Sunday, April 18, 2021

2021.04.18 Appearances

Look behind to understand. Look ahead to dream. Look down to be present. Look inward for truth.

At fourteen, I couldn’t see things as clearly as this, but I instinctively understood that power is beguiling and a person does not lightly give it up. Power will bend the truth and warp their own values to maintain their grip on power. I was a child of Africa, a white child to be sure, but nevertheless Africa’s child. The black breasts that had suckled me and the dark hands that had rocked and bathed me had left me with a burden of obligation to resist the white power that would be the ultimate gift from those who now trained me.”

The context of this, yes, powerful quote above is from a book, The Power Of One, by Bryce Courtenay. Courtenay (1933-2012) first published the book in 1989, and was afraid it would not sell. It became a best seller  Courtenay was a South-African-Australian advertising director and journalist. The Power of One is based on his own life and reads like a memoir. He was born in South Africa, attended prestigious private schools, and eventually was banned from returning to South Africa, because he initiated a weekend school for black people at his high school. It is easy to see how Courtenay got that idea and why he risked his writerly reputation to write this stunning book. This book is beautifully written and complex. Following this child as he grows through what he goes through was a distinct pleasure.  


 
            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                             *  *  *  *

David Whyte, an Anglo-Irish poet grew up surrounded by fields, woods and the moors, is another genius in relational spirituality. His poetry is based on “the conversational nature of reality.” Whyte, 65,  lives now in the United States, Pacific Northwest, where he conducts workshops for business people/corporate types, training them in “Conversational Leadership.” 


 





 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I first fell in love with Whyte’s philosophy, spirituality, and poetry when I listened to his series,“Clear Mind Wild Heart,” in which he recalls his visit with David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk. Whyte complained of constant fatigue in his work life. Steindl-Rast listened. Then he said that the opposite of exhaustion is not rest but whole-heartedness. Whyte quit his job and became a poet. 

 MY COURAGEOUS LIFE
has gone ahead
and is looking back,
calling me on.

My courageous life
has seen everything
I have been
and everything
I have not
and has
forgiven me,
day after day.

My courageous life
still wants
my company:
wants me to
understand
my life as witness
and thus
bequeath me
the way ahead.

My courageous life
has the patience
to keep teaching me,
how to invent
my own
disappearance,
and how
once gone,
to reappear again.

My courageous life
wants to stop
being ahead of me
so that it can lie
down and rest
deep inside the body
it has been
calling on.

My courageous life
wants to be
my foundation,
showing me
day after day
even against my will
how to undo myself,
how to surpass myself,
how to laugh as I go
in the face
of danger,
how to invite
the right kind
of perilous
love,
how to find
a way
to die
of generosity.

My Courageous Life
A new adaption of ‘Second Life’
in Pilgrim
Poems by David Whyte
© Many Rivers Press and David Whyte
https://davidwhyte.com/.../books-cards.../products/pilgrim



Sunday, April 11, 2021

2021.04.11 Doubtless?

We are in Easter season, a time to rejoice over a Mystery most cannot comprehend, fully grasp and hold. Death, grief, murder, doubt, fear, and despair we get. We know these realities all too intimately—personally and globally. We expect them. But when confronted with no body, with Resurrection, well, it’s unexpected, not easy to believe at all, except to say that by faith we love, trust, and adore a God who brings life out of death, even ultimate biological death.

This poem is about an experience of abuse I had when I was eight years old at the hands of a stranger who happened to look just like the traditional bearded image of God. For a time this experience dimmed, but did not obliterate, the strong connection I’d experienced with God from early childhood. Writing puts it out onto the page where it has less power over me.

Missing the Rockettes

The theater darkened
    slowly.
Chatter and patter died
    down.
A thin line of light
    blinked
        winked
From beneath the thick maroon velvet curtain
    hidden wonders glowed.

A small girl edged forward
    eager
         ready, ready.

Now music from the orchestra pit
    arose.
Now the curtain lifted slowly
    slowly
    
Exposed two stories
    the one
        flashing, daring, dashing dance
    the other
        untold, unclean, unseen, unbidden

As the old man’s withered hand
    crept lightly up the child’s thigh
        it stole the show. 

 

Healing, for me, was a process of resurrection. Like Thomas, it took me a while before I could touch my wound or trust my God.  
 

Sunday, April 4, 2021

2021.04.04 EASTAH! Lyn G. Brakeman, Spiritual Lemons, blog post, 4/4/21

Lighten up! One recent morning I awoke with this strange amusing scenario in my mind: Jesus and a young guy sitting on bar stools, having a blunt conversation of sorts—dull, obvious, crucial, pedestrian, healing, and bloody good theology.

