Monday, December 31, 2012

2012.31.12 Holy Innocence

Isn’t it true that we often remember, best and most lastingly, the small pieces of advice from wise teachers in elementary school when we are most vulnerably wide open to awe and wonder— before worldly sophistication sets in.

Here’s one from a third grade teacher shared by our parish priest ,who never forgot it.  The children became tense at the sound of a loud approaching siren. The teacher asked what the siren meant.  “Someone has been hurt,” they said,  and called out their own fearful speculations: fire, an accident, an bad emergency. 

The teacher listened to the children’s apprehensive associations. She affirmed them all with the compassion that only good listening can offer. Then she said:  “All this is true, children, but remember too, that whenever you hear the sound of a siren,  it also means that someone is on the way fast to bring help.” 

The time between Nativity and Epiphany, when the Magi finally make it to Bethlehem, thanks to a good star + wise astro-physics and astro-theology,  is a time for breathing after the rush and panic of conspicuous consumption.  

It's a time for hope, enormous hope, unknowing hope.

Something brand new has happened, and we have no idea what it means yet. It’s also very dark time,  full of many “sirens.” A time of mixed fear AND wonder.

When I was pregnant with each of my children and in their early infancy I felt the same—excited wondering, and also exhaustion from the weight of it, and the worry about whether this child would be all right, and would I be a good enough mother?

You know that any “child” will face all of life’s challenges, some more intense than others. Being born whole is a blessing, but only the first step. In church, therefore,  we keep on singing hymns that include cradle and cross, because we know we need to keep hope alive amidst the sirens that signal both hurt and help.

For who knows? Three weird desert types, from the east or the streets, may just ride in, on camels or in hot green sneakers, with wisdom and gifts that may get us through the night, help us understand that there is more than hurt and fear in store—always.

The third graders and their teacher had it right. Help is on the way, and some of it is up to us. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012.30.12 Mary, Joseph, and Santa Claus

In a neighboring town in a Boston suburb we saw a creche set-up, effulgent with strings of lights, strung about on hapless trees. Creche figures stood tall, gathered in a threesome: Mary, Joseph and Santa.

The sight amused and teased me. The first temptation was to scoff and scorn such cheap excess.  The second was to lament the way the religious meaning of Christmas has been all but lost. And the third was to wonder if Santa was an image of Divinity, of Christ.

In important ways Santa is a christ figure.   In equally important ways,  Santa falls short, because the old elf's generosity and love has conditions (naughty and nice lists.)  But.....Godde's love in Christ offers unconditional love.

Christmas is surrounded by other holy day traditions with similar meanings. Hannukah is a celebration of liberation for the Jewish people, ancient and modern. The day after Christmas, Kwanzaa is celebrated. It’s a pan-African celebration of “first fruits”—all the best offerings and gifts coming together in a celebration of shared life. Kwanzaa started during the Black Freedom Movement in the United States in1966, but has ancient roots in Egypt.

All these days honor the mystery of the human spirit. Religious interpretations attribute a portion of that mysterious expansive spirit to God working within human strength, empowering us to go beyond our limits for love, liberation, and generosity.

Kwanzaa’s founder, Dr. Maulana Karenga, chose to make the holiday cultural rather than religious, so that people of all faiths could gather to celebrate.

American culture right now has more Santa-awareness than Christ-awareness. Christmas has become more holly day than holy day,  a day more cultural than religious.

Some Christians rue this as religious loss, but I wonder if it’s gain? 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

2012.12.25 Merry Christmas For Ever

Many of the words people have used to speak of the Dec. 14th  Newtown CT.  tragedy are negative. They are un- words: unbelievable, unreal, unimaginable, unspeakable, unheard of, unbearable, unmanageable, unholy, ungodly.

I’ve noticed that many of these same words—unbelievable, unimaginable, unheard of, unreal, even ungodly—are also used to describe Christmas, a time when Christians believe by faith that God was born into human flesh as an infant, a God who gives UNconditional love. How ungodly! Not our almighty, divine, alleluia Lord! Unbelievable!

The only way to catch the grace of such an unbearably unreal story is to tell another unbelievable story.......then wait and see.

Once upon a time there lived a king of great power, wealth, and majesty. He ruled over a small kingdom and lived in a palace, full of riches,  jewels and treasures. The king’s castle sat atop the hill overlooking his kingdom, which he ruled with justice and equity.

The king loved to ride about among his citizens in his royal  or on horseback.  All the people cheered and bowed as he rode by.

One day the king caught sight of a beautiful maiden carrying a basket of bread home to her cottage. He watched. He took in her pleasant face and form, unable to avert his gaze. In short, the king became smitten with the young woman, and every day he would ride along the route she took. His heart’s desire was to marry the young woman, love her, and bring her to the castle to live with him—happily ever after.  

