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.

So just maybe I'm a keeper.