Sunday, May 27, 2018

2018.05.27 Another Spirit-Filled Occasion—HolyHolyHolyHoly . . . and Holy

When Dick and I recently went, as Grammy and Grampy, to read a picture book to an excited and exciting flock of 2-3 years olds, I thought of the Trinity: God is one and three, and maybe many more. I know. I’m odd. But I got this idea from the Holy Spirit who, indiscriminately, spreads HolyHolyHoly—and more Holy—in surprising places we might judge to be unsuitable.
This is the story of Big Wolf. Big Wolf lives alone; his habits of mind and heart are quite set; he is content living this way—until one day Little Wolf enters his life and disturbs his peace. Big Wolf has mistaken his need for security and control for his need for love. Love makes him feel the pain of loneliness—pangs sharp enough to open his heart, and his home. 

Our youngest grandson, Dylan, is three—almost four he reminds us. The teachers had arranged the group of about twenty in a broad circle with tiny chairs in front for us to sit on as we read. (Luckily the chairs supported our butts and our weight.) We were the “Mystery Readers.” It was  no mystery to Dylan, because his parents simply cannot keep a secret.

Dylan is the youngest of our twelve shared grandchildren. Sometimes he is exuberant, sometimes willful, sometimes shy, and always adorable.
This day he was explorer-boy, but the day we read he was shy-boy. As I read Dick made faces and gestures—stern, pouty, sad, joyful, worried, joyful. The children were seated in a circle but at some distance. I wanted them to be more clustered and close but the teachers thought differently. So far this group is still obedient. As we read and got into the story they inched closer. One little girl could hardly contain herself with her commentary, questions, and pointing. Dick said she was like me. He’s right. I considered this a compliment. 

When we were done reading Dylan ran up and wedged himself between us. Then the whole class gathered around for a photo. Dylan is on my left and his friend Dante on my right.
The experience filled me with sheer delight. I knew this many-in-one/one-in-many imagery had to be holy—and Holy.  

Sunday, May 20, 2018

2018.05.20 A Spirit-Filled Occasion

On Pentecost Sunday, everyone wears red, or shades of red such as orange or purple or pink. These are colors of fire and passion; they symbolize the energy of the Divine/Holy Spirit—She, if you must have a gender.

On May 1st I spoke to a college class called “The Psychology of Spirituality” at Southern Connecticut State University at the invitation of Dr. Jessica Suckle-Nelson. I was surprised and proud that a college would offer such a course. Two and a half hours with vibrant, curious students, and I had the time of my life. I began with deep feeling energy and practice and moved to religious mysticism.

Your spirituality is what pumps you, brings you alive, gets you going. It’s about the depth dimension of life—what matters most to you at the deepest level of your being, that sense you get when something touches you in your soul, the place inside you where your spirituality resides. Spirituality is a charge, as crucial to your well being as your pulse is to your heart. There are just three basic spiritual needs common to us all: to be heard, to be listened to, and to belong.

To support my own ideas, I added a brief quote from Gardening the Soul, Soothing Seasonal Thoughts for Jaded Modern Souls by Sister Stan, Irish Catholic Sister of Charity: “Belief is never far removed from unbelief. Love is never far from hate. Hope is only a short distance from doubt and joy lives side by side with tears.” 

That’s it! That’s Spirituality!—the amazing capacity to be truly wholistic, to hold feelings we normally would designate as opposites together in one heart. Most importantly, this spirituality keeps us from quickly condemning others, encourages listening and compassion to help us meet our own and others' needs.  AND, it’s close to Jungian psychology, a theory that makes room for the presence of divine energy as a motivating energy in human behavior. I had the psycho/spiritual thing nutshelled!

This occasion started with a granddaughter Gillian, 22, who texted one day: “Hi Grammy, I have a question for you.” It’s tantamount to a Bible-sized miracle for a grandchild to text or call, so I called back right away. She asked if I could come to her class. The teacher, Dr. S, had talked about difficulties Episcopal women had getting ordained, and Gillian volunteered that her Grammy was among the first groups of women ordained priests in the Episcopal Church. Dr. S. is an Episcopalian. Such a perfect storm of wonders!

“Dick, will you go with me and drive, and let’s also take Gillian out for a quick supper, OK? I’m excited and nervous.” “Sure,” he said. “Wear your God Is Not a Boy’s Name tee shirt AND your collar.” I love him.

I was excited that a young audience had some small interest in Spirituality. I was nervous about communicating the sluicy category. How could I leave poor unpopular God and religion out? I could. I did it for many years when I worked as chaplain at an alcohol/drug treatment center.