How would he make this happen?  He devised many schemes to make his will done.

First, an edict announcing that he would have her in marriage. No one would disobey a king’s orders. But no, the king knew better: love never happens by commandment or control.

He thought then to send his most eloquent messenger in person to deliver the king’s proposal, begging her assent. But no, true love is never indirect, no matter how elegantly it’s presented.

Then the king decided to shower the maiden with gifts and jewels that would please anyone. But no, she would be grateful, but so what?  Love and gratitude aren’t the same, and true love can not be bought or sold.

Ah, the king finally thought.....I’ll go to her house myself. I will appear at her door in all my royal finery and splendor and dazzle her. Then surely she will fall in love with me. The king was sure of this plan, but his Spiritual Director cautioned him: “You will blind her with your glory and make her afraid. Even the most holy awe isn’t love. Think and pray some more, my Lord King. Love is never from a distance, any distance at all.

Quickly, the king thought of a disguise, and just as quickly he unthought it.  She might fall in love, but when he revealed his true identity as king she might get angry at the trick. True love doesn’t wear a mask and doesn’t work by deceit.

Months passed and the king grew weary and was ready to give up. But no, his love for the woman was growing stronger, so strong it made him weep.  What could he do? Immediately, from deep within his longing soul he knew what he must do: He must stop being king.

This path made the king very sad and very scared. To give up all his wealth and privilege and position was terrifying.  To be himself, not an almighty king, was even more terrifying. 

But the most awful part of this plan was its risk. What if the woman didn’t fall in love with him? What if he, after he met her, didn’t like her? 

Still, this is what the king did. He went and lived among her people, worked and played, laughed and cried, came to know her and her people and they all came to know him—up close and personal.

The king’s plan took time and sacrifice but it worked. He and the woman married and lived happily ever after.

Their love grew ever nearer and ever greater, ever nearer and ever greater. 

The End For Ever.

(The above legend is not entirely original to me. Parts of it came from19th century Danish Christian existential philosopher/theologian, Soren Kierkegaard.)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012.12.23 Mary, Mary, Mary

        by John Taggart

Love enters the body



almost completely breaks and enters into the body

already beaten and broken

peaceful if breaking if breaking

and entering the already broken is peaceful

untouchable fortunately


This poem almost broke and entered my heart.  Some Christians will say it’s the “wrong” Mary. We should be honoring the Blessed Mary Mother Virgin Divine on the fourth Sunday of Advent, just before Christmas.  But no.  There are multiple generic Marys—all sacred, all blessed, few virginal, all bursting with love to give and to receive.  

Who this Christmas will break and enter your battered and yearning heart—peacefully? 

Friday, December 21, 2012

2012.12.20 Teen-Holy

Here’s what Izzy looked like when she was a tween, that is between single number ages and thirTEEN. Twelve seems like the longest year.

She has just turned 13 and is bursting with hormones and mood swings. A seminary professor once compared a grinning ball of energy called a teenager, suddenly appearing without warning on a stair step as you’re ascending carrying a bundle of laundry, with the Holy: a mysterium tremendum et fascinans. 

Teens are a tremendous and fascinating mystery.  They are goofy and wise, in your face and secretive in equal measures.  I remember one of my sons as a young teen asked for a hairdryer with a style comb, a stuffed teddy, and a lock for his door—all for Christmas. He got the first two.

I think of Jesus’ disciple Thomas, whose calendar day it is today. He wanted proof of identity of Jesus in resurrected form. And Jesus said, OK touch me and see. I’m the same one you love and follow, just in a different form. A teen might say, Here I am, the same one you birthed and love, just in a different form.

Having a FaceBook page is an age-related privilege Izzy loves. Perhaps she has age on her brain. Recently she posted the names and ages of all the 20 children and 6 adults who were murdered at an elementary school in Newtown, CT. Adult ages:  56, 52, 27, 30, 47, 29. Children, 16 aged 6, 4 aged 7.

Then she wrote a small prayer: "God please help their families and friends cope with this tragedy."  

By the time Izzy is old, like her Grammy, I bet she will post a prayer also for the murderer, the one just as holy though not as innocent. And post a prayer for his mother, whom he shot before he went on his rampage. I bet Izzy will think of that,  because that’s how she is at heart.

No one really knows why this happened, and may never know.

The young man was developmentally disabled, and himself a “child” of 20. He shot his mother who had tried to love him, and then headed for the school and sprayed bullets around the office and first grade classrooms in a Newtown school. And finally he shot himself.

These two more lives were lost also in this holocaust.  These two lives are grieved by someone somewhere—and in heaven.

But the reported death toll has been consistently reported at 26, and that’s what I read in most newspaper articles and heard on television. Twenty-six. 26. 

