Sunday, April 30, 2017

2017.04.30 The Road To Emmaus—Every Day

Jack Kerouac with his “On the Road” rolling homily, had nothing on the Bible. The story in Luke 24 about two travelers going home after the crucifixion of their beloved friend and healer, Jesus, is a poignant story. The travelers, likely a couple, are full of sadness and also dashed hopes for the long-awaited Messiah who would redeem their Israel. They thought Jesus was the one and now he was executed.

On the road, a stranger came and joined the bereft travelers. He listened to them talk and asked why they were so sad. They were amazed that he didn’t know all that had happened in Jerusalem, and how scared they were of the powers of oppression. First, he listened well to their grief. Take note of that compassionate habit. How he must have wanted to interrupt them with his spiritual intuition about resurrection!  But he listened first. Only after listening did he break in with an extended, and obviously compelling, recitation of the biblical history of God’s promises, the prophets’ visions of a divinely-sponsored grand socioeconomic program of justice, and Jesus’s own vision of God as unconditional love—now and forever for all creation.

Oh, they were crushed as they talked about their sorrow. Oh, they felt heard and taken seriously. And oh, how their hearts burned within them—burned with hope and renewed passion—as this stranger reiterated everything they knew, and had forgotten.

The group of three walked toward Emmaus, a journey of seven miles, and as they went they talked and listened, and, in that process alone, their spirits were renewed, their hopes resurrected.

When I read this famous parabolic story, I think of this whole first part as The Word—the first part of every Christian Eucharist: biblical readings, collects and prayers, a sermon, hymns and chants—and community announcements and news. The Word takes up more than half of the entire length of the average Sunday Eucharist. Like the words of the stranger on the road to Emmaus, most of the mileage is taken up by listening to the travelers' concerns, and then teaching them once again to hope and trust God’s loving care. 

The Word is just as much of a sacrament, just as Holy, as the beloved Eucharist, the meal many of us think it the most important. Well, of course it is: we get fed at a table to which we ALL are welcome and ALL are beloved. The meal is a kind of tangible proof of all the proclamations and predictions and visions and stories that compose The Word.

Yet, the story tells us, only in the meal did the traveling Jesus-followers, aka Mr. and Mrs. Cleopas, FINALLY recognize that this stranger was in fact the one they lamented as dead. They intuited the wisdom of their Jesus in the words of the stranger. They recognized Jesus as the Christ for sure, and finally, as the bread was broken and shared over a meal. Writers about Jesus's habits often juxtapose miracle and meal, like resurrection and eucharist.

Still, why did it take so long and require so much wordiness and WORD?

Well, I suppose it is because it takes a while for the message to travel from the mind, fourteen inches down to the heart, and another ingestive period of time for the body, at last, to consume the whole truth: God loves all Creation without condition. ALL are beloved.

Emmaus is a metaphor that tells us, over and over, that this Love is true, that is available. We know it when we experience it in conversing and listening, giving and receiving. This is how we know the Risen Christ. 

So we can practice Emmaus: give the next ten beggars you see on the street $5. (If there are no beggars, do the same or more with the next 10 mailings you get from worthy organizations—even if they’re not your usuals.)

After you give the flesh and blood beggars money, then offer them a greeting, good luck, and a word of hope for healing, or a God bless you. (Notice: they almost always bless and thank you!)  Don’t preach. Don’t ask for anything. Don’t assume or condemn. You don’t know why they are there, but you know they are there for a reason. Just honor their presence as their word, and your money will be their bread—yes, even if it buys booze. Then be on your way with prayers and the “high spirits” of hope Emmaus conveys.

Emmaus IS the Christian journey, each Sunday, and every single day. We too walk the symbolic Emmaus road of WORD and MEAL. As John Dominic Crossan wrote in the “Overture” to his book The Historical Jesus:

“Emmaus never happened. Emmaus always happens.”


Sunday, April 23, 2017

2017.04.23 Hoping Upon Stars

Stars light the way. I watch for them every night. Despite the glare of city lights, I can see a few stars. In the summer on Nantucket there is little ground light so my stars spread across the sky making a blanket of light. They are poetry.


