Sunday, May 29, 2016

2016.05.29 The God Between Us: Interinanimator

The Pentecost beat goes on—and on, longest season of the church year. It’s Hers, the Holy Spirit's—all of it. (The Nicene Creed was written using the pronoun “he” for the Spirit, but revisions have toppled this unappealing three-men-on-top arrangement—to the good of humanity and divinity.)

I wrote a book about this Spirit back in 2001: The God Between Us: A Spirituality of Relationships. The God Between is energy, alive and vibrant in the spaces between us, relational spaces we imagine to be empty but which are really crackling with divine connective energy, pulling for healing and wholeness in a relationship or set of relationships.
GBU was published by Augsburg in 2001 and contains midrashim: stories about all kinds of relationships in the Bible—mother/daughter: Herodias and her dancing daughter, Salome, two close men: David and Jonathan, friends: Queen Esther and a palace eunuch, Adam and Eve, and my favorite story of all, “Idle Tale”: about the group of women who come at dawn to the tomb where Jesus has been buried. They come to anoint his body for burial. 

Now you don’t imagine that all these women were silent, do you? They were women. They talked!—with humor and varying perspectives, about how they will  get into the tomb, and further, how they will convince the men about the truth of what God has revealed to them—mere women, Godde help them. She does.

The principal character of the Bible isn’t God or humanity, it’s their relationship. They fall in love, they break up, they come back together. That’s the biblical pattern.
When couples came to see me for counseling, they usually arrived, each with a sharp, invisible finger pointed at the other: J’accuse! I listened to all the flak, trying not to take sides—not so easy. I could usually tell which relationships were going to make it, and they were not always the ones in which both people reiterated, “We love each other.” There was always a BUT, either before or after the love. Its volume and size told me how much work we all had to do to find the buried “love.” It was spade work.

As soon as I could, I told the couple that neither one of them was the client here. This was a show stopper. I told them that the client was their relationship—wounded and in need of healing.  The deal was that we all would work together on it. We made playful metaphors of their relationship. What did it look like?  Some relationships were suffering from too much distance—malnourished, a starving child. Others looked like roadkill, beaten down and bleeding because too much anger and blame was dumped upon them all the time. Some were simply lop-sided:one side deflated as if one person had stopped holding up their end—flat tire. Both people let go: orphaned. 

It helped if the couple had a sense of humor. It also helped if they were willing to pray for their relationship, rather than simply for self or other to change, i.e. be more this or that—or less.

My book is out of print, but my idea is not dead. Recently, I was thrilled to see it repackaged by no less than an Oxford scholar, John Hare, theology professor at Yale, in an essay: “The Third Life: The Life that is Between Us.” He wrote about unity in Christ and cited a John Donne (17th century metaphysical poet) poem called “Ecstasy”  in which love with one another interinanimates two souls. Now that’s no typo; it’s my type of word.

Hare writes: “The central idea here lies in this word which Donne made up, ‘interinanimates,’ which means, ‘puts a soul, or anima, into, in, the space between, inter, two people, inter-in-animates, so that there is not just my life and your life but the life that is between us, and this third life is stronger, abler than either of our lives on its own.” (Italics mine)

I was delighted to see my God Between again—reincarnated and clothed with a grand new word: interinanimator.  My couples would cringe at such abstraction, of course. They would say that their therapist had gone nuts. They would be right, and we would have a hearty interinanimating laugh together—thanks to the God Between Us.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

2016.05.22 Trinity Mystery

We live in a Mystery we do not understand, and we are grateful.
People say the Holy Trinity is a mystery, and so it is. But that doesn’t mean I do not keep on trying to understand it anyway. I am a wondering person. Possibly, I should be more afraid or humble, but I’m neither very well.

With divine mystery everything is up for grabs and too deep to measure. Nevertheless . . . the early Christians discerned a Divinity they called 3 in 1 and 1 in 3. Easy peasy, right? They experienced the ONE God as cosmic, close, and connected—all at once. This they called Father, Son, and Holy Ghost and turned it into a doctrine about the triune nature of God. There followed creeds and liturgies and fights. Holy Writ was born—and a formula of blessing for all things holy. 

Over time calcification set in and the original experience was robbed of its brilliance. But not entirely. Wondering people, great and small, continued to come up with bright ideas for the Mystery we do not understand and for which we are grateful.

St. Augustine         Lover, Beloved, and Love itself.
                                God loves everyone as if each were all

Bernard of Clairvaux       Love of self for self’s sake
                                            Love of God for self’s sake
                                            Love of God for God’s sake
                                            Love of self for God’s sake

Jesus   “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. .  .
              the Spirit of  Truth will guide you into all truth . . .  (John 16: 12-15) 

Emily Dickinson     Tell all the truth but tell it slant -

                                 Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
                                 Success in Circuit lies
                                 Too bright for our infirm Delight
                                 The Truth’s superb surprise
                                 As Lightning to the Children eased
                                 With explanation kind
                                 The Truth must dazzle gradually
                                 Or every man be blind —

Douglas Witte, organist and music director, St. John’s Episcopal, Charlestown

 “The three section ‘Piece d’Orgue’ is Bach’s meditation on the idea of the Trinity. The first          section consists of a single voice executing a fleet series of three note figures. This represents God, three persons in one, and the non-stop nature of the section is omnipresence.”