Twenty-eight lives were lost on that fatal day. 28.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2012.12.19 Bloody Marvelous Hope

Blessed is the act, the act of defiance, the act of justice
that fills the mouth with blood.
Blessed is the act of survival that saves the blood.
Blessed is the act of art that paints the blood
redder than real and quicker, that restores
the fallen tree to its height and birds.

These are words of poet Marge Piercy written on a visit to a holocaust site. She was saying kaddesh as she jotted down her poem.  Kaddesh in Hebrew means sanctification, derived from the word holy.  It is the first blessing prayer said over the cup of wine you drink at the Passover meal.  “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained and enabled us to reach this wonderful moment.”

I felt renewed anguish seeing the images of 20 small caskets, donated (what more can we do?) by the funeral home in Newtown CT. They will house tiny bodies; they will be present at funerals, rituals of remembrance and intimacy, containers for unmanageable grief, a way to DO something.

 In Advent Christians wait for this “wonderful moment” we call Jesus Christ, the Christ event.  And we ACT in the Eucharist, as Piercy wrote, by drinking “blood,” the wine of holiness. It is an act of defiance—and hope.

In hope, we bless God, in our odd blood-stained meal of justice, intimacy, and remembrance, called Eucharist. God, we say in faith, brings forth (Hebrew ha motzi)  fruit from the vine, bread from the earth, freedom from captivity, truth from error, peace from violence, and life from death.  Go and do likewise!

In the absence of certainty beyond faith, we act in hope—over and over—bloody marvelous hope. 

Are we all nuts?  Of course!  But no: it is certainty that is nuts, not hope. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

2012.12.16 A Prayer for a School Shooting

This prayer I received from a blog called the Velveteen Rabbi. Thank you Rabbi Rachel.

When we cry for holy innocent children, “perfect reflections” of God, there are no religions, no idolatries, no power or rights, no arguments, no blame, and no -isms. There is only oneness. Amen.  

God, let me cry on Your shoulder. 

Rock me like a colicky baby.

Promise me You won't forget

each of Your perfect reflections

killed today. Promise me 

You won't let me forget, either.

I'm hollow, stricken like a bell. 

Make of my emptiness a channel 

for Your boundless compassion.

Soothe the children who witnessed
things no child should see,

the teachers who tried to protect them

but couldn't, the parents 

who are torn apart with grief,

who will never kiss their beloveds again.

Strengthen the hands and hearts

of Your servants tasked with caring 

for those wounded in body and spirit.

Help us to find meaning

in the tiny lights we kindle tonight.

Help us to trust

that our reserves of hope
and healing are enough

to carry us through.

We are Your hands: put us to work.

Ignite in us the unquenchable yearning

to reshape our world

so that violence against children
never happens again, anywhere. 

We are Your grieving heart.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

2012.11.15 On the Other Hand, God

In the wake of the Newtown, CT.  school shooting this week, the tremors, like an earthquake aftermath, will ripple throughout the immediate geographical area, and also through the hearts of people the world over.

One of my sons, who lives in the neighboring town, posted on FaceBook that his son Will, age ten, cried himself to sleep last night. One of Will’s ice hockey teammates is a student in the school where the shooting happened. He was not killed because he was not a kindergartner. Will cried anyway.

Reactions start small and spread.  Every single reaction matters. Every single thought and feeling count— rational, sentimental, denying, skeptical, optimistic or pessimistic, prayerful, practical, bold and impotent, frightened, guilty, loving. ALL of it matters. 

Many people will rush to church, as to an Emergency Room in a time of crisis. They seek healing for broken hopes, wounds new and old, everything/ anything they can’t control. Treated, they leave and don't return till the next emergency.

Maybe Godde can help. If even for an instant, we look to the stars and wonder. This night the blamers of Godde seem as uncertain as those who turn to God for help.

This is a season for children. Secular or religious, children lead the way, in life and in death. It’s silly really. What can a child do?

Inspire and empower love, that’s what.

Kids teach us to care wildly and boldly, move us to lobby for better health care for the mentally ill, to confront powerful gun control resistance, force us to wake us and develop the public will for change, push us to act because we are angry and scared and we love.

We the people really are the people, aren’t we?

Not for naught that the biblical story of Nativity tells us God comes as a newborn child. Not for naught that the Bible reminds us that “a little child will lead them.” 

Will we follow? 

Friday, December 14, 2012

2012.12.14 Not God

Today's school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut (a small community right next door to where one of our children teaches and some of our grandchildren attend school) means that 20 TWENTY! young children are dead, and 6 adults.  The children were babies, kindergartners. It's a massacre of holy innocents. I write through blurry tear-filled eyes.

My Godde!

More information will flesh out motives and patterns and all that BUT for now....... so what!  All we can do is sob.