“Poetry and other arts come from acceptance of little signals that immediate experience contributes to beings who are alive and fallible, and changing. Any conscience relevant to that kind of activity will tend to be un-national, not American or foreign, or North or South, or Black or White, or East—but alive and ready to confer.”  William Stafford, poet.

William Stafford (1914-1993) was poet laureate of both Oregon and the United States. He was a conscientious objector in WWII. He chose not to fight—for the sake of his country.  He also said that what our country is about is: “Creating emergencies that justify emergency actions.” Is this what we do? Really? By god, it sounds painfully like American politics right now. Ponder it anew.

This Stafford poem is from “Every War Has Two Losers.” Us AND them.

Home
by William Stafford

Our father owned a star,
and by its light
we lived in father’s house
and slept at night.
The tragedy of life,
like death and war,
were faces looking in
at our front door.
But finally all came in,
from near and far:
you can’t believe in locks
and own a star.

This poem gives me hope for a day when we do not have to lock doors or live in fear of our neighbors, near and far. A day perhaps when churches will not be afraid to remain unlocked, be open for prayer all the time—or at least during the day. How can anyone imagine that God desires to love them unconditionally when god-houses are shut up tight: no admittance?

Locked doors are easier to tolerate than locked hearts. As long as we lock our hearts there will be wars in which everyone loses. Easter is the time we are invited to open our hearts without reserve. Ponder the starry skies and pray.






Sunday, April 16, 2017

2017.04.16 Easter Morning: Choose Life!

Easter Morning
    by William Stafford.

Maybe someone comes to the door and says,
"Repent," and you say, "Come on in," and it's
Jesus. That's when all you ever did, or said,
or even thought, suddenly wakes up again and
sings out, "I'm still here," and you know it's true.
You just shiver alive and are left standing
there suddenly brought to account: saved.

Except, maybe that someone says, "I've got a deal
for you." And you listen because that's how
you're trained––they told you, "Always hear both sides."
So then the slick voice can sell you anything, even
Hell, which is what you're getting by listening.
Well, what should you do? I'd say always go to
the door; yes, but keep the screen locked. Then,
while you hold the Bible in one hand, lean forward
and say carefully, “Jesus?”


A friend of mine, some years ago, opened his door on a Sunday morning to face a young man standing there holding up a Bible and his pointer finger, saying: “Repent!” My friend was suffering the pain of a serious hangover and was horrified. He slammed the door in the man’s face, and then made jokes about it for a few years, most of them mocking this stupid Bible-thumper. In time, my friend did “repent” in the way he needed to. He stopped drinking and joined AA.

The poet who wrote about Easter morning is William Stafford (1914-1993). He was poet laureate of both Oregon and the United States. He wrote relentlessly honest notes, in part gleaned from his own experience as a conscientious objector in WWII. During that war, Stafford worked in Civilian Public Service camps in several states. He wrote and spoke quietly about the sanity of nonviolence and the madness of violence. He did not fight for the sake of his country, as everyone thought was the highest value. He chose not to fight—for the sake of his country.

Personally, I think the choice NOT to fight for the sake of his country was a courageous one. What could happen if everyone in the world chose likewise? Seems like kind of an Easter choice to me.

Who knows how and when, or exactly why, our choices are made? Yet make them we do. In the Book of Deuteronomy the voice of God speaks to the people of Israel, saying: “See, I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live. . . ” (30:19)  I often remind myself: Choose life!

Every small choice, for better or worse, counts. Here’s one………

The Squirrel
    by Brian Doyle

Here you go. Here’s a moment to ponder carefully.
We think that there are greater and lesser moments
But how immensely and ridiculously wrong this is.
For here is a boy riding along the street in summer.
He is perhaps six years old. His bike is wildly blue.
He sees a smear of squirrel in the street. He pauses,
Using the heels of his sneakers as brakes. He looks,
He dismounts, he sets his kickstand, he looks down.
He kneels and gathers up the shredded creature and
Walks to the shady ravine where we saw the coyote
That time and he gives the squirrel to the tiny creek.
He washes in a muddy puddle and then he rides off.
I am the man who saw and testifieth of these things,
And what I say is true. I saw a boy bow before holy
Things, for all things are holy, and he reminded me,
And so now I remind you. Go thou and do likewise.









