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.