Wednesday, August 7, 2019

2019.08.07 For The Beauty Of The Earth

My birthday is today. So is my husband’s We are Leos in love. What I want for my birthday is that we all notice Beauty. It stuns and it saves. We see it in all living things, even when it’s obscured or dimmed by pain. Creative people know this. God is creative and creating all the time—with our help—making and illuminating Beauty. There is nowhere God is not. 

I see it as it looked one afternoon
In August,-by a fresh soft breeze o'erblown.
The swiftness of the tide, the light thereon,
A far-off sail, white as a crescent moon.
The shining waters with pale currents strewn,
The quiet fishing-smacks, the Eastern cove,
The semi-circle of its dark, green grove.
The luminous grasses, and the merry sun
In the grave sky; the sparkle far and wide,
Laughter of unseen children, cheerful chirp
Of crickets, and low lisp of rippling tide,
Light summer clouds fantastical as sleep
Changing unnoted while I gazed thereon.
All these fair sounds and sights I made my own.

    “Long Island Sound” by Emma Lazarus  born in New York City (1849).

I never noticed the beauty of Long Island Sound. It was too familiar a sight to me as I grew up on its banks and splashed in its waters. I think I would die of grief if it were not there to behold—ever again.

Emma Lazarus, a Jewish poet who was concerned for the plight of her people, the plight of the poor, and the plight of refugees and immigrants, knew about the spiritual power of Beauty. She is most remembered for her famous lines published in a poem, commissioned for The Statue of Liberty, gracing New York Harbor since 1886: “The New Colossus”: “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

So did English hymnodist and poet Folliot Sandford Pierpont (1835-1917) who wrote the words to this hymn in 1864 when he was only 29.

For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies,
for the love which from our birth over and around us lies. 

Lord of all to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.


Our current 1982 Hymnal changed the refrain to read: “Christ our God to thee we praise . . .” I guess they wanted to showcase Christ. But the above refrain is the one I grew up singing in the children’s choir at the Presbyterian Church in New York City, and “Lord of all” best expresses God as Creator of all for all. I believe we must seek beyond— way beyond—our religious preferences for the Beauty of the Earth.

When American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts left this Earth and headed for the moon on their spaceships, they looked back. Here is what they saw.

And this is what they all returned to tell us: this Earth is worth saving, and it has no nationality.

Only from a distance—time or space, physical or emotional— can we get perspective enough to realize what is worth expending every ounce of life, individual and collective, to save—with the help of the cosmic Artist who created it and gave it to us.  BEAUTY.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

2019.08.04 Who Taught You To Walk?

Today’s scripture readings began at home and continued in church.

Some people abstain from looking at the morning newspaper before they come to church to worship. They say it’s a practice that protects their minds and hearts from being stained by reports of violence, and more violence. Violence sells newspapers. It’s also a fact. I read the paper as I drank my morning coffee before I headed to church.

Today’s lead stories in the Boston Globe: One detailed more mass shooting in El Paso Texas and Dayton Ohio; another was about a man who buys then runs "sober houses" where recovering addicts get support and safety while they recover from the disease of addiction. Many of these places are unsafe, unclean, and extremely costly. Families of addicts empty their wallets and bank accounts in hope. Residents are instructed to stop taking any and all prescribed medications and “find a Higher Power.” Death happens, because God fails. Not only is this bad and errant theology, it is CRUEL THEOLOGY, motivated by greed camouflaged as health care treatment.

I longed for hope and different headlines. In church I heard more of the same about human behavior. AND, I also heard the voice of God speaking tenderly through the Old Testament prophet Hosea (11:1-11) about loving Israel as a parent loves a child from birth—embracing, leading with “cords of human kindness, bands of love,” teaching the child to walk, and, even when the beloved turns away, refusing to “execute fierce anger.” Why? “I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.”

Nowhere is there a suggestion of divine abandonment or wrath. These are human fears only.

In Luke’s gospel story (12:13-21) there is a dispute about dividing the family inheritance. Money again! Someone in the crowd wants Jesus to instruct a brother to divide the family inheritance. Ah, the inheritance! Jesus replies: “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” Then he warns them to guard against “all kinds of greed”—ALL kinds. 

Then Jesus offers a parable about a rich man whose harvests are so abundant he has no place to store it all. He, notably, does not think of sharing but decides to build larger and larger barns to lay up his goods, saying: ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ Oh, how familiar this sounds today. This is not what I was hoping for. I felt as if I were reading the daily news reports. Are we in America now storing up every privilege, every claim to greatness, every imperialistic ostentation, every violent strategy (war), even reiterations of policies that equate compromise, aka diplomatic dialogue, with appeasement, aka losing?

What is God’s policy? Jesus tells the self-satisfied Soul in the parable what God, Creator of all wealth, said to the greedy Soul: “You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared whose will they be? So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

It is left up to each one of us and all of us collectively to discern what being “rich toward God” means. (One of my ways is to counter cruel theology, even if it’s in scripture. It breeds spiritual poverty.)

May I gently suggest you remember who taught you to walk? Who let you fall down and who picked you up to try again with tender encouragement—all your life. Who loves you in spite of yourself?

Life is short. We do not have much time to gladden the hearts and minds of those who travel the way with us. So be swift to love and make haste to be kind. Be rich toward God, O my Soul. Be rich.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

2019.07.28 Do You Pray?

Let us pray. Let us pray. Let us pray. Oh God, let’s pray. Do you pray?

A teenage granddaughter once asked me, with a flounce of her head and a challenge in her voice: Grammy why do you pray? I was suddenly stunned and stumped and said the first thing that popped into my mind: I pray because I love. She made no comment but I kept on obsessing. Maybe I should have said I pray because GOD loves. Then I thought: Well, what is the difference? Aren’t we immersed in God’s love all the time? And God in ours? Is all Creation not God’s prayer?

Most prayer is lowly, earthbound, unsteady, even precarious. At the same time it deserves the highest reverence and the greatest praise. Sometimes I wonder if we take it for granted.

All living things pray in particular ways as everything reaches and stretches for love and life. Prayer is paying attention to that desire, noticing its variations, sinking into it, allowing its energy to connect you with what/who really matters to you and to God. 

Prayer, however, can be a touchy topic—loaded you might say. News commentator host of the WGBH’s nightly Greater Boston, Jim Braude, recently commented that to pray, as Speaker Pelosi did for our president and our nation in divisive times, was “smarmy.” Smarmy? I became immediately indignant and fired off a letter telling Braude his comment itself was smarmy and that he knew nothing about prayer.  I heard nothing back of course. Maybe he thought that all such prayer was condescending. How does he know?

Word nerd that I am, I looked up the words. Did you know that the Latin root for prayer is the same as the root of precarious?  Precarious prayer?  If I pray because I love, then it is precarious as hell, because love is precarious. I put my soul on the line when I really care, care enough to pray, to risk exposing my heart. And then what? I never know.

Abraham, for example, checks with God about Sodom and Gomorra. What’s God’s plan here? Is it really to destroy everyone in these putatively evil cities? Is God vengeful, wrathful? Some people today assume this is how God is too? Abraham “comes near” to God with his questions. NOTE: God listens AND responds as Abraham argues his case, over and over he asks: what if not everyone in these cities is sinful as charged? Abraham is assured that the God, who has made covenants of belonging and love, will not destroy everyone if just one measly righteous person is therein alive. We think God tests Abraham? No, it is Abraham who more often tests God.

Abraham’s prayer style is conversational, an inner dialogue. Mine is the same. I, like Abraham, learn something about myself, about love, and about God when I pray this way. Outcomes are rarely exactly as I pray. The same is true for Jesus. He taught his disciples to use the basic structure of the Jewish prayer we call The Lord’s Prayer. He also elaborated about love-on-the-ground: if your child or someone you love asks for fish would you give a snake? No. For the sake of love you’d bend heaven and earth to give what is asked, even if it has to be stale bread or peanut butter because you can’t afford fish. You give in the spirit of love as you pray like crazy.

You know how to work this ethic in your personal life. You know how to work this ethic in your politics. Prayer may be precarious as love is, but it is not loving when energized with the spirit of venom. Listen to Rachel Maddow. Listen to Rush Limbaugh. Their causes and goals differ, but the venom behind their “preaching” is the same.

Prayer is a precarious love song. Ask, incessantly for exactly what you want. Heck, even our  public communal prayers are direct and bold, in manicured language, yes, but still we ask: God save the world, heal the sick, love the sinners, bless the dead. These are down-to-earthly love prayers. Pay attention to what happens, however small and however obvious. 

One of my sons, John, moved recently into a new neighborhood. He has two children Phoebe, 11 and Dylan, 5. They all felt the initial awkwardness of being strangers in a brand new neighborhood. The children sat with TV and their tablets, and Dad wondered and worried. Then the doorbell rang. Phoebe jumped up and ran to open the door, Dylan hot on her heels. There on the front stoop stood a group of young children. They chirped in chorus: “Hi. Do you play?”

