Sunday, April 29, 2012

2012.04.29 This Bible is Amazing, Mom . . .Did You Know?

My youngest adult son John got interested in the Bible—not in the usual ways, like church, or by being lovingly schooled and nurtured in biblical story by his mother a priest.  It’s a little embarrassing but wondrous.

One day John walked into his therapist’s office for his session and saw his therapist reading from laminated pages. The therapist put down his pages but John was curious, a necessary virtue for growth.

What are you reading? John asked.

The gospel of Luke from the Bible, his therapist said.

The conversation and John’s session began, oddly, not with whatever John’s issues of the day were, but with the Bible.

To satisfy  John’s curiosity the therapist explained his interest in the Bible for its wisdom and amazing stories. He had no heavy-handed Christian agenda, or any agenda except following John’s agenda, which had suddenly become the Bible. (I love how good stuff spreads.)  The therapist, a sensitive apostle, explained that the pages of the Bible were fragile and tissue-thin so he’d laminated the ones he was reading to carry  around in his briefcase.

The conversation evolved as conversations of interest do, and John’s therapy that day included Bible study. Somehow his own life got laminated into those pages. It ended, as always, with some homework, not of the usual kind. The therapist suggested that John read the Gospel of John, a namesake of sorts,  in the New Testament.  

That’s when the phone calls started. Mom, this stuff is amazing.  Did you know all this?  Listen to this that Jesus said. Cool.  I think it means this.

It’s no small spiritual matter when someone engages scripture and the words written jump off the pages and into the mind and the heart.  Living Word.

To me this was like the God of Living Word, who has brought me to new life again and again, now bringing new life and insight to someone as beloved as John is to me.  Downright Easter!

“I’m trying Mark next, Mom.”

(Mark is the name of the gospel writer and of John’s step brother and good friend. I love how stuff spreads.)

P.S.  I read the Bible cover to cover,compulsively, when I was in 7th grade, looking for advice on dating. All I found was God getting women pregnant, which I definitely didn't want!  But I did learn that both testaments were shot through with a relationship pattern by which God and humanity connected, disconnected and reconnected—over and over without fail. That gave me hope. I concluded that the star of the Bible is not God or humanity but their relationship.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

2012.04.25 The Gift of Alanon

When I went to my first Alanon meeting I was in the midst of my own midlife turmoil, getting things straightened out by messing them up first. You know the usual adolescent passage.

Anyway, all I could think as I sat quietly tense listening to many stories told by people who had lived with alcoholism, some all their lives, some only recently, and all of them stunned that they had never realized what was happening to them, was, “MY MOTHER WOULD KILL ME FOR BEING HERE!” (I was violating the tabu against narking or ratting. I was telling "classified" family info.)

The story tellers were mostly women, stunned, to varying degrees, that they had not realized what was happening to them because of what was obviously someone else’s problem.

Odd and crazy! I hated this meeting. Yet...... odd to find myself so utterly one of them. Odd too that I worried about my mother when wasn’t my father the alcoholic? He after all was the one with the tri-cornered martini glass twisting between his thumb and forefinger nightly.

Alanon, I read in the pamphlet, was initiated in the mid 1900s by Lois Wilson, wife of alcoholic Bill Wilson, founder of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous.) Lois realized that her own life was as affected by Bill’s addiction as his was. You don’t have to be the one vomiting to feel nauseous. You don’t have to be the one lying to feel blame. You don’t have to be the sleep-distrubed one to lose sleep.

AA and Alanon are siblings and, yes, they often rival but they have the same goal: to live sober, serene and happy lives. Transformation is the way out and it can not be done without the help and support of other people and God aka Higher Power.

The meeting went on around me as my mind smashed into its own fears and judgments. Why hadn’t I known and why hadn’t my mother known and done something about it? And why hadn’t my father loved me at least as much as his glass? And why did I fall in love with alcoholics?

But I sat and flinched because my mother would not want me to know or to tell. It was then that I first realized how ashamed and self-condemning she too must have felt at her helplessness. It was then that I began to understand my mother, avoid being “killed” by her, and understand her micromanaging as an effort to make things right not torture me.  It was then I began to forgive her, just a little.

The meeting ended and the friendly women said to keep coming. All you need is the desire to live well and sane.

I left that first meeting vowing never to return. Too much truth blinds—and awakens.

Yes I went back. I kept on listening. I never was at a meeting that I didn’t hear in the shreds of another’s story something that was part of my story, something that enlightened me and helped me feel not so confused, hopeful that insight could bring healing. Sometimes I told my story, too.