Guy:  All creatures are created equal.
Jesus: Duh
Guy:  Creator loves all equally.
Jesus: Duh
Guy:  Mosquitoes? The grass? Women? Trans? Any color?
Jesus: Duh
Guy:  You yourself. You aren’t the ONLY Son, ONLY child of Divine Creator.
Jesus: Duh
Guy:  You’ll be here tomorrow. Always. I’ll order Ginger Ale then.
Jesus: Duh

Neither douse your sorrows nor squelch your joys. All that has breath and life, rise and shout HALLELUJAH to shine your praises— anyhow/always/all ways. 


Sunday, March 28, 2021

2021.03.28 A Palm For Phineas

The sanctuary’s emptiness after Palm Sunday made it feel even more hallowed than when it was filled with exuberant Hosannas, calling out: Lord, Save. Save! Or bloated hallelujahs—leftover echoes of Easters spent.    

I felt spent too. I sat alone in the pew of a tiny suburbanish church, its steeple piercing the blue sky, humming the “hymn” of the 1950s, “What’s it All About Alfie?”  Out of the corner of my eye I saw something green poking out from under a front pew. I stooped and discovered a leftover palm—already aging and beginning to brown and die. This palm’s still-sharp point stuck stubbornly into the aisle. Inexplicably, I thought of Phineas.
            
                *  *  *  *

I have to tell this story over and over, because it continues to break my heart. I was fourteen and had moved with my family from NYC to lower Fairfield County, Connecticut. I’d left my private all-girls’ school and entered a foreign land called public school.

Phineas was like a perfect storm—everything converging to create his daily trauma. His name may once have enjoyed noble status, but did not in a roiling American junior high school in 1952. Phineas had thick glasses, was overweight, duck-footed and lumbering, his face pocked with teenage acne, and he was carrying the violin he played. Put those ingredients all together, add a hostile bus driver, and you see Phineas in teenage terrorist camp, by which I mean the daily school bus torture rituals arranged by testosterone-challenged seventh grade boys. Being white was Phineas’s only hope to fit in. But everyone else was white too, so it was no advantage.

Every single day Phineas would slowly climb onto the bus. Every single day the boys would call to him to come to the back of the bus to sit with them. Their cooing was not friendly. Girls tended to sit in the front of the bus. Yet, how could Phineas sit with the girls and risk more dire consequences?  It would have turned his perfect storm into a hurricane. So he lugged his violin to the rear of the bus.

They pushed him to the floor; they grabbed his hat; they spat on him; they opened his violin case and tried to play on it while singing dumb songs; he cried.  And every single day Phineas would miss his stop and have to walk back to get home. Every single day.

God knows what awaited him at home. Love, I hope. But if I were his parent I’d drive him to school and pick him up. Still, he might not have told his parents about his daily humiliation. The only adult, not a grown-up, on that bus was Mr. Fitz whose paunch looked ample enough to steer the vehicle, no hands. Mr. Fitz laughed and scoffed and never intervened to save Phineas—not once.

To witness such suffering and feel helpless is a trauma as vivid to me now as it was seventy-one years ago. My choices seemed almost as paralyzing as Phineas’s must have felt to him. I could fight, flee, or freeze. I was too scared to fight so I froze in my seat, wishing and wishing, fervently as a prayer, that Phineas would fight.  

I chose escape. I made my mother drive me to school. Knowing she’d remember my carsickness, I told her I now had bus-sickness. I did, but it wasn’t motion sickness; it was compassion nausea. I didn’t tell the truth, nor befriend Phineas. I feared repercussions. I too had to survive this cruel culture and endure the contagion of shame.

By senior high school my own hormonal rage kicked in. I had learned to flirt. I’d developed breasts that would pop up enough to look perky in a tight sweater atop a pencil skirt in which I minced along, hoping to look sexy. My flirting had a specific goal—revenge. My “victim” was one of those bus bullies. I wanted to hurt him for Phineas’s sake—and for mine. He asked me out. I flirted mercilessly and secured his trust enough that he confided in me that his father hit him. He laughed about it. I felt sick inside—compassion laced with fear. What if he hit me?

I was almost seventeen years old when I understood that bullying was total avoidance of vulnerability, mostly because someone had bullied you first and you had to make sure it never happened again. This boy, my date, had turned into a macho hot shot, full of bravado and just as scared inside as Phineas, and me.