What I learned from this refreshing spiritual experience:
    -This group of 18 twenty-something coeds were eager, open-hearted, respectful, and bright. I will never again lump college kids into stereotypes that suggest they are all politically aggressive, irreverent, anti-religious, or indifferent.
    -This group wondered about negative spirituality. If it was personal could it be negative? Their definition was too self-centered, individualistic. Spirituality is personal but not private or unique. Groups have shared spirituality—energy that motivates behavior.
    - This group was highly diverse racially, sexually, and spiritually—agnostic, atheist, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and a former Buddhist nun. Diversity challenges identity and belonging: Who am I? Who are you? Where do I belong? I wonder whether the current well-documented high levels of depression and anxiety in college students are in part related to a sense of real or imagined loneliness? The move from tribalism to a common humanity and a common good in which everyone is included and equally valued is, well, good and fraught.
    -Most students pressed for answers. I gave them ideas and stories. To be spiritual is to hold possible answers right next to the next set of questions, which surely will arise.

Whether they thought I was nuts or not, they gave me a round of applause, scooped up my calling cards, and one young man suggested they applaud Dick, whom I’d introduced as my driver who could only speak if I called on him. They’d all laughed. Humor is essential to healthy psychology and spirituality. My beloved driver/husband grinned then drove me—exhausted, heartened and bursting with hope—all the way back to Massachusetts.

As to my beloved Gillian, she had sparked the energy of her classmates with lots of questions to help her Grammy keep things moving. She also owned her agnostic approach and persisted with her agnostic questions. How do I know I’m spiritual or when something is spiritual? I told her that not knowing was scary and spiritual. Do the best you can and trust.

Later I texted her this: Chiqui, when you sing you connect to your depths, your soul. And everyone who hears you, even if no one is there but god or a tree or a squirrel, connects to spirit and feels a moment of uplifting hope. “Bidden or not, God is there.” Jung said that. Thanks for being you. Sing always. I loved your class, and so did Grampy Sim. ……. I added a healthy compliment of emojis. Here is Gillian serenading our family at Christmas, 2017.
And here is the cross they gave me in thanks, made by Dr. S and her husband.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

2018.05.13 Sanctifying Prayers on Mothers' Day

Over 100 years after Jesus had died his followers remembered that he prayed for them. He must have prayed aloud or they wouldn’t have remembered and carried it on. Jesus’s intercession must have made a huge impression on them. Over 2000 years later it still makes an impression on me.

I can’t imagine a more awesome feeling than knowing, feeling, that you are being prayed for, aloud and in people’s hearts. Today is officially Mother’s Day. This day is complicated for obvious reasons.

To honor my motherhood I want to free up the word “mother” from confinements like gender, biology, anatomy, sexual preference. Mothering energy is a gift we all have. It is the spiritual capacity to make things holy, sanctify them, with the sweet energy of wisdom, encouragement, and nurture. This to me is how God “mothers”and what I pray for every single day. This seems to be what Jesus the Christ brought—so strongly that the English mystic Julian of Norwich called Jesus “ . . .  our beloved mother who feeds us with his most precious body and blood.”

This is what Jesus the Christ is remembered as doing when he prayed passionately for himself as he faced inevitable death, and when he prayed for his followers as they faced the enormous task of carrying on with wisdom, encouragement, and nurture in a hostile chaotic, plain stubborn world—just like ours right now.

This is what I saw just last week in the park near our house. I stopped to watch two small girls, maybe four years old, as they sat cross-legged on the ground and took turns brushing the hair on a stuffed critter of mysterious identity. They shared the brush, the critter, and their own sheer delight—together. Wondrous! It looked to me like an embodied prayer with an action attached to it.

I come from a long line of praying mothers and grandmothers, so my own praying career began early. It was almost upended by the Church—ironically because I was a MOTHER!

I’d felt drawn to priesthood by the church’s sacramental life. I thought them very motherly: wash, cleanse, bleed, heal, touch, feed—all about bodies. No wonder the Church is called Mother.
But the Church told me I could not be a mother and a priest. By then I had four children, and I needed a mother!

That was back in the 1980s but even today motherhood threatens to upset the ecclesial workplace. Mother Church cannot decided whether it wants women ordained before children, after children, or during children. There is scant provision for maternity leave or time off for child care, and there is an ongoing significant gender pay gap, and attitudinal patriarchy prevails. I remember a male priest angrily saying to me: “I can’t imagine a pregnant woman at the altar.”  I couldn’t imagine a pregnant woman NOT at the altar, NOT in the pulpit, NOT at the font—banned.

