Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012.01.01 Holy Naming

It’s New Year’s Day. It’s also the Christian feast of the Holy Name.

Some Christians think there is only one holy name, and that it’s the name of Jesus. They’re wrong.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I love Jesus, both the holy man of Nazareth with the ribald humor and the buoying laugh and also the one the Church elevates to messiah, one sent by Godde to liberate and bring the good news that what?.......we’re saved.

But then you look around and guess what?... we’re not saved or it doesn’t look that way with all the mess of our lives and all the messiness and corruption in the world.

Salvation isn’t rescue it’s hope. And hope that is seen isn’t hope.

Scripture makes a big deal of God’s naming us each one and all, a way to acknowledge each one’s special place in the Heart of Love.

So who named you? My dad named me LYnda because he wanted to call me Lyn which he did. He only called me Lynda when he was seriously pissed off, like when he hollered me back inside as I was scampering across our lawn while sneaking out to meet my boyfriend who waited in the darkened getaway car down the street.

The sound of my whole name caught my attention. I was saved from teenage sex, which frankly was far more threatening than my father’s wrath.

Just his calling me by my whole name was enough to make me remember he cared about me, for better or worse.

Or . . . he’d call me by my full name when he “got me.”

(Our little granddaughter Phoebe, three, recently commented about her Uncle Robbie who’d given her a large empty cardboard box to play with, “That Uncle Robbie, he really gets me!”)

Dad “got me” when I told him I wanted to be a priest and then went quickly into a long awkward and inadequate explanation of something I couldn’t explain. He said “It’s OK Lynda. I understand.”

How do you name yourself? How do you name God?

God names us, and in so doing "gets" us, than tries like hell to save us from harm, failing almost every time but still trying.

Now that’s holy naming. Listen and hope.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011.12.28 Truth and Fact

A huge ceiling to floor oil painting of a rose, painted by Mary Daly RSM, hangs in the chapel of Mercy Center in Madison, CT. It serves as a reredos.

I have often gazed at its multi-petaled beauty and thought it an icon of the sacred heart, roomy enough to enfold the cosmos into its soft velvety bosom.

On one retreat I decided to dissect a real rose I had picked from the garden. I operated on it with caution, care and respect, as an good autopsy-ist would. I wanted to know how many petals there actually were in my cosmic image of divine love.

There were a disappointing 53 petals in my big fat red rose. I laughed to think how easy it is to align truth and fact as if they were the same phenomenon.

Of course I didn’t expect the number of rose petals to be infinite but I’d hoped for more than 53. The fact was this rose had 53 petals. The truth for me was its appearance of petaled profusion suggested something much more than its parts.

Fact is material knowledge. Truth partakes of a transcendent dimension, pointing beyond its literal manifestation. Facts, however, are the necessary vehicles of truth.

When I used to read Goodnight Moon to my young children we all knew the facts: bunnies don’t talk, have bedtime stories read to them, or sleep in beds.

Beyond facts lay truth: a good story well told makes everyone feel hopeful, can fill us with love and respect for all things, from a large glowing moon to a simple soothing bedtime ritual. Truth can replace fear with peace. Truth comes through facts.

ONE baby is born in a measly manger and kings think he’s a messiah in the making. All mothers think that of every babe, but the Magi? Story is fact + truth.


Fact gives truth a leg to stand on. Truth puts a bloom on the cheek of fact lest its concrete gray complexion fails to inspire.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

2011.12.25 Every Baby is God

Sharon's Christmas Prayer
by John Shea
She was five,sure of the facts, 
and recited them 
 with slow solemnity, 
convinced every word 
was revelation. 

She said they were so poor
they only had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eat
and they went a long way from home 
without getting lost.

The lady rode 
 a donkey,
the man walked,
and the baby 
was inside the lady. 

They had to stay in a stable 
with an ox and an ass (hee-hee) 
but the Three Rich Men found them 
because a star lited the roof. 
Shepherds came and you could 
pet the sheep but not feed them. 
Then the baby was borned. 

And do you know who he was? 

Her quarter eyes inflated 
to silver dollars
The baby was God.    
And she jumped in the air, 
whirled round, dove into the sofa, 
and buried her head under the cushion 
which is the only proper response 
to the Good News of the Incarnation.