After high school I never saw Phineas again, but I never forgot him. I never knew him, except by heart. When Google-God came into being decades later, I searched for Phineas but found no data that fit my Phineas. It’s funny, but I count him as one of the inspirations that called me into ordained ministry to follow the ministry of compassion and healing through forgiveness and absolution—of my soul for having been a silent complicit bully myself.   

                *  *  *  *

Sitting in the pew fingering the palm’s green tip, I said one small hosanna/alleluia for Phineas. He’d be in his sixties now. I hoped he was still alive and a concert master violinist in some major symphony orchestra where huge crowds applauded, gave standing ovations, and never hissed or spat.
 




Sunday, March 21, 2021

2021.02.21 COMPASSIONTIDE, Retreat with Martin Smith

It’s time!!  Go!

I’ve been restless, irritable, uneven of soul. It’s not the virus or hermetic ways, not even the bombardment online of a million glamorous offerings to deepen everything from your spirituality to your drain pipe flow. Something was missing. What?

RETREAT!  It’s been over two years since we’d been on retreat—out of town to a quiet place of contemplative solitude-in-community where you make friends with yourself and your God.

What is contemplative about Zoomed distance watching? Still, I need for my nerves a retreat, darling. So we sign up for a retreat, Compassiontide, at Holy Cross Monastery with Martin Smith, our favorite ex-monastic-now-married Episcopal monk-priest.

Retreat Silence  

An infuriating irony about retreat silence: the more you concentrate your focus outward on icons, images sculpture, artwork, natural scenery, a speaker, the more your inner focus sharpens.

Retreat prep 

I re-read Martin Smith’s Lenten classic A Season for the Spirit. I noticed the noble dedication by the then Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie who commissioned a book for Lent, 1991. “It still comes as a surprise to many people that there are monks and nuns who belong to the churches of the Anglican Communion.  .  .  . This book is not a substitute for prayer itself. Instead it leads us into the experience of prayer.  .  .  .  Martin Smith has written a practical book.   .  .  .   I have much confidence that it will be found a rich quarry for Christians of varying traditions seeking to come closer to God in prayer, and also for those just beginning the journey of faith.”   

I have so many underlinings in this little book that it makes me laugh. I’ve internalized it and now imagine it to be my own clever theology. There really is nothing new under the sun. Good!

Typos 

I notice with a laugh that on pages 12 and 21 there are typos—the same word misspelled twice: INdentification.    
    In the chapter, “The Wind In The Wilderness,” Martin Smith describes the biblical story of Jesus being driven into the wilderness by the Spirit to discern his vocation. How could, or would, Jesus be human and divine at once? “If he is the Holy One of God, the Only-begotten, what becomes of his sense of INdentification with weak mortals?
    In the chapter, “The Anaesthetic Begins To Wear Off,” Jesus wrestles with how to reconcile a broken world into the divine embrace of God. “The Spirit of Jesus moves us, as it moved him, to INdentify ourselves with a broken world AND to bring it within the reconciling embrace of God.”
    
I will  INdentify. Honestly, I slip-slide around, flop to one side or the other, and pray a lot to keep balance and be compassionate with my blundering. I’m a failure. But I’m awake. I go for more.  

Retreat Meditations In Small Bits    

God is an Overflowing Never-ending Immensity of Compassion—a Niagara. We can resonate with this flow, as a piece of paper lying on the strings inside a piano would when that note is twanged. The paper suddenly rises with the vibration. That’s how we RESONATE with divine Compassion—seeking more. The MORE is always available. I go with the flow.

The mystical password to enter the Gospel Mystery is ADORATION, not obedience. Adoration is loving God with the brakes off. A brain-damaged child would butt his head on the TV screen. He was aroused and gestured that he wanted MORE. He wanted IN, into the action. How adore-able. Me too!

Christianity is the only religion that puts passion back into compassion. Our God suffers. The hands that hold us in existence are pierced with unimaginable nails. The Cross, therefore, is a judgment, not because it is violent, but because it brings human cruelty into the light. I see!  One of Jesus’s hand on my home altar crucifix is missing. I cover its absence with a tiny white shell.  I shiver.

Martin has a small lamb tattooed on the inside of his arm. “The Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world; the sins of the world do not take away the Lamb.”  I see that silly lamb with new eyes—no longer ridiculing but with gently tenderness.

