of the universe? This eternal love calls to me in the wilderness of my soul – repent, forsake your sins, and prepare the way for the Holy One of God.

Is my love for God as strong as death?


note: in legend, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha fled to Marseilles after the crucifixion. Martha tamed a basilisk plaguing a nearby village. Mary became an ascetic, living in a cave at St. Baum, where angels lifted her into heaven seven times a day to pray the office with the heavenly host.

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.