Sunday, April 9, 2017

2017.04.16 Palms, a Kiss, Betrayal, Prayer and Hope

Palm Sunday is a chaotic Sunday in the Christian church. Most churches pile in all our praise and stack up all our hopes in order that we will have enough stamina to get through the week ahead. We need all this triumphal hype. It wasn't so fine for Jesus who prayed his agony out in Gethsemane—while his followers slept. They didn't get it. Do we?

It's Holy Week. We are to follow Jesus out of Gethsemane and on his death march, inevitably leading to crucifixion and a hideous death. Will we hear him scream? Will we watch, or will we run away? We don't know.

For today, we are left with silence and hope. We've waved our palms. We've wept our tears. We've read our parts in the passion gospel very well, even standing up for the moment when Jesus is taken up to Golgotha to be executed. It is drama and trauma. We have done our part well. Now what?  Wait.

HOPE
    by Lisel Mueller

It hovers in dark corners
before the lights are turned on,
     it shakes sleep from its eyes
     and drops from mushroom gills,
          it explodes in the starry heads
          of dandelions turned sages,
               it sticks to the wings of green angels
               that sail from the tops of maples.
It sprouts in each occluded eye
of the many-eyed potato,
     it lives in each earthworm segment
     surviving cruelty,
          it is the motion that runs
          from the eyes to the tail of a dog,
               it is the mouth that inflates the lungs
               of the child that has just been born.
It is the singular gift
we cannot destroy in ourselves,
the argument that refutes death,
the genius that invents the future,
all we know of God.
It is the serum which makes us swear
not to betray one another;
it is in this poem, trying to speak.


Lisel Mueller was born in Hamburg in 1924. She is a poet and translator, daughter of teachers. With her family she fled to the U.S. from the Nazi regime when she was 15 and settled in a suburb of Chicago. Mueller is fond of language, imagery and memory, obviously a writer after my now heart. She is aware of her good fortune and the grace of God—“the miracle and the accident it is that any of us are who we are.”  (from her volume of poetry entitled Alive Together.) “We all live together in the world and in my poems.”


We too wait today, and each day, in hope. We wait together. We pray and sing together. We are doing our part in the best way we can.

And so our hearts are shaped today
by palms, a kiss, a friend’s denial,
to hold a very simple prayer—
God, save us from the time of trial. 

                   Michael Hudson

Sunday, April 2, 2017

2017.04.02 Kindness

Confitemini domino. That’s Latin for "Praise the Lord for good." We sing it in chant—over and over to warm our hearts toward each other and Godde. It is a very kind prayer.

Does the phrase mean for good, as in, that’s the last hurrah for praise?  Or does it mean to give thanks to God who is good?  Probably both. Whatever its exact meaning is, it kindles warm love in me.

I think of Psalm 136 in which— over and over— we give thanks for the goodness of God’s imprint on the world and say in refrain: “ . . . for his mercy endures for ever.”  In Pamela Greenberg's translation of 136 the refrain is. “. . . for God’s kindness is toward the world.” Kindness sounds fresh to my ears and to my heart. Why?
    -it’s more intimate than mercy
    -kind relates to kin….I think of kindling to get a fire ablaze
    -it’s not condescending, toned with superiority
    -it’s not love, love, and more love
    -it’s not gendered
    -it’s reverently vernacular
    -I can imagine myself being kind, without aspiring to divinity

Let’s call kindness manageable. It goes a long way when you’ve lost your grip and/or your ground. The poet knows.

KINDNESS

Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.



Naomi Shihab Nye was born in 1952 in St. Louis, Missouri to a Palestinian father and an American mother. She is an award-winning poet, songwriter and novelist. A visit to her paternal grandmother on the West Bank was life-changing for her. She lived there for a year and says that being part of both a minority and a majority in cultures influenced her political views and the message of her poetry. Naomi calls herself a “wandering poet”.




Nye's poem “Kindness” came to my attention through a friend who told me that an unknown woman in an elevator on 9/11 gave him the poem, saying, “Here, you will need this today.”  The woman was right. When my friend, professor of pastoral theology at Boston College, teaches on 9/11 he always begins his classes with this poem.

May I suggest that we begin each day with this poem—not just for Lent but into Holy Week, all through Eastertide and beyond. God’s kindness is toward the world. We need it now.  Oh, we need it now.