Compassion for others is an unstable idea. What? Justice is very popular for good reason today, but it is not the Gospel of Christ. What?  Justice offers equality, giving all of us just what we all, by rights, deserve. Mercy, however, is not just. It gives us all what we do not deserve, have not earned. Say again? Consider the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. Some worked hard all day, and some worked an hour only. They all got the same pay. Equal pay for equal work? Nope, not the way of God.

When you are helpless establish a sheltering heart in prayer. I pray with a young man of 25 whose acquaintance I have only recently made through his grandmother. He had a normal accident for a teenager who at 17 climbed a tree, lost balance, and fell to the hard ground—flat on his back. He is now 25 and quadriplegic. His grandmother left the church long ago, in disgust about rules that hurt people. I’d told her I was going on a retreat—virtually. We laughed. She knew what a retreat was, and the next day asked me if I’d pray for her grandson on my retreat.  I do. I am. No brakes on.
 

Practice promiscuous empathy. OK, I’ve tried promiscuity in other ways, but this is much harder. Screech go my brakes. They still work—in case.

The Holy Spirit invites compassionate experimentation: Try this. See this. Ask this. Wonder this. Pray this. The Spirit tugs gently at your heart and gives it clues. For example, imagine that the person whose behavior you deplore may have an unhealed wound hiding behind mean behavior. In prayer, recall your own wounds, and Compassion will soften your heart. That’s God—madly soft-hearted.

Last Laughs

I asked my usual question about the lumbering pace of the Church in eliminating gendered language to find a more expansive and compassionate vocabulary for God. Martin grinned and said he knew who had asked that question. I’m that much of a pest, yes. He said he was not adept in this area, offered “Loving Parent,” and admitted that, although Church rhetoric is hard-edged to change, it is still locked into a masculine distanced God. (He didn’t add white. I forgave him immediately.)  After all, most of the quotes and images he used were from women.

Hilarious irony: the theological language question about which I am the most passionate, I have never prayed about, never directly consulted God in prayer about. Have I assumed that God already agreed with me?  Oh God, forgive me and help the Church loosen up and change traditional theological imagery. Thanks.
 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

2021.03.14 To Give AND To Receive?

It’s better to receive than to give.  

No, no! That’s not right. It’s better to GIVE. Everyone knows that. It’s even in the Bible, right? One of the Big TEN Rules? Well, at least my mother always told me so, especially when she wanted me to shut up and let my sister have whatever she squawked about.

My younger sister right now is in need of help. She hates to ask for help, even and especially from those she loves the most. We laughed and remembered when:
    -we had to apply for social welfare for our mother’s continuing care—WELFARE being a shaming word, as is needy
    -we insisted we could tie our own shoes (I can do it myself!) and were furiously insulted when Dad just snatched us up and tied the freaking shoes himself
    -I swam out too far in the ocean and struggled to get back to shore when a lifeguard swam out to my rescue—SAVED & HUMILIATED
    -we had to share toys that were MINE, MINE, MINE—NOT YOURS
    -we together created many a glorious game to play with joy—still do today.






 

 

The garden in Gethsemane wasn’t easy for Jesus either. It was a big ask, remembered in the gospels as the place where Jesus knelt in fervent prayer alone through the night, sweating out a huge dangerous decision, one that could cost him his life—all this while his naive disciples fell asleep. He prayed: “Abba, you have power to do all things. Take this cup from me. Yet let it be your will not mine.” How hard it must have been to beg for his own life, to let his own will be known, to ask for a way out, to be that vulnerable.

Ask and you will receive, he had taught. He asked and received only enough inner strength to follow through with his plan to confront political and religious authorities with their, yes, patriarchal greed and power abuses, and then to die for his vision of a just and equitable society—sacramentally embodied in Eucharist and metaphorically in the biblical story of feeding thousands with limited resources.

Ask and you shall receive. 


 

  

 

 

 

 

Jesus is remembered as saying in the famed Sermon on the Mount. ASK comes before receive. When you ask it’s a good idea to have someone you trust at your side, partly for support, and mostly to make sure you don’t lose heart. When you give let go of smug pride and control. When you receive, don’t say you don’t deserve it,  just say Thank You.

So my sister asked, and I cheered, and we both prayed.

Here is her GoFundMe link; https://www.gofundme.com/f/laurie-help-me-chew-again  And below is her statement. Anything will help. Thank you.