I vowed to be active for equality for women and all people. I vowed as well never to let anyone call me Mother, except my own children. I’m not sure the parental model is so good for men either, or even for the image of God. Jesus grew up. We too grow up. I see myself as “beloved” of God, maybe daughter, but not child of God. My Godde, there’s too much very adult work to be done in the church, and especially beyond the church, for us to be sheep or children, even metaphorically. We have our whole Earth to pray about and care for—Mother Earth, no less.
Also, I vowed never ever to stop praying with and for all our children, my own and my present husband’s, just as Jesus prayed for his followers. We all need the prayers of others—all the time. I’m grateful that Christ prays for me, sanctifies himself to God that I too may be sanctified in the truth.

The little girls in the park right now are my icon: giggling with soulful abandon, brushing a ridiculously hairless unidentifiable stuffed critter—sharing critter and brush in turn with utterly untrammeled joy. Together they care for their beloved critter with tenderness, efficiency, and delight. They were mothering. They were prayer in action. Go thou and do likewise.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

2018.05.06 Creation Praise

Creation Praise
. An early Celtic prayer

I offer Thee
Every wave that ever moved,
Every heart that ever loved,
Thee, my Creator's Well-Beloved,
Dear Lord.
Every River Dashing,
Every lightning flashing,
Like the angel's sword.
Benedicimus Te!
I offer Thee Every Cloud that ever swept
O'er the skies and broke and wept
In rain, and with the flowerlets slept.
My king.
Each communicant praying,
Every angel staying
Before Thy throne to sing.
Adoramus Te!
I offer Thee
Every flake of virgin snow,
Every spring of earth below,
Every human joy and woe,
My love!
O Lord! And all the glorious
Self o'er death victorious,
Throned in heaven above.
Glorificamus Te!

From Calvin Miller, The Path of Celtic Prayer (Downers Grove: IVP, 2007), p. 96

A sturdy and relentless theology of Creation, aka cosmology, is crucial right now. We need to stop arguing differences, to appreciate both diversity AND the wholeness of God’s creating. We need to do this in order to collaborate to save our one small unit of divine cosmic creativity. Such a perspective has been present in the Celtic tradition for centuries, as the above prayer illuminates.

Hearing the Creation story in Genesis always gives me a spiritual boost. It’s majestic, bold, and grand—a poem of overwhelming inclusivity and diversity. We pay lip service to diversity, yet it terrifies us. Still, God potentiated all this Wonder, culminating in beings made in the divine image—humanity.

BUT . . . did Godde create a hierarchy of being? Humanity immediately fell prey to such a notion and acted on it—men at the top, of course. All religions downsized Creation's wholeness and rank-ordered humanity and all other matter for the sake of power and control. Some things good and others bad. God's idea was that ALL of it was GOOD. This can't be said enough. 

Later in my studies I fell in love with Irenaeus of Lyons’s famous saying: “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” I had that phrase calligraphed on the invitation to my ordination to the priesthood.  I still believe it, but thanks in part to the biblical Job I have a new vision. When the faithful Job lost everything he had, except his insistent faith, he prayed—harangued—Godde to answer for the excess of calamity on such a faithful servant. God, more patient than the impatient Job, finally appeared to Job and walked him through the whole of Creation.

Once again awed, I learned that divine creativity was boundless—and ALL of it is the glory of God.

Jesus the Christ preached Love, period. This embrace includes ALL creation. Jesus might be horrified at how exclusive Christians have made his name.

The work of Jewish scholars, like Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, is essential to make us aware that we Christians do not need to buy into anti-Jewish translations of scripture, or Christian chauvinism, in order to assure the uniqueness of our Jesus.

As I approach my ninth decade, my body warns, “maybe not” while my mind says, “yes you can!” I slow down, take time to observe as much as I can. I relish the small things more than ever—all good, all Glory, all God.
    -A tiny ant makes its way along the edge of my home altar, stopping occasionally to wave its sensory antennae before it crawls up to join Jesus on the cross—a wise and foolish ant.
    -A frantic squirrel nibbles at the edge of a discarded sandwich crust. Alert, it drops the crust and dashes to a perch in a nearby tree. Five minutes later the squirrel returns, knows exactly where that crust has dropped, retrieves it, and resumes its “communion.”
    -A small boy speeds on his scooter down the hill in the playground; he is thrilled; his dad sees he will be unable to stop before he reaches the edge of the trafficked road ahead. Dad dashes.
    -A baby in church practices her newly discovered extended squeal—a siren of praise.
    -The redbud tree in our yard bursts into bloom, its bare branches popping with dark pink blossoms. They weren’t there yesterday.
Godde, save us from exceptionalism: Christian, human, even American. Glorificamus Te for  the whole shebang.