What Alanon taught me: 1) You don’t have to drink to be alcoholic. All you have to do is be constantly/secretly anxious, engage in a life mission of controlling the uncontrollable, and alternate between anger (bullying and tempers,) passivity (cold withdrawal and secret scorn,) and micromanagement of your own and other’s lives— all strategies of control. 2) You can’t recover, transform, your life by yourself. 3) How you think about God, or the transcendent dimension of life, is crucial. It’s easy to give your heart to the wrong God or follow the wrong star. 4) Humility is the highest virtue. 5) How to take care of yourself, a little like coming home to your own integrity and worth and knowing that you matter. 6) How to detach with love: to love fully without losing yourself in the other, or abandoning the other to save yourself.

Alanon is like eastering.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

2012.04.22 Spiritual Co-Incidences

I do believe in co-incidences. Things co-incide/collide all the time. Sometimes it hurts and transforms, and sometimes it soothes and transforms.

I do not believe that such co-incidences are arranged by divine design. I do believe that they can be spiritually charged and may reflect more than random unpredictability, a co-operation: divine grace and human effort together. Somewhat like a good waltz.

A few such co-incidences: small collisions that have prodded, poked, and lifted my spirits over the years in church.

The presence of a community of mentally and physically challenged people from a local care facility alters a worship, challenges expectations for ordered liturgy— and adds aliveness. Once in a parish church the priest announced the gospel of the day: “The Holy Gospel according to John.” From the rear of the church a man walked up the aisle and stood right next to the priest, waiting. Startled, a little flustered, the priest asked the man what he wanted? “Did you call me?” the man said. The priest said no, and then quickly, yes. The man’s name was John.

Dialogue sermons open up a whole congregation to spiritual co-incidence as people, closet theologians all, preach a sermon together. The prompt: Why do you doubt? Jesus asked. The responses: I don’t know where it comes from. It’s the devil of course. You gotta fight it. It’s when I get afraid. Doubt isn’t bad, it’s one side of the faith coin. My faith is so weak. Jesus wouldn’t have asked about faith if he didn’t respect doubt. Some things like resurrection are just too true not to doubt. Yeah, it’s easier to doubt than to face strong truth even if you think it might be good for you. Doubt’s a habit. Up and over and under and round wove the threads of a very good co-incidental homily.

In a small parish I used to serve one space sufficed to worship God, meet to pass a budget, pray, sip coffee and munch a cookie or crack a carrot, and more. Here, just as I elevated the bread of Presence for the Eucharist,the coffee urn percolator made its own presence known—bloop/blurp/blop/blup—nourishment for all in God’s name. Eucharist and eucharist. All of it wholseome.

The spontaneous appreciation of, as they say, differently abled people, sometimes in off the streets, is a gift. Who has ever received a round of applause after a homily or at the end of a Sunday mass (not for the organ postlude either)?

Wouldn’t you clap for God?

Friday, April 13, 2012

2012.04.15 Poems to Easter By

Poetry is a natural spirit lifter and provoker. Good medium for eastering.

Here is one from Rumi, not his usual style but refreshing.

I called through your door, “The mystics are gathering in the street.
come out!”
“Leave me alone. I’m sick.”
“I don’t care if you’re dead! Jesus is here, and he wants to resurrect

And from St. Bonaventure (1221-1274), The Journey of the Mind to God

Do not assume that mere
Reading will suffice without fervor,
Speculation without devotion,
Investigation without admiration,
Observation without exaltation,
Industry without piety,
Knowledge without love,
Understanding without humility,
Study without divine grace..

Expect the end of the world.Laugh.Laughter
is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have
considered all the facts. So long as women do
not go cheap for power, please women more
than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy a woman
satisfied to bear a child? Will this disturb the
sleep of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.Let down in the
shade. Rest your head in her lap. Swear
allegiance to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.

Be like a fox
who makes more tracks than necessary, some
in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

2012.04.11 Snoozing and Schmoozing With Shostakovich

Last month we went to a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert and I think I heard my symphony.

I settled into my seat for the first offering and quickly was surrounded by the gentle timbre of sleep breathing. It was Friday midday, nap time for the elderly. I found the surround sound quite soothing. No one snored.

Perhaps one day I will be snoozing like this but for now the music has the opposite effect. It brings me to the edge of my seat, stretching every awakened nerve.

Shostakovich’s #5 symphony is electric. It was very political written at the time of Stalin, a protest in the guise of great beauty. The music is full of lament especially in the Largo movement that made me cry. It was a statement the political powers would miss.