Do you pray? Do you let it be precarious, wholly true, bold and direct?  “God, please be with my newly divorced son. He didn’t want this. Now he’s grieving, and trying to be a single dad to two young kids who miss their one-and-only home and so wish their parents were together, and they can’t make it happen.”
  
Who knew God would appear at the door and say: Do you play? 


Sunday, July 21, 2019

2019.07.21 The Man In The Moon

Fifty years ago in July of 1969, I was thirty-one and the young mother of three children: two daughters, ages six and five and a son, age two. My then-husband and I were on Nantucket vacationing with some friends. All the children had gone to bed and were all, finally and mercifully, asleep at once. We adults, however, were more awake than we wanted to be after a drowsy beach-day in the sun. We sat huddled around a small radio, the only communication available in our rented cottage, and strained to make out voices through the static. It was barely possible to believe that the radio voices were speaking to us from the moon, the same moon to whom, or to which, we nightly bid “good night” reading the favorite bedtime story, Good Night Moon.
This night was not like any other night. It was so unusual that not one of us bedraggled parents was drinking a goodnight beer. Nor did we repair to the porch to gaze at the stars-and-moon show, which on a cloudless night was panoramically visible thanks to the absence of ground light.

This night we strained to hear American astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, deliver a newscast from the moon on which they walked, or more accurately toddled or wobbled in their moon-suits. We kept silence before, during, and after the broadcast was over for some time. No one commented at all, but our faces shone—alive with wonder. Then we went to bed without comment.

Who knew awe could be so unitive—electrifying and soothing at the same time? 

The next morning we told our children what we had seen. A daughter comment offhandedly: “Oh yeah, the man in the moon. I’ll have Cheerios.”

Details and speculations about further space research and travel are available and most beautifully presented in the 7/19 issue of National Geographic. I was fascinated to read about the array of meaningful earthly objects the astronauts took with them into space.
    -Alan Shepherd (Apollo 14) hid in a sock a six-iron clubhead, which he attached to a tool handle to hit two balls on the moon. [Wonder if they’re still orbiting, and if so does this count as an everlasting cosmic hole-in-one?] 
    -Neil Armstrong (Apollo 11) brought a piece of the Wright Flyer’s wooden propeller. [Never forget those on whose shoulders you stand as you make advances into uncharted territories.]
    -Deliciously, John Young (Gemini 3) smuggled on board a corned beef sandwich to share with his crewmate, Gus Grissom, who stuffed the treat into his pocket when crumbs began to float around the cabin. [Not till after he got a huge mustardy bite, I hope.] 
    -Closest to my heart was the offering of Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11). He brought wine, bread and a chalice to celebrate Communion on the moon before he walked on it. NASA kept a lid on the gesture to avoid negative reactivity, and later Aldrin wondered if he’d done the right thing celebrating a Christian ritual in space. He wrote in his 2010 memoir: “We had come to space in the name of all mankind—be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists. But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the Apollo experience than by giving thanks to God.”

Before Aldrin and Armstrong disembarked, Aldrin asked the ground crew on Earth to keep a moment of silence to contemplate what was happening and to give thanks in their own way. Many future space travelers have memorialized awe in words and gestures of their own traditions.To this day Lunar Communion Sunday is still celebrated at Webster Presbyterian Church in Houston where Aldrin was an elder. Aldrin’s impulse is easy to understand. Only the small of mind and heart would think he was trying to colonize the moon for any one religion!

“In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup.”  Aldrin wrote.  Here is the cup. Interestingly, he read the New Testament parable of the vine and the branches not the Last Supper  story.
To me his description of the wine's movement is just how the divine Spirit moves about in the world, curling slowly and gracefully—like a snake but neither biting nor poisonous, though it may nip a bit to make sure we are awake. 

Future space research and travel will continue I’m sure and, I hope, build a spirit of collaborative awe not competitive grandiosity. The National Geographic article interviewed Russian cosmonauts as well as Americans: “Interestingly, the cosmonauts I met in Russia seemed to share two perspectives with their American counterparts. First, their time in space made them profoundly more interested in protecting the Earth. Second, they think the idea of permanent colonization of space is bonkers.”  (p. 95)

Bonkers indeed. I’ll have Cheerios while I appreciate the lovely moon from right here on this  glorious Earth, praising human ingenuity right alongside divine creativity.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

2019.07.14 A Runcible Spoon Of Course No Less


I
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea


   In a beautiful pea-green boat,

They took some honey, and plenty of money,
   
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.

The Owl looked up to the stars above,
   
   And sang to a small guitar,

"O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
   
   What a beautiful Pussy you are,
      
        You are,
      
        You are!

What a beautiful Pussy you are!"
 

II

Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl!
   
   How charmingly sweet you sing!

O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
   
    But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
   
    To the land where the Bong-Tree grows

And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
   
   With a ring at the end of his nose,
      
        His nose,
      
        His nose,

With a ring at the end of his nose.
 

III

"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
   
    Your ring?" Said the Piggy, "I will."

So they took it away, and were married next day
   
    By the Turkey who lives on the hill.

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
   
    Which they ate with a runcible spoon;

And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
   
    They danced by the light of the moon,
      
         The moon,
     
         The moon,

They danced by the light of the moon.

When I was a little girl I adored this poem. I still do. It feels like year-round, summer-like, whimsical nonsense that makes great sense for no good reason whatsoever.

Logically, I would have queried without ceasing about what a runcible spoon was, but I have no memory of getting stuck on “runcibility,” having figured that it was just a special spoon that we didn’t happen to have in our kitchen drawer. I looked. Besides, why would we, we were not owls or pussycats? [Clever silversmiths through the centuries have indeed designed made-up runcible spoons.]

Early on, my ginormous imagination, aided by expansive curiosity and self-help investigation, swallowed things whole or made them fit into my life’s schematic, including the outrageous idea of God. My mind was logically nonsensical. Still is. This can be a dangerous modus operandi, of course, but it can also be fun, and for me at least, it didn’t crush my soul, but gave me God along with many other wondrous mysteries.

I’m sure the poet Edward Lear must have had a logically nonsensical mind like mine, although here he looks more eccentric, as one might expect of a proper Englishman born in 1812, than whimsical.
Lear was the penultimate of 21 children, raised by his eldest sister Ann, 21 years his senior, after the post-Napoleonic war and the resultant collapse of the family business. As if that weren’t enough to douse a soul, Lear suffered from epileptic seizures, bronchitis and asthma, partial blindness, depression he called “the Morbids,” and the pains and pangs of unrequited affections in attractions to both sexes. Still, or therefore, he made stuff up, and called his writings and illustrations: "nonsense literature for children." I was charmed as a child. I remain so as an adult.

Can’t you just picture the dancing duo off to a honeymoon by moonlight in a pea-green boat with honey and money and quince and mince, and a ring to seal the deal—forever and ever amen?
All this whimsy might augur a mystical moment, prescient of my early ascent toward sainthood. OR it might simply be the beginning of my slide into a deliciously runcible dementia.





Sunday, July 7, 2019

2019.07.07 Are We Free Yet?

America has just celebrated its big National Holiday. I hear the echoes of firecrackers and take in all the flags that suddenly popped out everywhere. We think it’s our birthday as a nation, the time we gained our precious national independence and identity. I celebrated with cookouts, friends, sitting by a pool, thinking of my children, loving the world, and feeling thankful and free. This flag image is rigid. I chose it for that reason.

Now that fireworks and celebrity have died down, I wonder: have we celebrated with integrity the spirituality of this great holiday/holy day? What IS the spirituality of independence anyway? How do we live it? Does it mean independence FROM one another? Or does it mean independence TO make local decisions that guarantee state’s rights. OR maybe it means that we have lost sight of our INTERdependence? Have we forgotten how to be ONE nation indivisible yet supple?

At a high school graduation we attended recently we all stood to sing the national anthem, and I wept—yes for the sheer sentimentality of it, but also with grief over our self image. Have we lived up to our song’s vision?  Or have we used it to justify making one more war somewhere? Are we the land of the free and the home of the brave of which we sing? Are we free to be who we say we are and want to be according to our national vision?

I think this holiday is stuck in its original historical context: winning the war and getting rid of Brit rule. We thought we were free. By proxy right now, we are cleansing ourselves of other foreigners and strangers in our midst, especially those who might threaten our political and legal stability, deplete our resources, and present a moral and spiritual challenge we do not have the courage to confront. 

We are stuck, it seems to me, in a rigid habit of thought. We think in opposites, personally and globally. Our mentality, reflexively, is oppositional, frozen-in-place. Whoever we imagine to be our opposite has power over us. We could think appositely. We could ask: what stance, position, or way of thinking is apt in the realization of our vision of collective freedom?

Here’s a word I just ran across: misandry.  It means dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against men (ie the male sex). It’s pronounced MISS-andree from the Greek miso- (hating) + aner,  andr man—on the pattern of misogyny.  Hey, there’s a word I bet we all recognize: misogyny, the opposite of misandry. Misogyny is recognizably popular right now in church and state.