I want to know where the HELL our Congress is? Why the HELL wasn't the ban on assault weapons reinstated? Why the HELL is it legal in 33 of our states to purchase deadly assault weapons of mass destruction with NO license or identification? How the HELL can we justify a whole war in the Middle East over the possibility of concealed weapons of mass destruction, when we can't even keep them out of our schools and away from our babies? In short, what the HELL is wrong with us? What the HELL is wrong with this country with its grandiose vision for peace-keeping?

People want to blame God at times like this. "Where was God when this happened?" they whine.

I ask: Where the HELL was humanity?

I'm grateful our President had the nerve to invoke God, prayer and scripture.  God is "close to the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds" according to Psalm 147. That's where the HELL Godde is.

People today blat on about being secular humanists. Well, OK, then let's get going and humanize the HELL out of ourselves.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

2012.12.12 Mercy, Mercy, Mercy Me

In 1831  Catherine McAuley, Mary Ann Doyle and Mary Elizabeth Harley professed their vows as Sisters of Mercy. It has been 181 years since the Order’s official founding and I’ve been a Mercy Associate for 20 years. I’m not Roman Catholic; I’m Anglocatholic. We all count who serve with their gifts.

Catherine never isolated or insulated herself or her community from the miseries of Dublin’s poverty. She felt the Spirit of Godde-Goodness was calling her to serve, especially the poor and the broken.  She would be, as would the other women who joined her, a steward of the gifts God gave her of compassion, organized effort, and leadership. 

Her leadership style was one that balanced freedom with authority. The order, like most women’s religious orders, is based on, and held together by charism—spiritual gifts. Charism is a different kind of glue than the glue of obedience that binds us in institutional loyalty based on doctrine and dogma.

Theologian Roger Haight said, “Spiritual nourishment is of higher value than institutional loyalty. If you’re not fed, leave and go where you are nourished.” 

For all these years, the tradition of Mercy has carried on its mercy ministries in many healing ways: education, health, spiritual guidance, and works of mercy for justice and peace. Think nuns on the bus.  

Judy Collins wrote a song dedicated to the Mercies who saved her life and freed her to use her own charism in song.

“Oh the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.
They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on.
And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song.
 Oh I hope you run into them, you who’ve been traveling so long.”

Catherine McAuley hasn’t yet made it to sainthood. Godde knows why.   Maybe no direct miracles attributed to her.  Now I ask you!

Today is 12/12/12. It won’t come round to an even dozen like that again for 100 years.  Let’s hope it won’t take that long for us all to have mercy for real, and for Catherine to get beatified. 

Hooray for foundations—garments as well as loving acts, both quite merciful.   

Sunday, December 9, 2012

2012.12.09 Breathtaking/Breathgiving

Some things take your breath away. Could be death, danger—or awe.

One such "thing" is Jesus of Nazareth, a man who lived and taught the God of love so fiercely, with such boundless compassion, that they called him the Christ, a word whose root meaning is salve, a healing ointment. Think salvation.

The other is oxygen.

At a recent retreat at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY,  I talked with  two brothers, both on oxygen. One of them I'd known about and one of them was newly encumbered.  I felt sad for them, and scared for me.  I have lung disease and dread one day having to drag around a tank and have tubes to force oxygen into and through my nose so I can breath. I'd been told things like: Avoid oxygen as long as you can. Resist it. Don't do it till the doctor threatens death.

But these brothers gave me hope.  Oxygen, they told me, rather than a death sentence oxygen meant new life. Oxygen was a beginning, not an end— metaphorically, a manger not a cross. Travel was possible, eating obviously was, as well as good humor, garrulousness, and a spritely step.

The way these monks spoke of their disability and their oxygen would've sounded counter-intuitive, or at least nuts, if it weren't so authentic— joyful not doleful. They weren't playing a pious role.

The click-clicking of the oxygen machines in the silence of chapel prayer suddenly sounded to me like applause. 

I've prayed for years to the tune of a hymn,  Breathe On Me Breath Of God. I use my own text and prayed in hope, with fear in my heart. Now I can pray it in hope, with hope in my heart.

Breathe in me, breath of God,
healing my lungs disease,
so that I may in purist love
breathe in and breathe out with thee.

Breathe in me, breath of God,
for when my life is done
and my sweet lungs lose all their power,
my last breath and yours are one.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

2012.12.05 Tabernacle

dull, brass immensity
immeasurably plain
House where the blessed flesh
and sacred blood—containers thereof—are
secure against invaders, the hungry of soul
It stands on the threshold of a hitch in time
the present immense
it doesn’t know it is about to
from a cold monstrosity—invention
of exclusionary politics— to a
pulsing throbbing quivering sacred heart

Are there, or were there, locked hearts in your life?  Enclosures of trapped love?  You have a key, don’t you?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

2012.12.02 Advent Invitation

I’ve followed many a shiny
into many a stinking stable
to find it
Leaving, I look back—
A streak of light
on a strand of straw
bids me stop,
                                        LGB 2012