2011.12.24 Shepherd's Carol

WE stood on the hills, Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Watching the frosted meadows
That winter had won.

The evening was calm, Lady,
The air so still,
Silence more lovely than music
Folded the hill.

There was a star, Lady,
Shone in the night,
Larger than Venus it was
And bright, so bright.

Oh, a voice from the sky, Lady,
It seemed to us then,
Telling of God being born
In the world of men.

And so we have come, Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Our love, our hopes, ourselves
We give to your son.

Words, ANON.
Oxford University Press

This carol was written for the Choir of King’s
College for ‘Carols from King’s’ in 2000.

And then one day they discovered there was also a girl in Christ, a daughter, and that the Messiah needed no surgery or counseling to be "transgendered"-in-the-flesh. Faith invited more room and a change in excluding attitudes. Grin with me and be a blessing.

2011.12.23 Christina Rosetti on Christmas

Christina Rosetti on Christmas

CHRISTMAS hath a darkness
Brighter than the blazing noon,
Christmas hath a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas hath a beauty
Lovelier than the world can show:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

Earth, strike up your music,
Birds that sing and bells that ring;
Heaven hath answ’ring music
For all Angels soon to sing:
Earth, put on your whitest
Bridal robe of spotless snow:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.


Faber Music

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011.12.21 Every Day Salvation

Just the other day I was exiting my favorite bookstore Porter Square Books having bought my 1-millionth book, an activity tantamount to starting a fund to bring back dinosaurs, when I hear the familiar Christmas season tingle of bell.

I followed the sound and sure enough there were two old men dressed in red, looking Santa-ish and ringing little bells. They stood next to the Salvation Army kettle into which they hoped generous people would toss coins, maybe bills.

Moved by a force not quite my own I put a $20 bill into their kettle and said “The Salvation Army saved my nephew.” The old man bell ringer’s eyes filled up and so did mine.

There we stood on a crowded shopping street in the city of Cambridge MA. weeping for salvation and for my nephew Sam who had been brought back to strength and health and sobriety, not once but many times, by this gently militant crusading for Christ organization that has been “saving people in Christ’s name for over a century.

I moved on lugging my book cache and he resumed his bell ringing. Somehow it sounded different.

I told my sister of the encounter and I bet she cried too. Today is the Church’s calendar date for Thomas the apostle known by some as the one who doubted the resurrection good news. Neither my sister his mom or me his aunt have ever doubted Sam, the boy, now man, of countless life chances and countless salvations.

Tomorrow is also the Solstice, a day when the sun returns its face to give us a scintilla more daylight. Such a welcome gift as we enter the bleak of winter.

My sister told me that Sam had asked for the Bible on CD for Christmas. Too hard for him to read but not hard to listen to. At the Salvation Army shelter where Sam again is trying to chose life, he is steeped in recovery program and goes to church every day. He is Christ-soaked and Christ-doped,which is better than being alcohol-soaked or heroin-doped.

Sam had told his mom that there was some guy in the Bible, Zeph-something who told him God would give him a new heart and a new spirit.

That biblical guy was Ezekiel who, along with other prophets, delivered the divine promise: “A NEW HEART I WILL GIVE YOU, AND A NEW SPIRIT I WILL PUT WITHIN YOU; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezek. 36:26)

Sam heard words that articulated exactly what he needed, an entire full-body transplant—new heart, soul, flesh, mind body, the works. The odd irony of this connection the kind Spirit makes is that Ezekiel in his day, and to many biblical interpreters in modern day, was thought insane because of his strange images and visions.The ancients said possessed; moderns said schizophrenic or manic-depressive.

Yet Ezekiel became one of the major prophets in the Bible. You could die laughing. But that kind of thing happens often. It’s the work of the God of reversals. Sam is one of those reversals. Let it hold.

My sister and I decided to split the cost of the Bible on CD for Sam this Christmas. The rest is up to Sam, the Salvation Army, and God-in-Ezekiel.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

2011.12.18 Anyone Noticed Santa/God?

The wondrous Christmas figure of Santa Claus as many know was based on the generosity of an early Church Bishop Nicolas of Myra (ca. 342 CE) who gave without condition—and NOT exclusively to those in need, but to all, most especially children.