I’ve been tempted at times to nurture a bitter misandry, especially in this patriarchal world and church. But I don’t hate men. I love them, well, most of them. And I need them to compliment and to enrich my femaleness. Some of Dick's and my best marital moments grow out of our spats, which, ironically, serve to boot us from opposition to apposition. Really!

Whenever I’ve expended too much energy on hating men, using patriarchy as my cover, I’m not free to be FOR much of anything, including my self. Still, I admit the men I know and love are apposite to my religion and politics, not opposite. I hang out with the proverbial “choir”—appositely aligned.  Am I too afraid to find real opposites? Sometimes. 

America does not feel free to me right now, fireworks aside. Americans are stuck in spat mode, either FOR or AGAINST our current president. That’s how we think. It’s how we talk. It’s in the air and on the air. People talk about how to “cope.” Many opt out of the fray. Others fight. Some pray. Some get lost in cotton candy positivity. But few honestly pretend this is not going on.

My Christian faith helps me. Christ’s compassion has no borders—no borders on the human heart. Divine generosity is limitless, its signature vast. The spirituality of freedom and true independence is scandalous open-heartedness.

Yes, I know this spiritual vision is extremely demanding. I also know that we have no right to give God a nationality—ours.  Nor do we have a right to give God a gender—anyone's.

What do we dare to want for our birthday, America? What will be apposite to freedom?  How can we soften our flag, our souls, and our borders? With what gift?

Today I saw a small boy with his pregnant mom and another woman perhaps a grandmother. He was restless, shifting his weight around and clutching a towel and a set of goggles. I smiled at him and said: "Hi, you ready to go swimming?" "Yes, I've been waiting to come to this pool for years. This is my big moment."




















Sunday, June 30, 2019

2019.06.30 Leaving and Grieving With Grit and Grace

It is hard to say goodbye and harder to make that goodbye authentic, that is, with feeling but not sloppy. There’s only one way to do it—just do it. The apostle Paul called it speaking the truth in love. I call it leaving and grieving with grit and grace.

We have been priest associates at a parish in Charlestown Massachusetts for seven years. Today was our last Sunday. We’ll be moving on, not because of anything negative, but because it is time. A bit of the process:

Our notice in the parish newsletter, June 10—Holy Spirit season takes hold.
 
Dear Parishioners of St. John’s,

In conversation with one another and in communication with the parish wardens and Canon Carol Gallagher, the regional canon for our area of the diocese who has oversight over transition processes, we have decided that it is time for us to move on from St. John’s parish. Our last Sunday in the parish will be June 30th.

The Priest Associate arrangement was made under the appointment of the former rector, and we have served in that capacity over seven years with gratitude. Your gracious hospitality gave us an altar and a pulpit  whereby we could function as priests during our early retirement years. Thank you.

You are entering a transition time when you will be discerning your future and new leadership. It’s the right time for us to move on. We are making plans for our next retirement phase which will have us moving out of Massachusetts.

With deep appreciation and gratitude for this community, we bid you all farewell and bless you with grit and grace as you go forward. Thank you.

Affectionately,

The Rev’ds Lyn G. Brakeman and Richard J Simeone, aka Lyn and Dick

A Gracious Response

This Sunday June 30, we say farewell to Rev. Lyn Brakeman and the Rev. Dick Simeone, who have been an integral part of St. John’s for many years.
       
Together with us:
    They have preached, celebrated baptisms, officiated and been a spiritual balm at funerals, heard and healed us, and called us time and time again to the Eucharistic table.
    They’ve broken bread with us, laughed, cried, fussed, found things that were lost, and sat with us when we were feeling lost.
    They’ve visited those of us who were sick, dying, grieving, newly parenting, struggling, or confined.
    They’ve inspired and provoked us to look within ourselves and without ourselves to the needs of the whole world.

Lyn and Dick—we will miss you. We wish you oh so well in the next stage of your lives. We send our love, our prayers and our knowledge that we are all and always a part of the community of Christ.
         Catherine and Sarah, Parish Wardens.

What I love most about this response is that it acknowledges that parish ministry happens together. 

Final Blessings  On invitation from the Interim priest, we offered the closing blessings—dual but not dueling. As we said our favorites heads nodded and lips moved in recognition. We felt warmed.
  
Lyn: Time is short and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts and minds or those who travel the way with us, so be swift to love and make haste to be kind.
Dick: And, as you go forth to life and ministry, the blessing of the eternal and ever-living God, Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit, sustain, strengthen, challenge, and renew you this day and forevermore. Amen.

Party Time This parish specializes in food glorious food. There was enough to feed those 5000 hungry stragglers on the hillsides as Jesus did. (I’ve often thought it would be a great idea for St. John’s to start a small café/tearoom ministry. Then I remembered we don’t have a dishwasher.)

Many people shed tears of love, offered goodbyes and remembrances of beauty and humor, even a little anger. One man remembered that when his mother was sick and lonely and uncertain about God’s judgment, he’d asked if I’d give her a call. I gave her many calls. She called  me “her spiritual advisor,” and, after she’d read my memoir, declared: “Well! I guess if this woman did all this acting up and is a priest, I must be fine with God.”

Parting Words  We each offered parting thoughts—humorous, wise, and into the future. I am only qualified to share my own.

Well, we are soaring up, up, and away with Elijah in the whirlwind, but according to a typo in today’s bulletin we’ll be back again next week.
   
My two favorite spiritual gifts are grit and grace. [Grit and grace! they repeated knowingly.] A lot’s been said about grace, God’s, yours, ours, so I’m going to zero in on grit. I know some of you worry about the future of this parish, but let me assure you, you have what it takes in your DNA to thrive. I call this grit your blunt force determination and resilience. Two iconic examples:
    -Years ago a fire threatened to burn down the sanctuary. The rector, the legendary Mr. Cutler, placed his body between the stained glass apse window of Christ presiding at the Eucharist and a fireman wielding a large axe, ready to demolish the window. The window survived and the sanctuary didn’t burn down. Grit and grace.
     -Once a diocesan bishop was thinking of closing this parish. A small group of stalwart gritty parishioners, some of them here today, raised a great fuss, organized, and, as legend would have it, actually barred the bishop from entering the sanctuary.  I love the legend, but, in this case, the real story is even better: the gritty small group organized, went out into Charlestown, and rallied as many people as they could ambush to come to church that Sunday. The poor bishop arrived to a full house. He didn’t dare close the place after such a show of Christian zeal! Grit and grace.

The challenge this gritty and graced parish faces today, I think, is twofold: trust mightily in your DNA and simultaneously, slow down, listen to your self, to God, to one another, even a bishop. Christ isn’t presiding over a horse race, you know.

Carry on with grit and grace, beloved. You got this one. 
   



Sunday, June 23, 2019

2019.06.23 Teachers—And Then Some

One of the most treasured and, yes, loving, professions is that of being a teacher. Teachers are all over the place, but I’m thinking of classroom teachers. I remember the ones who shaped my life by knowing the shape of my life before I knew it.

How, for example, could my high school English teacher have known when he assigned year-end senior projects that the best assignment for me would be Charles Dickens? He knew before I did that I leaned toward compassion and justice for underdogs. He knew that I swooned over big spiritual Scrooge-like transformations. And he knew I had a penchant for good words, preferably big unmanageable ones, and a longing to be found, or at least noticed.

My favorite Dickens novel was Bleak House. Honestly, I don’t remember much of it except that it was about a young girl who wrote letters to an older man who took great care responding to the girl’s missives. Thus she grew to love herself. The relationship wasn’t lascivious but avuncular. I remember it felt holy to me. Here’s a quote: “There were two classes of charitable people: one, the people who did a little and made a great deal of noise; the other, the people who did a great deal and made no noise at all.” 

No, I did not remember those exact words. I looked them up. They felt just like something that would have stuck with me, made me laugh, and justify some of my own supercilious attitudes towards my elders. One of those elders must have gotten my drift, or been prodded by my mother, because, yearly for years, she gave me a bound-in-leather, gold-leaf, edition of a Dickens novel until I had the whole set. I hope my son Rob still has them—not for the money’s worth but for the soul’s worth.

A grandson, fourteen, recently responded to my typically-adult-inanity: What’s your favorite subject? He said something like: “Last year it was History but this year it’s English.” Why? Because last year’s English teacher was “no good.” The teacher makes the subject matter live. It’s an art.

My youngest son John is a teacher. He chose his profession, inspired by a teacher who wasn’t even his teacher but a special presenter in one of his college classes. The topic was educational advising, or how to teach teachers.  John thought: “I’d like to do that.” After the presentation he went to talk to the presenter, who was in a hurry and brushed off  John’s enthusiasm—a cardinal sin, I’d say. Nevertheless, even a sin can plant a seed. John pursued education instead of following his brother and dad into a business career. He taught in a racially segregated elementary public school in Florida. Anti-segregation laws soon passed, so his school had to integrate—admit more white children. The experience was formative for John, professionally and spiritually. Perhaps it was “Dickensian.”

I think this is how the Spirit works—not telling us what precisely to do but setting a small fire under our own desires.  I pursued, not Dickens, but writing with a religious, if sometimes sarcastic, bent. John returned to Connecticut, taught fifth grade, got his master's degree, and now heads up the library in an elementary school, where, you could say, he teaches teachers or at least ignites their impulses—known and unknown.  