The program note called Shostakovitch a musician of great sensitivity (is there any other kind?)  who "gleefully 'pushed the envelope.' "  I grinned.

And of course the damn thing ended with a crashingly lively triumvalist march inserted, as tradition demanded, to reassure the Communist leaders that the people were SO joyous about their new regime—all grandiose bullshit of course.

(Shostakovitch added the march to save his life, the life he almost lost over one of his less subtle and more provocative pieces.)  

The commentator called Stalin's demand for cover-up marches to "fool" the people"grandiosomania"—something to watch out for.

The march worked to awaken the snoozers, however, who joined the thunderous applause clapping with vigor, and shouting, Bravo! For a long time they clapped and rejoiced, until it was time to catch the bus home. Waiting in the perpetual ladies room line I heard everyone,exclaiming to each other how “wonderful” the concert was.

Who says you don’t hear when you’re sleeping?

And you know the phony march didn’t ruin the integrity of the music or jar my soul.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

2012.04.08 Eastering

Eastering is a simple spiritual practice. It may be connected to specific religious persuasions or not, even though Easter is an official Christian holy day celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ as recorded in the gospels of the New Testament.

It is important to note that Jesus did NOT raise himself. God raised him into new life. Resurrection is not a self-help program. It is a faith issue, and the opposite of faith is certitude not doubt.

Some experiences are just too true not to doubt.

The act of resurrection is not actually described. No one was there. Resurrection is assumed from post-resurrection accounts, sitings if you will. All report profound spiritual experiences, visions of Jesus as a spirit-person, that amazed and transformed them from the inside out—completely.

The resurrected Jesus was not a ghost and yet not quite a biologically alive person either. St. Paul tried to describe a resurrection body and became all tangled up in inadequate language.

Suffice it to say that Jesus made a snap appearance, bestowed the gift of his peace, a word of hope, maybe a meal, then gone. Poof. That is enough for me to hang my hat on.

My favorite siting is the one described in John’s gospel in which Mary Magdalene is grieving and weeping as she gazes into the dark emptiness of a tomb/grave looking for Jesus. Then she heard her name called, looked away from death and stared life in the face. Christ stood there and of course, when she heard the sound of her own name, she recognized him and rushed toward him and he stopped her, saying “Don’t touch me!” Go and tell the others.

She was sent away, on her own but with friends. But, but....wait! I need more.

You all know how difficult it is to try to describe to anyone else your spiritual experience—and we all have such experiences. And you all know how perfectly cherished it is to you and how true. You have finally to trust it yourself and tell it whenever you can to whomever will listen.

Someone once advised keeping expectation lower than a toad’s instep. You can’t push truth like an agenda. And for christ’s sake be humble and modest about it. You’re not unique and probably not any more of a mystic than many others with like experiences. Color yourself lucky, not special.

Resurrection is after all a bit of a disappointment. You can’t have it all back the way it was. Nothing will ever be the same. Death is certain. What now?

I suggest eastering. This can even be a self-help effort! for me it takes effort and energy an acceptance of failure. I try to look through things and people to see life within the apparent, surface life. I know when I find it because it will unexpectedly lift my spirits. And I always feel afraid to share it for fear I’m being spiritually gooey or found foolish. I bow to my ego more than I’d like.

Eastering means seeing the good within the evil without denying the evil. I get “eastered” more than I “easter.”

A few recent examples that “eastered” me..............
President Obama made a public statement of condolence to the family of the recently murdered young and innocent hoodied teen, Trayvon Martin. That’s pro forma politics. Easterish was that he said, “If I had a son he would look like Trayvon.”

A friend in an Episcopal parish told me she was upset about the “war on women” and the church that continued to use exclusive language, proclaiming an exclusively male deity. That wasn’t unusual. What was easterish was that she confronted her priest about the Easter service stationery logo that read, HE is risen. She told him it it should say CHRIST, or even the Lord. Just NOT HE.

A grand daughter Isabella, 12, visited recently and seemed as enthralled with reading as with mall shopping!! She was reading book two of the “Hunger Games” trilogy. I asked her about the violence and young people fighting each other to the death for no reason. “Oh Grammy, there is no point to dying unless it’s for something much more important.” Then she told me what that was, adding that the book was clearer about the vision than the movie. She eastered me.

The surprise arrival of an eastering note from a gracious woman letting me know that some words I’d said had transformed her heart. Not my words but God’s Word.