Lyn G. Brakeman, priest and author

    Author, Book, Readers.

    The Author has a grand idea deep within;
    She muses upon it, ripens it, and writes it down in a Book;
    Readers read the book, digest it, and spread the idea, according to their own styles

The author dies, the book goes out of print, readers forget. The Idea lives on.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

2016.08.05 A Pentecostal Family Weekend

I  just got home from a family weekend. The term alone—“family weekend”—conjures up about every reaction, from groaning dread to breathy hope. Such occasions are archetypal—fondest hopes and worst nightmares inextricably bound. Many hilarious movies have been made about THE family weekend.

Our family is normally abnormal: mom, stepfather ( already not the “real” thing”), 2 daughters, 2 sons, 2 daughters-in-law, one son-in law, five grandchildren, aged 16 to 2, a teenage friend, and four dogs.

Our family weekends used to be more frequent. We’d relapsed for good reasons, and now we were trying it again. It was  my idea. I’d thrown out the suggestion gingerly—the understanding mom to perfection. Waffling doesn’t get very far, so I persisted. “Does this mean a lot to you, Mom?” someone asked. “This means the world to me,” I said, for once omitting: “BUT I understand how busy you all are.”

We set our rules: a date in spring all of us could make, a place that would accommodate 15, no more than 4 hours away for any of us, with 5 bedrooms (not all bunk rooms) with bathrooms, a comfortable gathering space, functional kitchen, and affordable. My son researched and reported back his findings with online sites we all could inspect.

I had high hopes for this weekend. My mind was cautious. My heart had thrown caution to the winds and beyond.

Miracle #1: he found us a place in N.H. that met all our requirements + a working fireplace. Miracle #2: everyone weighed in favorably. Only one granddaughter couldn’t come, and we missed her.  Miracle #3 took more time: collecting the rent from everyone.  Miracle#4: grim, cold weather turned sunny on Saturday.

Miracle #5: The weekend was everything I’d hoped for, despite an infestation of ticks, several mice, a rustic ski lodge, OLD and used, full of holes, but clean and spacious, some loss of sleep the first night. I slept like a baby. The actual baby, at first, did not.
We laughed like crazy, loved each other like crazy, ate together, played rousing games, engaged in some quiet serious conversations as well as in raucous clowning, including an inflated golden crown for anyone who said anything silly or stupid. Here we are: The Glorious Frontenac Ski Lodge Gaggle, minus the bear, the ticks, and the mouse.

On the way home most of us texted back and forth, extending the humor and good feeling of the weekend. I wrote: “No ticks or mice can daunt love. AND it’s Pentecost/Holy Spirit Sunday. We felt some of her stuff.” A text flew back: “Church nerd?”  All of this was accompanied by many creative emoticons, including ones of ticks and mice.  

I guess we know each other well enough at last to appreciate, not just tolerate, individual quirks and differences. You laugh like crazy and come away crying. Family weekend are mixed blessings which are essential to your soul.

And yes, when the real world settles back in on everyone's shoulders, all of its pains and are still there. Still, we made a memory worth remembering. No one can take that away. 

P.S. On Monday morning Dick, known as Sim and Grampy Sim, was getting dressed when I spied a small black thing on the back of his right leg.  I yelped and told him to hold still, which he found hard to do, being "in a hurry." Sure enough, it was a TICK, a N.H. tick who had followed us home. How sweet. I plucked the tick off and she or he is not in sewer heaven. (Thank Godde we don't have a dog!)  We wept with laughter.


Sunday, May 8, 2016

2016.0508 Sweet Mothering Energy of God and Prayer

I open my eyes each day to images of my children. I murmur: “Dear God, fill me with your love and grace and bless my children, (I name each one) with grace, power, faith, love, and peace. I consecrate myself to thee for their sake they they too may be consecrated in truth—thy word is truth.”

I lifted some words out of Jesus’s farewell prayer in John 17. I don’t pray them so my kids will go to church, although that’s not a bad idea. I pray them that they may know deeply the sweet mothering energy of God in their lives. My children are the soul of my heart.

From the New Testament writings of the Johannine community, I know that the divine mothering energy of God is not restricted to women or biological mothers. Jesus prayed for his “children." They remembered that he prayed for them, and for all of us: I in you and you in me and we in them and all are one—an unbreakable net of en-wombing love—sweet mothering energy of God.

I confess I find our Sunday intercessions to be flat. One person recites and, for the most part, no one prays, or has time to collect their prayers. Perhaps we should simply paraphrase Jesus’s great intercessory plea that we all be one, because we all are in God, say it, then leave a long contemplative silence to let it sink in.