Just a few days ago John was in an ice cream shop. The teenager behind the counter looked familiar. The boy smiled. John said: “I think I know you.” The boy said: “Mr. Brakeman?” John remembered instantly this young fifth grader, Timmy, I’ll call him. He had been a history buff with a special interest in American history. John had encouraged his interest and found books to fan the embers. Timmy told John he was going to college next year and planned to major in history. “Thanks for the education, Mr. Brakeman. The ice cream’s on me.” What better praise can there be?

It excites me when all that praise and glory we blast off on regularly in church escapes into the world we foolishly call secular, as if there were really a difference. If only we would notice. Pay attention to the small stuff that’s not supposed to happen but does.

Poet Brian Doyle wrote about another fifth-grader. May this poem serve to bless all teachers everywhere who teach knowledge—and knowing.

A Poem for Literature Teacher Beth
Morgan of Lassiter High in Georgia


Maybe you will think this is a tiny thing
But I do not think it’s a little thing when
A student asks me if I could possibly jot
A poem for his absolute favorite teacher
Because he wants to give her an odd gift
Of a poem by a writer she enjoys and he,
The student, says he knows this is crazy,
But he really admires this teacher, so he,
The writer, touched by the student’s guts
And how fine the teacher must be to jazz
 A student like that, says sure, and he sits
Down one morning to scribble the poem,
And here it is, but this poem, you notice,
Is a poem about the student being moved
By a teacher, and the teacher being zesty
And honest and real and so passionate as
To stories that he, the student, will never
Forget the teacher. That is the best poem.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

2019.06.16 Knocking Off THE Father and Loving the Daddy

Happy Father’s Day. Happy Trinity Sunday.

Many Christians claim to understand the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity, yet no one does. How can the one God be partitioned—thrice holy? In church we pray to OUR FATHER. We bless and anoint in the name of THE FATHER. Adding HIS only son and a holy spirit, we lustily sing Holy, Holy, Holy. We proclaim, praise, and triple-bind ourselves into this girdle of holiness and name it One God. Now who really does not secretly know that the real head of this sweet holy trio is THE FATHER? 

I’m a woman, also a mother. My preferred pronouns are she, her, hers. I’m not named as one of these major God parts. I’m not bitter, because my spiritual experience tells me I’m holy, and that the Trinity really means that the One Father God’s holiness is innumerable—not three or even three zillion. God has no preferred pronouns. God is not my father. 

Most days I adored my father. I used to think he was like God and imagined him in grandiose ways. One day though I did discover that he really was the bravest man in the universe.

Daddy was a city man—reserved, handsome, advertising executive. As a child I longed to capture his attention. My strategies, chiefly cuteness, incessant questions, and begging for one more book, bore little fruit—except in the summer when left the city and spent time on a farm up-state. Daddy commuted but took lots of vacation time. We got to explore the near-sacred mysteries of life on a farm.

We’d read picture books about farm animals, so we’d practiced neighs, brays, moos, cackles, and oinks. On the farm our book-animals leapt alive. We bonded over barnyard sights, sounds, and smells, especially freshly mown hay, pigs wallowing in mud, and cows. I was scared but Daddy was brave. Watching a cow give birth terrified me. The mother cow struggled and bellowed. Daddy told me to wait, luckily refraining from a lesson in sex education. I held my hands over my eyes, but peeked. When the calf finally emerged my heart jumped. How had it fit inside? This led us to the bull—a daddy to avoid, Daddy said.

The bull had his own stall. We peeked in. The bull snorted and had sharp piercing eyes—angry. One day the farmer asked Daddy to help get the bull up a ramp and onto the trailer for transport. The bull was secured by ropes tied to a halter. I watched, shivering with fear. Some men tugged the lead on the halter and pulled. Others poked with pitchforks from the rear. The raging bull jerked his head and took a quick turn toward Daddy. The farmer yelled: “Jump aside quick!” I held my breath till the bull galloped up the ramp onto the truck. Daddy was saved.

Driving home, I asked softly: “Daddy, were you scared?”

“You bet I was Lynnie,” he said.  

At that moment I knew my father really was the bravest man in the universe.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy—God also of course and in case.



















Sunday, June 9, 2019

2019.06.09 Who Is a Mystic?

Most people would say “Not me!”

Pentecost is the wildest, freest, most voluminous occasion and season of all seasons spiritual. It marks the biblical story of Creation’s awareness of the presence of a Holy Spirit that powers, let’s say, divine activism. GO! She travels far and wide, probing the depths and sowing seeds of hope, healing, and divine Goodness and Love. She/He is gender-free and bright green, passionate red, eye-popping gold and blue-all-over—a genuine Mystic, wisely irrational. 

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner writes about the Kabbalah Jewish mystical tradition:  “I think what our generation seems to be living through is the realization that rationalism is only part of the answer. I think, I’m not the first one to notice this, that Auschwitz and Hiroshima were perfectly rational decisions. So there’s this sense that religion has to be more than rationalism. Any mysticism offers—it says, sort of like in the corner, ‘Psst, hey kid how would you like a direct experience of the divine? Would that help your religious life?’ A lot of people discover that they’re mystics after all when they’re given that offer.” 

Rabbi Kushner’s definition of a mystic: “A mystic is anyone who has the gnawing suspicion that the apparent discord, brokenness, contradiction, and discontinuities that assault us every day might conceal a hidden unity.” 

I like that definition better than the one that insists on a direct experience of the divine—not because it is more rational, far from it, but because it makes room for the immanence of the transcendent—the divine within us, encouraging and empowering us to trust that hidden unity.

Kushner is a long time student of the Kabbalah. He was influenced by a Jewish historical figure named Gershom Scholem (1918-1982). Gershom rescued this tradition from obscurity.  The spirit of Kabbalah wraps teachings in teachings, wisdom in wisdom, life within life—analogically, like a Torah scroll wraps round itself. Kushner is the Emanu-El scholar at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, and the author of many books.
As a young child I experienced an invisible, inaudible, listening Presence I called God. I chattered. God listened. I learned that I mattered. You could say my words wrapped within The Word. I erred and strayed, but I never forgot the mark that experience left on me. It left me with that “gnawing suspicion” Kushner described: Good lies concealed in any chaos.

Every morning about 4 a.m., the birds begin their day-song before day breaks. They are natural anticipatory mystics, sensing, trusting, and proclaiming the light before it comes. Seeds planted in fertile soil do the same. Tree roots are the same: they hide under layers of concrete sidewalk, yet they push through and grow! GO. So also for tiny seeds of kindness planted in trusting desperate souls. Lions know when to leap and monkeys when to race up trees. GO! Jesus knew when to shut up and when to GO!

In the Old Testament, God spoke directly to prophets who conveyed divine messages—mostly about ways people can help God by listening and looking, especially in the darkest corners of misery to see where God needed help to create life anew. Imitate God, they said. Imitate Jesus the Christ, Christians say. Imitate Holy Spirit! GO!

When the prophetic tradition died out, people feared there would be no more direct Voice of God. Would God be silent? No. God continued to communicate in a new way called the bath qol.  It means “the daughter of a voice”—not inferior to what prophets experienced but more inward/subjective, far-reaching. For Christians, this voice is carried by the Holy Spirit. It is what Jesus heard within himself at his baptism: You are my son, the beloved. GO!

I have heard this bath qol seven times in my life, mostly posing challenging questions, such as what in the world are you thinking of here? These queries were personal wakeup calls for subjective clarity. 

BUT twice, God’s bath qol was more direct.
    -I was in deep distress after being turned down in the ordination process. I had run out of words completely, maybe like Jonah sitting dejectedly under the sheltering plant God provided and Jonah failed to appreciate. Or Elijah sitting outside his cave in misery. Both discerned the bath qol telling them: GO! This is the same voice Mary Magdalene felt within her vision at the empty tomb of grief. GO! To me God said: “No one can take this away from you, Lyn.” This stark truth was confrontive not comforting.  I heard: GO! 
    -And once again when I was fretting about ordination, Godde’s bath qol said:“Lyn I don’t care if you’re ordained.” How rude. I got it. GO! I kept going, unresolved.

Do such experiences make me a mystic?  I don’t know. But I can tell you that I do have the annoying tendency Kushner identified as mystical: "the gnawing suspicion that the apparent discord, brokenness, contradiction, and discontinuities that assault us every day might conceal a hidden unity.” 

I say “annoying” in part because this tendency annoys my empirical beloved husband who accuses me of missing the obvious ingredients that make things look impossible. I do miss them, but that’s often because I trust there’s something unitive, transformative, gloriously hidden, and emergent—if I can only trust the long slow work of God and my own grit to GO— no matter what.

In sum, I bet there are more mystics in this world than not—a few are clothed in human flesh.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

2019.06.02 Ask and You Will Receive

Furious Prayer for the Church I Love and Have Always Loved but Which Drives Me Insane with its Fussy Fidgety Prim Tin-eared Thirst for Control and Rules and Power and Money Rather Than the One Simple Thing the Founder Insisted On.