His behavior was so strange that he became Saint Nicholas aka Santa Claus. He’s all around this time of year.

My grand daughter Phoebe screeched last year at the idea of sitting in the lap of this bearded and red-suited stranger going HO HO HO. But now she’s 3 and very sophisticated. She was silenced into awe when a Santa squeezed her shoulder. Told it to anyone who would listen.

Now that’s just how the ancients felt about God and Christ through their spiritual experiences. They told it all over, spreading the good news: He touched me. He touched me.

There’s a BUT to this joy, and that is that many faithful people have projected onto God the same conditional perspective we put into our ideas about Santa: IF you’re nice you get a gift BUT IF you’re naughty you get coal, or nothing. AND of course both MEN are omniscient so they know. Spooky dooky!

Do you think kids believe that threat? Probably not or no one would ever give Santa or God a chance, because they both always comes through with something without needing to be bribed by goodness.

So why, in heaven’s name literally, do some Christians have so darn much trouble adjusting their theology to allow for the central value of their faith, which is unconditional love or grace through forgiveness? Repentance isn’t, in my unhumble opinion, required. Rather it’s a byproduct.

That’s the free grace of divine nature. We may not know it or care about it. We may not be able to be that way ourselves. And we may not be able to receive such unconditional grace. Does that make it unreal?

Hell, if God is any old benign conditional parent in the sky, then I’m an a-theist.

PS An old friend who couldn’t resist just sent us some cocktail napkins with a cartoon on them depicting a mother with a small girl in a line waiting to give Santa this year’s demands, read transactional grace. The caption reads: “You should go and talk to Santa, dear, even though you feel he screwed you last year.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011.12.14 Occupy and Organize

Let’s get organized! I think I shouted that to my young family or if I didn’t I thought it loudly.

I wonder if Godde conjured that divine thought just the second before the firmament split-seconded out of control and Creation burst through.

It seemed to me that in our family of six we needed to find a way to go in the same direction at the same time at least once a day—other than to bed.

So I have admired the Occupiers very much, for their cause, their zeal, their endurance, their shear voicing of truth, and their non-violent ways. AND I want them to get organized so their truth-voice will not fade out and whoosh away like so much sage brush in the desert.

So I say to Occupiers: Don’t get lost. Don’t lose your vitality. OCCUPY YOUR IDEA. Get organized and take your voice to the halls of executive and legislative power. Politics is a hard go, but GO.

At Christmas Christians celebrate anew the God who OCCUPIES human flesh in Jesus, and in you & me too! This idea took hold and held on in spite of many attempts to evict and convict it.

A five year old named Sharon told the old story to her poet father John Shea who wrote a poem about his daughter’s solemn retelling of the ancient story. Sharon’s response is the only possible one to such a gloriously preposterous idea:
“Then the baby was borned.
And do you know who he was?
Her quarter eyes inflated to silver dollars.
The baby was God.
And she jumped in the air,
whirled round, dove into the sofa, 
and buried her head under the cushion 
which is the only proper response 
to the Good News of the Incarnation.”

This Occupy movement may hold hope for what is currently thought heinous to so many: ORGANIZED RELIGION.

The early seekers and followers of divinity realized there was more to this messy life than human effort. In time they organized themselves and drew a community together to worship a Mystery they couldn’t know except by faith.

Religion’s journey began in relationships of mutual caring among human beings who shared inklings of intuitions of the Beyond, the More. They were intimately connected by their fears— and their awe. Wonderstruck they “dove into sofas” and uttered prayers. It began with astonishments and a vision. Only later did they get organized in writing and practices and, heaven forfend, structure.

Of course the impulse to organize can go awry but not if the people keep hold of the vision: love, peace, justice for all earth— because of an OCCUPYING GOD.

Friday, December 2, 2011

2011.12.11 Fleeting Frail Memory

It occurred to me as I write my memoir that even the facts I know I don’t remember long or well, often doubt altogether. It’s why fragile memory can’t be proven, only explored and experienced with loving care. Then gone.

Here is a quote on memory from Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.  I love it.