A conversation between two five year olds, one a beloved grandson, on their way to school this week. Thomas: "Ella, I will miss you this weekend because I am going to Connecticut to see my Nana for Easter." Ella: "Thomas, I will never, ever forget you and I will miss you too." (Easy to see why Jesus pointed to children as examples of what we must be like to enter the kingdom of God. Incidentally, even the tantrum-ish and difficult children are kingdom material. )

The cover of this week’s Newsweek the lead story headlined with “Forget the Church. Follow Jesus.” Andrew Sullivan has many wise insights. Easter for me is that he is a writer and commentator, a Roman Catholic who identifies himself as, yes, a conservative. The other side!!! Eeeek.............and Easter!

Easter yourself, your neighbors and, yes, God.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

2012.04.07 Finding the Way: the Faith OF Jesus

Holy Week, safely— or unsafely— launched, is at least a good enough thing. It’s like finally getting a diagnosis for this spiritual ailment called longing and wondering, suspended between two gardens: Eden of paradise and Gethsemane of agony-knowing-death. Most of life is spent between these two gardens. I resist them both.

My religion tells me that I will go through hell and somehow I will last, no matter what. That was the faith OF Jesus, a far better way to live than trying to have faith IN Jesus, a treacherous path snarled up with a zillion contradictory interpretations.

If you’re a Christian—lapsed, relapsed or unlapsed— it’s best to buckle your seat belt for this wild ride following the Jesus story in his last week. (I hope my last week, whenever that is, won’t be as bad as his was.)

I want to get to Easter and new life, but I know there are painful steps along the way if I choose to follow the faith of Jesus.

Along the way I will get from scripture, once again, powerful reminders of this faith of Jesus:
Love one another: try the politics and policies of love, kindness, generosity, plain caring, and forgiveness.
Weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.
Be silent with God the Good Father; die with God the Beloved Son/Daughter; brood with God the Spirit.
Let yourself be raised up in whatever way that can happen for you, and easter forth.

I like little homilies that just flow forth like that. I also know I’m being preachy. And also know that something in that homiletic may be taken up by Spirit and deposited where it will bear fruit I will never see.

By my home altar I have the book of a pastor and preacher, the late Howard Thurman. He spoke and wrote wisdom all his life and when he died in 1981 he was Dean Emeritus of Marsh Chapel, Boston University. Thurman also served as professor of theology at Howard University in D.C. The book, “Deep Is the Hunger,” is old, 1951. It is also eternal. Here’s what I opened to today.

A night so wild with the
glory of the moon
that the earth covered its face
On the pathway of my mind
long, long thoughts run riot.
They are quieted; not by the
beauty of the moon
On the covered face of the earth—
But by the passionate swelling
of awful harmony:
“De Old Sheep, they know the road.
Young lambs must find the way.”
My heart whispers to God:
“Let me always be the young lamb.”

Monday, April 2, 2012

2012.04.01 A Day of Fools and Palms

I feel as if I should be writing about Palm Sunday, the time Christians become re-enacters to the maximum!

It is, after all, Palm Sunday. And I can't muster the energy to heave myself out of my mood and follow the flock.

This Sunday we Christians remember the whole enchilada of Jesus as the New Testament story goes: riding into Jerusalem on a donkey thronged by cheering fans. Huge crowds, according to the embellishments of biblical-ese, were more likely small crowds, stragglers probably. They followed Jesus along the road, these hope-against-hopers waving palm pompoms.

Jesus, they hoped, would make it all come true —divine justice for the poor and desolate, a messianic social re-organization. PEACE.

It would be “thy kingdom come” come true, so they thought.

To me just now the triumvalism feels pointless, silly, utterly incongruent. Pitiful really: that we gather in tiny groups and make a tiny parade waving our shreds of palms and singing of glory, laud and honor—our every step shadowed by death.

I have never been present in any parish church Palm Sunday processional “crowd” where enough energy was marshaled to make us sound like a group of enthusiastic believers. Never. The joyful words turned to dust in our hosanna mouths.

We know what happened when Jesus spoke truth to power in Jerusalem. We know that power won, and keeps winning. We know the mission as planned failed.

It is psychologically impossible to move my heart even to imagine the promise of Easter on this messy day of fools and frenetic palm-waving, because I'm living surrounded by a parallel parable.

It’s deafening—the media and politicos each and all squawking and screeching positions. I even agree with some of them, but I can’t bear the cacophony. Its sound is shrill and its energy killing.

So why do we Christians, we Christ-hopers, keep up the charade as we stand on the lip edge of disaster?

I don’t know. I simply don’t know. So I cast my lot with Jesus and the fools and follow anyway, mouthing dry words and fighting back tears.

Where am I going? Tell me the truth, my God.

Please make me a pretty palm cross.