When I kneel at my home altar, I focus on an icon of Mary with Jesus her child. To me it is beautiful, though it’s not. It’s an aging, faded print in a scratched plastic frame which has lost all capacity to stand erect on its own. I pray to Mary: “Sweet mothering energy of God come into the world with wisdom, encouragement and nurture.” These three: wisdom from the mother-root, not just advice, encouragement from its Latin root meaning“heart,” and nurture—feeding, cherishing.  Occasionally these three come together in one moment, and everything changes.
My son John recently told me of such a time for him. He was a young man lying in a hospital gravely ill and awaiting surgery. He said he heard me and another woman reciting Psalm 23 at his bedside. He suddenly felt sure he would live, wanted to live. I have no recollection of such an incident.

Everyone has the capacity to mother and all of us have mothered. Everyone knows what a hard job it is to mother: to slither back and forth between the strong desire to hold close, protect and save and the strong desire to let the beloved be free to grow and go forth to find their own way—or at least get outta your hair.

I learned a lot about divine mothering love and prayer from Mary. Mothering Jesus had to be hell. He was always in trouble, much of it dire and all of it serving God, not his family. Mary doesn’t play a big role in biblical story. I bet that’s because she was all the time in prayer for Jesus.  I bet she taught him to pray, and I bet her prayers made it into his heart, bringing wisdom, courage and nurture.

I first met Mary in Spain where I spent time in the early 1960s with two families, one in Madrid and the other in Santander—then a smallish fishing town in northern Spain… my bank. In Spain, Mary was more popular than Jesus. I spent much time kneeling on concrete-hard kneelers praying to María. I internalized the popular piety. It filled some emptiness in my religious soul.

I realized what a loss many Protestant churches have suffered by cleansing their worship, sanctuaries, and prayers of Mary. It is a loss to the full image of divine love.

The Santander Señora was a small woman, a dynamo of religious faith and a fiercely loving madre. Nightly, she’d clap her hands, tiny shofars summoning the family to prayers. We all jumped to attention and hurried to the dining table where we stood around as she prayed aloud—the evening dose of wisdom, encouragement and nurture. All the children were named some version of  María: Mari Pilar (after the Virgen de Pilar) whom we called Pili, Marisuca, and a son, Josemari, a twofer combination of José and María (Joseph and Mary.) Suca  was the nun-designate, quiet, pious and impish.  Pili was wild and free and destined for multiple motherhood. I think Josemari was destined for the care of Mama—till death would them part. All our prayers were to Mary.

In Spain I fell in love with Mary. I came to know her as a primary mediator of the sweet mothering energy of God. From Mary/María, I learned, too, how hard mothering love can be—how hard it is for God. Sometimes you have to stand by and watch your beloved suffer.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

2016.05.01 Psalm 23—Song of Presence

There is something eternal about Psalm 23. Not only is it traditional and the choice for young children to memorize, but it is used most always at funerals or at bedsides—times of dire need, times when the temptation to despair is close at hand.

The psalm is apolitical. Of all the omni- ideas about the nature of God, this song offers only one: omnipresence. There is no circumstance in and around which God is not fully present—as simple comfort. Comfort is not impotent. It imparts love, raises up the spirit. My son John recalls a time when his spirit was beaten by serious illness and the psalm was prayer over him. He describes an inner sense of decisiveness: he wanted to live not die.

Psalm 23 trusts this kind of unbearably unbelievable, insanely bold, irrational assurance, reinforcing it with graphic biblical and sacramental practices, familiar to religious communities, both then and now.

I don’t know any practicing shepherds, but I understand pastoral spirituality as the gift of empathy and accompaniment, even more than guidance. I cringe when I hear clergy speaking about their congregations as “flock.” This does not bespeak mutual ministry. I do, however, know the experiences of lush meadows and calm waters, wise leadership, the shadow of death, and sacramental grace.

The psalms are part of the Hebrew Scriptures. They are prayers arising from common human experience. In addition to providing a bridge between Judaism and Christianity, most psalms transcend religious particularities. They are songs arising from deep within the human breast, which is why they are a liturgical staple, chanted in worship.

Some years ago, I heard Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen To Good People, speak about this psalm. He emphasized the grammatical shift in the psalm/prayer. It occurs just as the pray-er enters the “valley of the shadow of death.” The pronouns shift from "he" to "thou" from God's serving the supplicant in soothing ways to God's becoming suddenly close and familiar through the use of the second person singular familiar address: you or thou.

Kushner’s son suffered from progeria—accelerated aging, even as a child. Not only is it fatal but it is painfully disfiguring and pathologically counter-cultural. With such a diagnosis, one needs a solid theology of Presence. Kushner wrote about his decision to, well, disempower God—a wise and earthed theology. Most of us maintain a very controlling, intervening idea of God, which escalates  when we are in trouble. We want God to make it all better, to intervene in miraculous ways. This seldom happens. What consistently does happen, however, is what the 23rd psalm suggests with its grammatical shift: increased intimacy.

In newer English translations, we lost this awakening sense of divine movement by changing all the pronouns from “he” to “you” immediately after the first couplet. Further, we eliminated all thee/thou/thy language. In most cases I’d favor that, but here the old translation and the old pronoun forms assist the theology: Thou art with me. Lovely, no? It makes me cry.

The Lord is my shepherd;
   I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
   he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul;
   he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his Name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
   for thou art with me;
   thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
   thou anoinest my head with oil;
   my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
  and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.