"My theme is memory, that winged host that soared about me one grey morning of war-time. These memories, which are my life—for we possess nothing but the past—were always with me. Like the pigeons of St. Mark's, they were everywhere, under my feet, singly, in pairs, in little honey-voiced congregations, nodding, strutting, winking, rolling the tender feathers of their necks, perching sometimes, if I stood still, on my shoulder; until, suddenly, the noon gun boomed and in a moment, with a flutter and sweep of wings, the pavement was bare and the whole sky above dark with a tumult of fowl. Thus it was that morning of war-time. "  

I do envy that prose. We'd be blackballed today probably for such a lengthy sentence but it is eloquent.  We who write are all honey-voiced don't you think? 

My favorite Christmas memory of my childhood is my father reading aloud "Twas the Night Before Christmas" as we small three daughters listened in awe and wonder. The story itself held all the enchantment of the Nativity story. It's the story that converts and transforms, not its veracity.

My second favorite or clear memory of Christmas is of my father singing carols in his rich bass voice in church. It was enough just to listen and watch the candles flicker for me to know Love lives no matter what else dies.

The Eucharist is like Waugh's memory pigeons, a glimpse of remembered life, sharply present, beckoning, the past possessed, then, suddenly, swallowed and gone—not forgotten just gone. The Greeks call this phenomenon anamnesis (no amnesia.)

All you can do is say thanks for the memory.

2011.12.07 Anita Hill, Still Brave

It's Pearl Harbor Day, a time to remember tragedy, grieve our warlike ways, and up our efforts to prevent war!!

Also a fitting time for me to commemorate one of my heros who in her own way made a contribution to the effort to end violence and its ideologies.

In early October I heard Anita Hill speak on her new book Reimagining Equality. Stories of Gender and Race and Finding Home.

Hill as I expected her to be was eloquent speaking of how our ideas about HOME shape our experience and form our ideas of justice and equality in America.

I remember being riveted to the TV in 1991 when Hill confronted the issues of sexual harassment at the Senate hearing to confirm Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court Justice.

I’d never heard of sexual harassment but I sure had experienced it in church and society AND never thought a thing about it. I figured it was about my being an attractive women. Imagine!

Not until I read and became a feminist did I understand inequities, power dynamics and patriarchy, aptly defined by theologian Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza as any system of social organization that depends for its stability, its very existence, on -isms, strongly held beliefs and norms whereby one group has,and is supposed to have, more power and more access to resources than all others.

The inequity is structured right into the system,politically, economically, and theologically. It’s a short attitudinal hop from God HE the Almighty power to HE the man who has power over the woman. HE with all the power and right is sexISM.

Ism to me means that whatever precedes the -ism has all the power in the mind of a culture, an individual, or a group. I’m glad Christianity isn’t called Christian-ism.

Anita Hill told us that her grandmother’s name never appeared on the documentation or deed for a large farm her grandparents homesteaded in 1869. Her grandFATHER went from being property to owning property, the American dream. What happened to HER? The grandparents farmed the land together, both giving sweat and tears to the project of landed freedom. It wasn’t that her grandfather treated her grandmother with personal disrespect; the context ignored her very existence.

That’s old stuff you say. Maybe and maybe not. We’ve come a long way for sure and we’re not there yet. Hill cited the current housing crisis and foreclosure as no accident. The crisis is gendered. Women, singles in fact, have been unable to get loans and gain greater economic independence.

The two-parent single home solution isn’t working as the dream. It is failing to provide true HOME.

This is not the space to go deeper into this but Hill said the American dream of everyone being able to own property has ballooned. It has become distorted to mean that every American MUST HAVE bigger and bigger homes. "Trophy" mansions represent a failure of equity. They are symbols of a failed vision.

I’ve never like the idea of equality anyway. Human beings are not equal. They are equivalent, of equal value in our nations and in our churches.

Hill suggested that HOME means belonging, safety, community, not just house.

Many churches bear the name Heavenly Rest. Rest is a biblical metaphor for God. It doesn’t just mean peace after you die. You have a home in God as you are right now.

If we could begin to see each other this way we might rework the American dream and work to enlarge the concept of HOME as belonging in a community of equivalent souls where anything that devalues things black, female, disabled, poor, etc. undermines the whole.

According to Hill we need a movement from tolerance to belonging—very spiritual, very political, very economic, very American.