Granted, it’s a tough assignment, the original assignment I get that. Love—Lord help us, could we not have been assigned something easier, like astrophysics or quantum mechanics. But no—love those you cannot love. Love those who are poor and broken and fouled and dirty and sick with sores. Love those who wish to strike you on both cheeks. Love the blowhard, the pompous ass, the arrogant liar. Find the Christ in each heart, even those. Preach the Gospel and only if necessary talk about it. Be the Word. It is easy to advise and pronounce and suggest and lecture; it is not so easy to do what must be done without sometimes shrieking. Bring love like a bright weapon against the dark. The Rabbi did not say build churches, or retreat houses, or secure a fleet of cars for general use, or convene conferences, or issue position papers. He was pretty blunt about the hungry and the naked and the sick. He was not reasonable; we forget this. The Church is not a reasonable idea. The Church should be a verb. When it is only a noun it is not what the Founder asked of us. Let us pray that we are ever after dissolving the formal officious arrogant thing that wants to rise, and ever fomenting the contradictory revolutionary countercultural thing that could change life on this planet. It could, you know. Let’s try again today. And so:amen.

by Brian Doyle, A Book of Uncommon Prayer. 100 Celebrations of the Miracle and Muddle of the Ordinary, 2014

The Muddle
A man named James who sits in his wheelchair in Harvard Square. I pass him every time I walk from the subway to where I get my hair cut. I only see him once a month, but I look forward to it. James is a lovely man with multiple handicaps, a gentle soul, and a smile from heaven. You could say James is homeless, disabled, an amputee, a street person, a beggar just looking for the next drink. You could discount him, as some do when they bustle by. I know he lives someplace where he is taken care of, and that someone brings him daily to his spot. He’s not an aggressive man, and he doesn’t call out or rattle a cup of coins for attention. But boy, when James smiles you know the world is his proverbial oyster—and you are the only one who matters at this moment. And James knows how to ask for what he needs. This is the part of the biblical wisdom we do not easily engage: asking and receiving are related, part of a whole. Once James asked me to marry him, and once he stammered, “ I love you” and motioned to me to lean towards him for a kiss. He is a person who matters, and I am not the only one who notices James.

The Miracle
Google-godde came to the rescue. James made it online. A Harvard senior, George David Torres, befriended him. James told Torres that he needed a new wheelchair. He asked. In the midst of Torres’s final exams he took the time and the heart to start a gofundme page to raise money for a new wheelchair for James. People were generous and Torres worked with The Boston Orthopedic and Respiratory. James received his new chair plus the bonus of a new cup in which to store his earnings.  Here he is with his new chair and cup—and his thank you note in process.

So much for envious projections of snootiness onto Harvard students. Call it Harvardism.

So much for assumptions about the general goodness and generosity of the public. Most people are kind.

So much for judging street beggary and putting everyone into the same nasty box called lazy, irresponsible, poor, or drunks.

So much for the idea that it is mostly religious or churched or Christian people who do their spiritual homework and follow Jesus’s only one commandment: Love. And doesn't love require paying attention and listening, both asking and receiving?

From what I have read about street people they appreciate money, but more importantly, they appreciate being noticed. I am not the only one who notices James. All this took place at the end of last summer. This summer so far I have missed James and pray with him. Please do the same if you will. Prayer is not a haughty holier-than-thou practice, nor is it magic or useless. It evokes hope in absence. It invokes God. Anyone can pray, and there probably is no one who has never prayed.

May Brian Doyle have the last word: 
Let us pray that we are ever after dissolving the formal officious arrogant thing that wants to rise, and ever fomenting the contradictory revolutionary countercultural thing that could change life on this planet. It could, you know. Let’s try again today. And so:amen.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

2019.05.26 Rogations

The tender seed finds the stirring of life deep within itself - and what is deepest in the seed reaches out to what is deepest in life . . . "
~ Howard Thurman, from Meditations of the Heart

Many of us are used to thinking of God as up there, then coming down to be in and with us before leaving again. It feels, metaphorically, as if divinity hits a home run, then dashes in to touch home base —for a brief moment only— before disappearing into clouds of fame and glory. This spatial metaphor fits with our penchant for divine transcendence, but it’s not very grounded and it creates an image of divinity that borders on condescension. No wonder so many of us don’t feel at home with God.

Jesus spoke frequently about seeds and planting seeds, waiting for seeds to grow, and sowing seeds along paths. He would sometimes bend down and scoop up soil or seeds, and he frequently bent to listen to the words of children. He was fully earthed, even earthy I suspect.

On Rogation days we let God come down to earth. Rogation comes from the Latin root rogare, meaning simply to ask. On Rogation days, Christians ask the soil to nurture seeds we plant, that they may bear fruit and feed us. We also ask that God nurture spiritual seeds implanted in our flesh, that we will grow strong and faithful and plant ourselves solidly on earth to practice the way of love just as Jesus the seed-planter did.

Some of the most delightful seeds I know come from the mouths of young children. If you listen for seeds of wisdom you’ll find them in the mouths of young children.

Here’s a story about Jack. Jack is six. He is a child who asks multitudes of questions about everything that pops into his mind. Jack asks about God. His curious mind is open and fresh. What is God?

Enter Grandma. She reads Jack a book called What Is God? by Etan Boritzer.
The book is brilliantly illustrated. It explores every aspect of Jack’s question, a question people the world over ask and wonder about all the time. There are no answers, but Jack is not alone in his wondering.

Jack’s Grandpa tells Jack about a book he wrote about Tim. Who is Tim? Tim is a large pink stuffed chimpanzee that belonged to Jack’s Daddy, Michael. Jack is all ears. Tim went everywhere with Michael, but when Michael slept Tim had wild, scary adventures. Grandpa shows Jack a book he wrote about Tim’s escapades.

Where is Tim now?  Grandma and Grandpa explain to Jack that when they come to California to visit Jack they leave Tim back east. Jack bursts into tears.  “How could you leave Tim all alone?"

A discussion ensues about what is real and what is make-believe. Tim is not real. Tim is just a toy.  Jack listens to all the explaining, then firmly asserts: “The tooth fairy is real.” Grandma and Grandpa nod. Jack had that week lost his first tooth. He knows the tooth fairy is real. Jack is ready to go to bed now—almost. “Wait, let’s read What Is God? It’s a beautiful book,” Jack says. And so they do.

Like Jack, we all go through awakenings many times over. How many comings-of-age are there?  How many home-bases do we seek and touch? How many wondering questions are too many? There’s nothing silly or childish about such questions. They pop up, especially when someone dies, or is missing, like Tim. Where is he? Will we see him again? Is there a heaven? What is God?  Such questions have no answers and we shouldn’t try to answer them.

Just let the imaginary bump into the real. Let them co-exist, complement one another. We need cold hard facts and the creative imagination of unknowing. In the same way we need the God hidden intimately in seeds and the God bursting with glory rising.

Tim is alive. So is God.



Sunday, May 19, 2019

2019.05.19 Invigoration

Last week I had two invigorating experiences—speaking experiences that sparked my soul and brought light to my eyes, and fire to my heart. I was tired when I went in all prepared and—my armor—but when I came out I was alive, awake, fired up not burned out. I was the principle speaker. But I was the speaker in words only.  My listeners supplied the heft, the spiritual energy, and the authentic Word. (I capitalize that to mean that I think God/Spirit was present in the connection—not the whole cause of it, but the true essence.)

Part I  The Young

On Tuesday I visited a college class,The Psychology of Spirituality, at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. My oldest Granddaughter, Gillian Colbath, a SCSU graduate, had loved this class. The professor, Dr. Jessica Suckle-Nelson, aka Dr. S., had told me the class loved my talk last year, so I invited myself back. The seventeen twenty-something students wandered and straddled and finally assembled. They all sat along the edges or in the back of the classroom at lab table desks. I began: “This looks like church. Everyone sits way in the back or lines up along the side—as if you couldn’t be seen.” Everyone laughed. At ease.

Introductions with name, place, and serial number are always dry and boringly necessary. I invited each one to say something interesting about him or herself and simultaneously guaranteed that I wouldn’t remember any of their names. We laughed. Interesting things included being born with no pinkie knuckles, living in Greece for a year, playing three musical instruments well, feeling lost from a connection with religion or God, being agnostic but curious, and more. My own thing was: I am a wannabe Catholic, one-time Presbyterian, turned Episcopal priest—happily ever after, so far. I watched each face light up as each shared a mere snippet of what made them—them. No one balked. Analogically, I felt as if we all were baptized together in the gentle waters of the divine womb—all born together not of years, but by Soul.

