Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Angels and Bulls

Today on the church calendar we remember St. Michael and All Angels.

Do you believe in angels? I don’t know if I do, but I love the imagery and the spiritual energy that is named angel. To me angels are metaphors for spiritual strength—the kind needed for liberation.

Angels are like bulls charging into life’s injustices full force. That’s why they are pictured with weaponry, divine armor which does not mean you are to start a war either inside or outside yourself but rather to trust that inner strength will be provided.

It seems too sentimental, except for children, to say that angels "guard" individuals. I think angels guard divine values—justice, peace and compassion—by giving us wings to fly free and help others fly.

In the bible angels are messengers, fierce messengers announcing news of something new that will require your attention, your best resources and your creative imagination. When imagination and the forces for good are let loose, angels fly, bulls charge. There is death and there is new life.

Today I read in the Boston Globe that a 1,400 pound bull had escaped from a slaughterhouse in Paterson N.J. and dragged police officers with a lasso down the street ten blocks. The bull charged forward with brute force, running for his mighty life, refusing to succumb to the forces of violence that threatened his beautiful life.

My heart flew with the bull as I stared at the photo. Angels were with that bull as he made a run for life and freedom against impossible odds. I admired that bull. His effort was futile. It took an hour to corral him, sedate him and return him to slaughter. I will think of that bull the next time I order steak and am asked how I would like it cooked. The bull’s effort was futile, not wasted.

Sometimes our best efforts for the good end in tragedy. The courageous among us make these efforts anyway. Liberation is never easy. Liberation requires heroism, strong force. Many literally die like the bull, but all liberators wake us up and all are beloved.

Once a bull was an angel of liberation for me. He came out one day in therapy when my brilliant and uppity therapist suggested I give my restless inner energy an animal identity. I knew right away it was a bull. I’d spent lots of childhood time on a farm. I knew bulls up close and personal. In spite of my fear at their ferocity and power I was fascinated. My therapist told me to be a bull, right there in her office. As appalled as I was I was at a stage in my therapy that if she told me gravel was food I’d have eaten it. I started to paw the carpet, roar, howl, snort. What was probably five minutes or less released thirty years of rage. When the bull quieted I emerged transformed. A feeling of absolute peace enveloped me and strangely sharpened my vision so I looked up at my therapist and for the first time noticed how beautiful her face was.

She asked if I had words. A hymn came to mind, “Father Eternal, Ruler of Creation.” It’s a violent hymn, relentlessly, verse by verse, detailing the destructive powers of oppression and war. The refrain is Thy kingdom come, oh Lord, thy will be done. I sang it to her.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

At the Foot of the Cross—or the Bed

Reflecting on Holy Cross Day, September 14th, on the old holy cross, I wonder why we could call such a topsy-turvy symbol holy.

Most people think it’s nuts. Even many Christians. A great and innocent man of God is killed for preaching divine mercy and justice and roiling up the rabble and we call it divine love? divine will? How do you make common sense or sacred sense of such a hideous instrument of execution, signaling cruelty, injustice and other sins against humanity too fierce to mention And Christians say it’s God’s self-giving love? Or worse, it’s for your own good, or God needs this lamb’s blood to ransom us from sin. Not very loving, eh?

One of my favorite movies is Thelma and Louise. It’s a gruesome story of two women who commit murder in the wake of rape, become fugitives from the law, and decide to die together rather than submit to further abuses in a patriarchal system. Their decision to drive over the edge of the Grand Canyon felt noble to me, heroic, holy. My tears flowed sorrow and joy. I learned a lot about myself, women, injustice, cruelty and spiritual freedom. I think of Jesus’ choosing death. I think of God’s choosing resurrection.

I bet those women ended up somewhere near the right hand of Godde.

Our good friend of years and brother priest Richard Schuster died the end of August. He had devoted his whole adult life to works of justice and love, developing a non-profit organization, St. Lukes LifeWorks, to help the underserved populations of the city of Stamford, Connecticut get jobs, training, counseling and housing. He saw his work as ministry. He did it for people and for God.

Richard was only sixty-four. His disease, pulmonary fibrosis, took hold and went faster than anyone imagined it could.

On Friday August 28 we had a dinner date with him and his wife Angela. We two couples had been good friends for years. Our dinner date morphed suddenly into hospital and hospice and huge oxygen tanks that pumped oxygen into his failing lungs, almost like a home respirator without the nasty nasal gastric tube.

We debated about it all and, undeterred, decided we’d come anyway and bring in some take out food from one of our favorite haunts Mitchells Fish Market. When Richard heard we were coming and getting food from Mitchells he perked up and ordered—broiled trout, garlic mashed potatoes, two pieces of key lime pie and wine.

We gathered, sat on his bed while Angela fed him a little trout, two bites of potato and almost all of one key lime pie slice. He was alert. We laughed, sharing old and odd memories of our escapades, including our plans to reform the church calling ourselves Parish Management Services, which we dropped when we figured the acronym was PMS. We all cried; we touched; we said prayers each one according to our own styles and words; we touched some more, hands, arms, head, his flesh cold to the touch; we said good bye and good bye and good bye with love. It was a holy communion at the foot of his bed, his "cross". Then he left and started his journey home. We ate the rest of the meal and the pie, drank the wine and hugged. A holy communion.

Although sad these last moments were transformative for us all. We and Angela have a living memory that will stay with us for ever or at least every time we dine on key lime pie and loving conversation.

Isn’t that what Jesus’ followers did with his tragic death: gathered, shared, prayed, loved, sipped wine and broke bread together? Is that enough meaning?

Isn’t this what we Christians do every Sunday when as community we gather at the foot of a cross for the Holy Eucharist?

It’s enough meaning for me, holy enough too.