I am 79 years old, and I cannot chew. I have no teeth. I need good dentures. My overall health is jeopardized by poor nutrition, not to mention my appearance. My jawbone is receding rapidly with age, so that before long it will not be able to hold new dentures, making the need urgent. My oral condition is the result of an invasive and progressive bacterial infection I contracted in the early 1990s that attacked my mouth. Medications did not arrest it in time to save my teeth. I lost seventy pounds, so my present dentures have lost their ability to fit snugly or stay in place and are now too painful to wear. My income is below poverty level, and my two small jobs are gone. I have visited several dentists and have secured an estimate of $4,000 for a new set of dentures. I could finance these, but there is a 25% interest charge so I would have to pay almost double the initial cost. Thank you in advance for any amount you are able to contribute to help me out. I so appreciate your prayers as well as your generosity. Send check to Laurie Barnhart, 441 Dowd Avenue, Canton, Connecticut 06019.  

When we relinquish our familiar habits of mind and all clichés, there is equal joy in giving and in receiving.


 

 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

2021.03.07 On Saying NO

Most of us recognize NO when we see or hear it. Most of us recall seeing a wee one in a high chair, bibbed and ready to slurp and slop up whatever is on the spoon‚ until that something is liver, which gets spit out vociferously. Or the toddler who, after a little discernment, hurls unwanted food items from the high chair tray. We recognize NO when we see or hear it.

                                       *  *  *  *
Bible stories really should not be read as intellectual treatises or abstract academic texts. They are best read as sentient stories or bits of stories to swallow whole, like a poem—so profound and so everyday at once.

What does it mean to you that the putative savior of the world, according to Christian faith, wraps his hands around a self-made whip of cords (ouch) and kicks butt in the sacred place of worship, the Temple in Jerusalem, and drives people screaming from the premises?


 


Read the story. (John 2:13) Notice your initial thoughts or feelings. Now envision the Temple scenario.  Where would you be? I see myself in the women’s court standing aside—an investigative reporter taking copious notes. I feel secure hiding my nose in my precious notes. But my gut is churning. I can smell the heat of the marketplace, hear many voices in a babble. I watch Jesus approach. I see his keen eyes gleam as they sweep the scene. He’s calm, his stride purposeful, his hands twirl and braid a whip out of strips of leather scraps. I used to ride horses and I know the smooth feel of a riding crop. I’m tense, taut, tight—riveted. I feel sucker-punched.

It’s a meaty scene, remembered well enough through hundreds of years of oral tradition. Think traveling minstrels strolling the ancient Eastern world, singing and strumming stories that drew crowds. These “street corner” prophets attracted crowds. They brought not just entertainment, not only simple propaganda, not even flat-out good news. They transmitted, through lyric and story-song, the invisible and indispensable gift of Hope.

Hope isn’t something you can go out and get, and you can’t give it to anyone else. Hope has to be caught, invisibly in the air, like a virus.You suddenly have it for no sensible reason, and you know it. You also know you can’t possess or re-create Hope it, yet it is yours right now. The Scottish have a word for this phenomenon: glist. Glist means sun streaming through a break in the clouds.

Eventually, all this Hope was written down, printed, translated, and bound into one huge book called Holy Bible. Thousands of years later, we still place a right hand on this book, and swear  to tell the truth or to fulfill a high office with integrity and honor. This book, ironically, counts, even in an age in which many people do not believe in its God and scorn religion.  

To return to our story, which—notably—is remembered and written into all four gospels. Jesus, whose entire message was about loving God whole-heartedly enough to treat yourself and your neighbor with respect, is saying NO.
NO to false gods!
NO to murder!
NO to adultery!
NO to stealing!
NO to false testimony/lying!
NO to inequity!
NO to injustice!
NO to worship in holy spaces, Temple and Church, that does not induce practices of Justice, Mercy, and Sabbath Peace in all living things.    

Was Jesus angry? Of course! There has been much resistance among biblical scholars and Christians, especially of the evangelical bent, to let the human Jesus have human emotions. I do not take the Bible literally; I do take it seriously. Bible stories are spiritually compelling precisely because they are emotionally intelligent.

My Hope? Well, if my biblical ancestors in sacred tradition can be angry, so can I. If the star of my religious faith can be angry, so can I. And with clarity and punch, I can say NO.
NO to systemic and individual domestic violence.
NO to violence against women.
NO to global domestic violence.
NO to murder as a strategy for maintaining peace or justice.
NO to being forced to praise a white male supremacist image of Divinity/God.
NO to CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) and to the idol they prop up as “savior.”
NO to lying to children generation to generation.
NO to churches who proffer a false God, preach sedition.
NO to unexamined white privilege I cannot help but recognize in myself.
NO to being a wimp!