I then invited them to go deep with apologias, not as an apology or regret, but as a way to say more about what mattered to them. Blank faces looked as if I were crazy. I even told them I had read the famous tract Apologia Pro Vita Sua written in 1864 by John Henry Cardinal Newman who converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. Handsome sage, no?
Newman's work was like a spiritual memoir in defense of his controversial choice. His contemporaries freaked out, as people do when you push an already tight envelop wide enough to split its seams. I told the students I struggled through Newman’s famous work and didn’t understand a word. I did, however, get the idea that it was good to know what I was doing and why. And hey, Newman’s tract raised such a fuss it became a best-seller, is still in print, and  in time qualified him for sainthood. Don’t be afraid of yourself and the depth dimension of life, I suggested. There’s wisdom to be found. Newman's lasting goodies include:
    To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often
    Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a                 beginning.
    Growth is the only evidence of life.


I felt invigorated by the openness and curiosity of these young people, even though I did most of the talking and had to be reminded that I’d just gone over the magic hour of class dismissal. Graciously, they applauded and left. I hope the time was as nourishing for them as it was for me. Perhaps the greatest joy of the day was getting hugs and grins from Gillian, a beloved first granddaughter with the loveliest smile and personality I think I have ever seen.

Part II The Older

On Thursday I spoke to a group of about twenty older women on the topic: “Am I My Sister’s Keeper?". They are part of Women Explore, a group that has been meeting since 1953 to hear speakers and each other on the sacred dimensions of a woman’s life. Men were admitted so I brought my faithful beloved chauffeur/husband. He is my personal GPS without whom, well, I get lost.

With this group I had as much fun. They were all white proper Bostonians mostly from Cambridge, so I began with my own apologia: I am white, elite, went to elite schools, privileged, and cis-gendered. I’m also religious—not a very politically correct marker these days. I am also sick of being labeled and typed. I’m not consistently aware of my privileges, but I try, and trying is divine. I use my privileges for those closest to me in love, and I use them for larger causes like social justice. But I’m sick of being stereotyped for my labels. So add that I’m a woman impatiently aging and pissed. I swear this country would elect a newt or a dishrag before it would elect a woman as our president!  

Again, humor eased us all into a loaded topic. 

A focus speaker talked about her personal experience with the topic. She said she devoted herself to caring for others and posed questions about how much "is too much." She was trying to figure out the difficult answers on her own, a strategy that rarely works. She apparently had left herself off the list of those who also need her caring compassion.

I advocated for collective spiritual keepership and focused directly on the biblical story about two brothers, Cain and Abel, and the poignant extremes of sibling rivalry leading to the first murder + cover-up in the Bible. What we notice—when we wake up—is that God knows what Cain has done, is not pleased, exiles Cain, and then gives him a “mark” assuring him of God’s presence and his survival. Look always for the last word! Simply so.

The Bible remains, mysteriously, a best seller, because there is every human problem imaginable in it. Believe me: your own story is in there. The wonder of it is that there is a consistent relationship pattern of connection/disconnection/reconnection. Astonishingly, the people and God reconnect even after the worst possible messes. Often God initiates the reconnection, though sometimes we do in our prayers and with the graces of forgiveness, advocated by all spiritual gurus. 

Collective spiritual keepership means that we all are keepers of one another. Benefits include: non-partisan politics, fuel for our prayers, healing collective shame, efficient action, awareness enough to build mutual relationships, commitment to organizing for the common good, justice, equity, truth-telling, peace, energy enough to save our drowning planet, Mother Earth.

We live in a tragic time of renewed holocaust mentality: burnt offerings—guns burn, fires burn religious structures, kids in schools burn, tiny children burn with loss and terror. With the resurgence of white supremacy comes the supremacy of terrorism and holocaust as strategies of choice.

The women asked many questions. They burned with the fuel of longing for change, and for a new way of being people together. The young burned with the same energy. Such inner burning is not holocaustal. It is the fire of spirituality, burning within us. It is strong. It is alive. It is available. It is what connected the nuns and the “nones”, both fueled by the same activist energy, now working together for change. It is what fires up all religions. It’s what inspires Goodness, what Creator God started in the beginning. In today’s gospel Jesus re-reminds us to Love each other. Yes, and while you’re at it love yourself.

You may not believe in God, yet you can believe in the fire within you, and you can act with Love as its fuel. Love is the only fire vigorous and hot enough to burn out destruction by holocaust fires. Love will save us and our drowning planet. And, for Christians, it is the ONLY mission Jesus fired up.

And so may we try. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

2019.05.12 Mothers' Day

It’s Mother’s Day, and so it is!! Reposition the apostrophe and it is Mothers' Day. When mothering types act together, take note and watch out.

Motherhood is a funny thing really. It’s a loaded topic. Many people write about it, critique it, identify changing stereotypes, decide just how it should be enfleshed—womb or no womb—even in men. Most families, created by love or sacrament or law, have a mothering type in them.

At our recent diocesan clergy conference we heard amazing presentations by the Very Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, Dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and Canon Theologian of Washington National Cathedral. Her topic was “Beyond White Supremacy: Being Church in a Changing America” Douglas is a black woman, a scholar, a powerhouse presence, and a mother. There is much to relate about her presentations. Today I honor her mothering spirituality and priestly vocation of word and sacrament.

 


Dr. Douglas’s talks were not simply about racism but focused directly on black bodies and the American culture of anti-blackness and white superiority, implanted from the beginning within the founding narrative of Anglo-Saxon  exceptionalism. It’s in our national genes, transmitted from generation to generation to blacks and whites, fostering mutual suspicion, fear and aggression within a structured power imbalance system tipped against blackness. This condition has also invaded our interpretations of Holy Scriptures and our capacity to discern the work of the God’s expansive creativity without racial assumptions and biases. You’d think Jesus was white!  Douglas had to reassure us a few times that she in fact is still a Christian. I wondered why. But I believed her.

Douglas is also the mother of a son. She mentioned him on and off throughout her passionate discourse. She is a mother daily afraid for her son in this country. She has deliberated sending send him to Africa. She, like all black mothers, daily drilled into her son the basic rules for survival in a world ruled by white authority, privilege, and law. Black mothers drill these rules into their sons—over and over. This is how you will get home safely, son. These Mothers’ Rules are strategies for safety. They focus on street behavior and go far beyond what a white mom might suggest for pubic decorum to her sons—in urgency and impact.  Yes, be careful and don’t be fresh or mug or steal or lie, etc., I, a white mother, would throw off by word and example. Still, a privilege I realized I have had as a white mother is that there’s not the underlying daily terror of being targeted for violence-unto-death FOR NO REASON.  Douglas has spent most of her life trying to figure out why black-skinned people were targeted. The only rational answer is: NOTHING.  The rules must be obeyed anyway.

10 Rules of Survival if Stopped by the Police


1. Be polite and respectful when stopped by the police. Keep your mouth closed.
2. Remember that your goal is to get home safely. If you feel that your rights have been violated, you and your parents have the right to file a formal complaint with your local police jurisdiction.
3. Don’t, under any circumstance, get into an argument with the police.
4. Always remember that anything you say or do can be used against you in court.
5. Keep your hands in plain sight and make sure the police can see your hands at all times.
6. Avoid physical contact with the police. No sudden movements, and keep hands out of your pockets.
7. Do not run, even if you are afraid of the police.
8. Even if you believe that you are innocent, do not resist arrest.
9. Don’t make any statements about the incident until you are able to meet with a lawyer or public defender.
10. Stay calm and remain in control. Watch your words, body language and emotions.

The only rule I might add is don’t wear a hoodie!  Or maybe, DO wear one and hide your hands because they too are black. Maybe wear long pants in all seasons. It gets absurd, but then the situation is ab-surdus—coming from deafness, totally out of tune. American anti-blackness is just that. Tragically, however, these rules are not wildly illogical at all.

I know this seems depressing for Mother’s Day, but it is Mothersday. I have never thought about this day as racial. My love and caring for all my children and grandchildren, biological and acquired by love, is intense, and my protective instincts, to the point of defensiveness, are equally great. I confess I worry more about my daughters in this patriarchally-charged American society, but I have never worried about my sons or daughters, because they are white-skinned. Every time a black boy is shot on the streets I know that a mother’s heart is broken. (Also a father’s heart.) I  know as well that some white woman’s heart gets broken too, because her son has been arrested as a perpetrator of racial violence or has been shot himself as a bystander in a melée. 

Why are so many Christians silent? Why is this subject not preached more in white churches? Is it in black churches? Statistically, Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in the week. Churches are segregated not by policy, but by racial choice. White people are no more welcome in black churches than blacks are in white churches. A black Episcopal priest and a friend said he felt at a loss about how to communicate all this to his black congregation. He said a white man came to church not long ago and wanted to join the parish. “My people were suspicious. Why is that man here? Who is he?” It felt invasive and so it was. Should it be?

How did we get there and how can we get out?  American statesman, orator, abolitionist leader, and escaped slave, Frederick Douglass wrote in 1845: “Between this land and the Christianity of Christ I recognize the widest of possible difference.” I bet Frederick Douglass still prays from his grave.

We hear preaching against violence in general, but not so much against white supremacy in our religion, which is, we proclaim, the Way of Love, divine and human, without exception or condition.  Is there something askew in our religion? Has the Biblical witness been used to reinforce the Anglo-Saxon narrative of whiteness as divine? Indeed so. 

Both Douglas and Douglass challenge us all to interrogate our history and our dominant narrative. Will we be a country and a church of white exceptionalism or a country and church of liberty and justice and compassionate love for all—in FACT?

Will we be the beloved community envisioned by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. the vision for which he died? Will we be the kingdom of God that Jesus Christ envisioned and died for? Faith is always dangerous and risky. So is life. 

What about Mothers Against White Supremacy?



Sunday, May 5, 2019

2019.05.05 Rich Blooming Thanks and Farewell

We have had such a week of riches I hardly know where to begin writing about it all—like choosing between dark chocolate and red wine.  So I’ll start at the end this week and work my way back, hoping to sustain the rest of Easter’s 50 days with glories. 

Dick and I have been the Diocesan Coordinators for the EfM program for nine years. With a combination of deep sadness and a ready-to-be-done feeling, we passed the proverbial baton onto, well yes, younger people with just as much zeal and skill. EfM is a program of adult Christian formation that engages small seminar group participants in sophisticated curricula about their religion (Bible, both testaments, Church history, theology up to the present day) through a process of theological reflection (affectionately called TR) by which group members connect biblical material and other historical and theological resources with their own lived experience.

How is God in this with you? is always the spiritual question and quest.

Example: “There are days I, (a junior high public school teacher) feel like Moses trying to guide a group of frightened hormonal teens through unsteady waters and a desert to a promised land where they can discover their own core convictions, values, and gifts. I talk to God a lot, a lot. I feel often like a failure.” The group identified with “Mosaic” frustrations and sought ways in which God’s presence was there for Moses—and for them. Moses became a biblical prayer partner, modeling faith, endurance, persistence and prayer conversations with God.

EfM participants get to share and to know each other well over four years of study, prayer and experiential TR. In knowing and sharing, participants mature in their faith, connecting their own faith story with the stories and wisdom in their faith tradition.

As Coordinators we inaugurated the team coordinator model here. We are only the third EfM coordinator in Massachusetts since 1983. We have set up regular training events for mentors whose “Mosaic” task is to guide groups in theological reflection toward spiritual maturity. Mentors needs support and collegiality. We have hosted mentors’ meetings, often twice a year ,over the years. We have been available for advice and supervision of mentors and groups as needed. We have hosted mentor trainers from out of state on occasion. We have supplied comfort food, especially M&M's and wine, for mentors in training.  We have advocated for and promoted EfM wherever we can throughout the diocese. We have worked hard to make the diocese aware of EfM and its illuminative spirituality. Even so, the Episcopal Church has identified a crisis in formation for adults. We do well by children and youth, but with adults not so much.

We have great confidence in the new Diocesan Coordinators: David Bresnahan and Laurie Brown. To the group’s delight and ours, they led us in a TR as a way to say good bye: a TR on Lyn and Dick. They listed all the pluses and minuses of our ministry and came up with a metaphor for how we have served in this ministry: Yin and Yang.
We explored and identified with the image through everyone’s experience and feelings. The group had many insights about the porosity, vulnerability, challenges, tensions, temptations, and flexibility of our image. We shared laughter, joy, and some tears too.

To close, we wrote a Collect together and the group laid their hands on us as we sat in their midst—hands of love. Here we are posed in front of the Collect we all composed.

The Collect, in case it is not legible enough:

O God of yin and yang;
You pour your love into us and gently hold us in tension.
We ask that you keep us open to “both/and” so that we know the other in ourselves.
In the name of the Cosmic Christ.  AMEN.

I can’t imagine a more powerful or enlivening way to receive authentic thanks and farewell, profound and not sentimental, from this awesome group of bright mentors.We experienced God in this Incarnational process, feeling the energy of the divine spirit caressing and strengthening body and soul at once. Add a gorgeously decorated sweet chocolate and vanilla cake and PERFECTION.

Thank you blessed and beloved mentors.  Thank you. EfM is yin/yang, right?
















Wednesday, May 1, 2019

2019.04. 28 Am I My Sister's Keeper? Women Explore.

Most of my life I’ve resisted being anyone’s keeper or being kept by anyone else. I don’t mean being a “kept woman”—like by some man for his sexual pleasure. No, that would surely lead me to suicide or homicide. Maybe a deep sense of belonging or true love, but it would have to be mutual. It’s hard to give with no take. Then again, what would be the spirituality of keepership?

On Thursday May 16th at noon I will be speaking on the topic “Am I My Sister’s Keeper?” for the lecture and discussion forum called Women Explore (WE) at 45 Mt Auburn Street, Cambridge. All are welcome. “Am I My Sister’s Keeper?” is one of the topics scheduled for WE’s spring series on women immigrants, sex trafficking, women’s rights, and more.

I was invited because I asked—how obvious—and because I am a lifetime female explorer. People mostly think first of Columbus, or men heading out to cross dangerous seas to discover new lands, crossing frozen tundras, scaling the peaks of Everest, when they think of explorers. Of course women can and do explore this way. And I’m not the only woman who has a deep intuitive sense of a bright, splendid, ineffable, unnameable, and unmanageable Mystery that lies beyond her grasp but that she can discern shimmering in a child’s face, or in human kindness, as well as in the glory and ferocity of nature. Some call this energy soul; some call it spirituality. It’s worth exploring together.

WE provides lectures and discussion within a feminist learning community for women, to connect with the sacred dimensions of their experience and to support and encourage each other in the world community. It began as T.O.P., the Theological Opportunities Program at the Harvard Divinity School in 1973. Sacred? Theological? Divinity School? I called WE. They’d had a cancellation for this topic. Timing is everything. But am I my sister’s keeper?  I know for sure I wasn’t such a great keeper of my own biological little sisters. Still, the topic became emblazoned in my imagination. I love to infuse meaty scriptural wisdom with feminine energy.

WE is committed to liberation politics and is aware of many ways in which women are still oppressed living in a patriarchal system. God knows all scriptures and all religions are familiar with the unjust structures of patriarchy. But would this group take a Rev.?

The issue about being another person's keeper appears in an ancient biblical story about the first murder and cover-up. (Genesis 4:1-16) Contemporary societies should be right at home! After the Garden of Eden affair, things go down hill fast for the sons of Adam and Eve. Cain, jealous of his younger brother Abel’s apparently earning divine approval, murders Abel, then covers up the ugly deed. God suspects evil, yet questions Cain about his brother’s whereabouts. (Isn’t that funny, when most of the world thinks God knows everything anyway, yet God courteously—respectfully— asks anyway? ) Cain, defensive, pops his infamous question to God: “How should I know? Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The story unfolds in fascinating ways. It is not historical/literal, but boy, is it true  to human experience! The question the story poses, though unanswered, has gravitas and still hangs over history and human conscience to this day. And now WE is wondering about the gender implications. Are women our sisters’ keepers? Am I?
I set to wondering. Is this question more sensitive for women, and also men, who have struggled with addictions and codependency issues?  How does care-taking differ from caring?  What does the word “keeper” really mean? What about parenting? What does Christian faith have to say about this issue? Was Jesus Christ anyone’s keeper? This topic is rich and I plan to consider it with care—after I consult with my flesh-and-blood living sister.

I will speak to Women Explore (WE) from my own spiritual experience and professional training, using my own words. PLEASE JOIN ME to explore this tender topic. Come at 11:30 to 45 Mt. Auburn Street. Check website for parking information. http://www.womenexplore.org/lectures.html

So just maybe I'm a keeper. 







Sunday, April 21, 2019

2019.04.21 Prayer On Easter Morning

Yes, my mind knows that this is clearly riffing on
ancient rebirth rituals to honor life returning from
what was seemingly forever dead and icy and
lifeless ground; and yes, my mind savors the genius
of Christianity happily surfing on prehistoric human
ceremonies, how deft we are in our appropriations,
taking only the best; and my mind knows full well
that Jesus very probably arose from the dead on a
Tuesday afternoon at happy hour, rather than a
Sunday morning; yet my heart leaps and my soul
is delighted and my mouth is filled with joy, for
Easter is undeniably the coolest of our annual high
holy days, the day when that which we believe
unbelievably to be true is shouted from churches
and chapels around the world, in every language,
by people of every age from small children capering
in their annual finery to the ancients who sit and grin
at the swirl and song of it all, and then shuffle to
the banquet table. This is the day when we admit,
smiling, that the essence of our faith doesn’t make
sense and isn’t physically possible; how great and
brave is that? How refreshing, to not make sense
for once, how refreshing to remember that we are
sworn to live by our conviction that there is so
much more beyond sense! And so: amen.


Easter is late this year and everyone complains—being sure the weather should comply with the Feast if not the season. They complain just as vociferously when Easter, the immoveable moveable feast, is early, say March 31. And yet . . . the late great writer Brian Doyle who wrote the prayer above communicates Easter’s soul—without a single period (well just one). Periods, or stops, Doyle has declared, are fascist. Easter has no periods and never stops.

Bless to us this Easter rising.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

2019.04.14 Three Cheers. Three Palms. Three Words of Wisdom.

Palm Sunday involves much hullabaloo in the Christian church. I’ve always wanted to downsize the hype, introvert that I am. Do we have to re-enact the triumphal entry story of Jesus on a donkey entering Jerusalem, raising a rumpus, bringing cheering jeering crowds, and raising the hackles of the reigning authorities charged with maintaining order? I feel sorry for them. Jesus was a trouble maker—for the sake of justice we argue.

And then—post-triumph—we re-enact the rest of the story with us all playing the hostile turncoat crowd, betrayers all, shouting: Crucify him. Crucify him. I want to shout STOP don’t crucify him. Don’t crucify anyone! Thank God there’s no sermon on Palm Sunday, save this morning’s brief fervorino, aka pep talk—in this case for Jesus. No need to say more than the complicated tragic story already says.

Sometimes these reenactments feel pale, with people lined up in front reading their parts from scripture. It’s pretty stiff theater, but it is better than to abandon the biblical story completely and write our own little play version—dumbed down as if we all were in kindergarten. So I’m stuck with the Palm Sunday hoopla.

We act all this out and pretend, or pray, we too are going to reform our systems for the sake of justice and love and peace. Does this ritual work? Does it inspire, set on fire?

Well, sometimes it is effective. It helps me return to the beginning and imagine the primordial chaos into which the Creator infused life and hope. This creationing process keeps on and never stops. It gives me hope.

I bring my palms home, drape them over beautiful pictures—icons, a landscape, a cross on the wall—where they will stay until next year’s hope-packed whoopee. Some may even make it to the burning pot where they will be turned into ashes—forehead reminders that we all are dust and to dust we all shall return—for Ash Wednesday. I am happy to have had their company for a year, and to have them renewed for another year.

Ancient repetitive rituals have inner value. Below are three quotes of my own. They were lifted from my blog posts by a spiritual director who used them for her facebook group ministry. She’d started the group to promote her own practice, but it morphed into an online ministry. It was fun for me to see my name and my words, on her site—framed and decorated in colorful ways.
  
Heed the intimate scriptures of your own heart and intuition.
    

Religion without spirituality is arid and spirituality without religion is lonely. 
    
Spirituality is a matter of training your heart and your eye to see beyond or inside a simple ordinary scenario and marvel at its sudden inexplicable grandeur. Do you ask: Is this God?
   

I'm humbled and honored in the best way—though not too humble to feel surprised at my own wisdom and wonder: Is this God AND me together co-creating?

Sunday, April 7, 2019

2019.04.07 A Flat Out Failed Wrinkle

Recently we watched the movie “A Wrinkle in Time.” I was looking forward to it. I had loved Madeleine L’Engle’s book by that name and was sure the movie would live up to her vision. After all, Ty Burr, cantankerous Boston Globe movie critic, even gave it a few nods, and Oprah Winfrey was in it. How could it lose?

To say I was disappointed is to put it mildly. I was furious. The movie was flat out terrible. Even if you knew nothing about L’Engle’s book or had no expectation, the movie failed to portray in an integrated way the forces of mystery, science, religion, spirituality, and the drama of three children in search of their missing father, an astrophysicist, whom they believed was lost in space.

On their journey the children meet three guides who represent Goodness, possibly the Christian idea of the Holy Trinity, and named accordingly: Mrs Whatsit Mrs Who and Mrs Which. The actors who play these three guides in the movie are token black, token middle east, and token vaporous-mystical. Despite spotlighting big name stars and making God imagery expansive, the film’s dialogue is flat and the plot contrived. Possibly trying to be too “p.c.”, it fails to convey the spiritual depths of the classic good vs. evil drama. The film even downplayed the climactic scene in which heroine Meg Murry, token black, tries desperately to save her younger brother from the forces of evil they call IT. This rescue scene was one Madeleine L’Engle often chose to read publicly, in dialogue with her husband, a professional actor.  L'Engle (1918-2007) wise story-teller imagining tesseracts.
I admit my expectations for this film might have been too grand and complicated by my affection for L’Engle, but this interpretation missed her vision: her desire to communicate the wonders of quantum science through a dramatic quest story with obvious theological imagery.

Theology and science shaped Madeleine L’Engle’s spirituality. I first met her in 1980 when I was in seminary and fretting about having been turned down in the ordination process toward priesthood. I felt ashamed and inadequate. Madeleine, my spiritual director, did not argue with my feelings but rather told me that the institutional church was not exactly innocent in its devaluing of the ministry of women. She also persuaded me not to give up my quest and issued me a new commandment: “Now, my dear, when you get ordained, and you will, do NOT turn into a little man!” It made me laugh and gave me courage to resist being shaped by patriarchal forces—the IT in my life.

I felt like Meg Murry. She was driven to save her brother and find her beloved father. She dared to travel through time and space in the fifth dimension because of a tesseract, a word meaning four-dimensional cube, from tessara + actis "ray", adopted by L'Engle to mean a wrinkle in time through which one could travel into outer space.  As far as I was concerned the Episcopal Church might well have been a tesseract, a realm scary and mysterious with potential to destroy all my hopes and dreams. Besides her brain, her heart, and her love for her father, Meg uses her skills in math and science, her spiritual guides, and her wisdom to outwit IT, a force that insists that everyone is exactly the same. Meg knows that alike and equal are not the same. She persists. I have no mathematical skills, but I knew that women and men were alike but not the same. and definitely not equal—yet. And I did persist, nearly succumbing to the powers of IT and pretzeling myself into shapes I thought would please, rather than being myself. To come to my true self, I sinned and prayed, probably in equal measure, and enjoyed prodigal dollops of divine grace.

L’Engle also persisted. She submitted Wrinkle for publication twenty-some times over several years until finally the first publisher she’d submitted it to accepted it for publication in 1962.
Rejection hurts but it won’t kill you. Its plangency (don’t you love that word?) might even have provided me courage enough not to become a little man, as L’Engle had commanded.


P.S. My husband with whom I saw the movie found it boring. “So you have a copy of the book?”  he asked. I did. He read it and got every wrinkle of it—small but meaningful redemption.

Monday, April 1, 2019

2019.03.31 Prodigality?

Prodigality? It’s actually a word. I looked it up. It’s the noun form of the adjective prodigal, which means spending money recklessly. OR there’s the noun which gets personal: a Prodigal is someone who is extravagant with money—lavish. So you see it is a complex word, loaded and layered. Christians use this word with prodigal abandon, attaching it, errantly and recklessly, to one son in a parable told by Jesus in Luke’s gospel.

American consumerism, I conclude, encourages prodigality, and simultaneously spawns lost souls, which is really what the biblical parable we prodigally call “The Prodigal Son” is about. This boy is lost. So is the sheep in the Lost Sheep parable, and so is the coin in the Lost Coin parable. The grouping of three parable about being lost and found is purposeful.

The lost son has asked, probably nagged, his father for his share in the family inheritance—more than double his allowance I wager. Worse, the father gives it to him, while also giving his older brother the other half. Mom has no voice in this story, but if I were here I’d have advised against this transaction. The younger son wastes his money on “dissolute living.” He gets demonized by interpreters for his inability to resist temptations that few young immature boys could. Who is prodigal here?

I’m tired of Christian interpretations that identify the effulgent father with the image of God—oh so generous and merciful. This parabolic father is the one who behaves prodigally, dishing out his wealth prematurely. What self-respecting father would do such a foolish thing? In so doing he creates a near-impossible family trauma. The younger son is thrilled and races off into the world to squander his wealth. He ends up in a pig sty starving. He—  cagily and wisely—remembers that Papa has money and fatted calves so he heads back home to a father who welcomes him with a prodigal banquet, thus earning the ire of the elder son who has stayed home, worked hard and invested his money in the local bank.

Okay, I know it’s only a story, but nothing is “only” a story. Every story has value and meaning, especially a parable in the Holy Bible, through which we are supposed to discern the presence of divine grace. Traditionally, this prodigal father is imagined to be God, but I think this pop needs a little deflation.

First of all, this story is in Luke’s cluster of three lost-and-found stories in which all those who have lost something search diligently and ceaselessly for the lost. These qualities—diligent caring for the lost and the least— are divine.

The father in the prodigal, however, is not identified as hiring posses et. al to search for his lost son. He makes no such efforts. Then he sets the boy up for a disaster in which the home-coming banquet is lavish and earns this father a reputation as the all-merciful Lord-lookalike. Daddy is also gracious to the elder brother as well, but it’s too late to prevent the looming sibling rivalry that surely will torture this family for some time, not to mention garnering a reputation for his firstborn as a bitter whiner with no grace in his heart. Divine grace, I conclude, isn’t foolhardy or cheap, is it?

One definition of grace is the experience of being known, exactly as you are, and loved, exactly as you are, at the same exact time. The one who sees you this way with no conditions attached is, yes, divine.

Do you think that is what the father in this story provided to his sons? He knew them both and gave them each equal portions of his money, whether they deserved it or not. He also knew, I suspect, their weakness and vulnerabilities. But he gave extravagantly anyway, and—foolish old coot. Dumb enough to be divine I’d say—and prodigally so.