Sunday, January 26, 2020

2020.01.26 The Beatitudes—Jesus Takes Off!

A beatitude is not a bad attitude, although it might occasionally be construed that way. Beatitude means a supreme blessing or supreme blessedness, from Latin beatus (blessed). In the Orthodox Church it is a title given to patriarchs, as in his or your Beatitude. Don’t you love that? I will try it on my beloved Beatitude husband—And how is His Beatitude today? 

Traditionally, then, a beatitude is a very good thing to be, or to have, or even to witness.

Nevertheless, and but……the eight beatitudes, placed into the mouth of Jesus the Christ, as remembered according to Matthew 5:3-10 in the New Testament from the Sermon on the Mount, are very hard blessings, mixed blessings. In short, you get the good with the not so good; for example, the merciful will obtain mercy, which implies they are in a state of being in need of mercy and/or are merciless. Mourners will be comforted, yet they will deeply mourn many times.

The biblical Beatitudes are the prelude to the Sermon on the Mount. I call this grand stump speech: Jesus takes off!

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

              Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

What beatitudes might be meaningful centuries later in 2020?

Blessed are you who are impaired in mind, body or spirit,
for you elicit the joy of love, and will be made whole.

Blessed are they who hate and despise,
for they shall be loved anyway.

Blessed are you beggars who bless us with gratitude and good cheer,
for you shall receive bits of money.

Blessed are you atheists and agnostics and cynics,
for you shall see God.

Blessed are you of great financial wealth,
for you shall receive greater wealth of soul.

Blessed are you sinners who twist and writhe away from light,
for they shall be seen and their fear banished.

Blessed are you who blame or shame,
for you shall be transformed into a giant seesaw that teeters but never slams down on either side.

Blessed are you know-it-alls,
for you shall receive the gift of uproarious laughter.

Blessed are children who wonder and wander and giggle and weep and whoop and holler and bother, for yours is already the kingdom of heaven.

AMEN, my Beatitudes.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

2020.01.19 Prayer Habits

The most important thing I offer about prayer is this: Make it a habit! Some of it will feel useless or tepid, or foolish, or too wise for your own darn good, but do it anyway. It forces you to shift the focus away from your own glorious and ever-needy ego—at least once a day. It humbles you to invest some faith in a mysterious power deeper and greater than yourself, while you are simultaneously investing in your embodied self.

Things about prayer:
    There is no wrong or right way to pray.
    Never pray for something you are not willing also to work for, however you can.
    There are public prayers we all say together when we worship, and there are personal prayers we say inside our hearts, or alone in voice or song. All are equally spiritual. There is absolutely nothing you cannot express to God in prayer.
    You do not have to believe in God to pray.  If you’re worried about that, just pretend you do, or address an image of God you can open up to. God does not care. (It’s humans who do!) Besides, God will pray with and for you—no matter what.
    Prayer may not change things outside you, but it will change you from within. You will get to know yourself better as you pray. What matters most deeply? What are your ideas about God and why? What happens when you pray to Jesus?
    It is as important to ask as it is to receive. BOTH. And for the love of God do remember to say thank you, occasionally.
    It’s important to involve your body when you pray. There are many praying postures.
    Jews daven and murmur prayers. They move their lips and their bodies bow up and down. They pace and pray the psalms when a child is being born—nervous for the labor of childbirth, therefore rote well known prayers are the menu.
    All Psalms are prayer songs to chant.  Shiru l’Adonai shir chadash (Sing to the Lord a new song.)
    Buddhists and yogis and yoginis  make prayer hands as they bow to one another and say Namaste (The divine within me salutes the divine within you.)

    Muslims kneel and bow down five times a day to recite prayers—all the way down to touch the sacred earth and pray. FIVE!
     Pray naked—very revealing. (Don't recommend trying this in church on Sunday, at least until everyone has gone home—or not.)
      Christians pray standing , kneeling, sitting, and making the sign of the cross (head, groin, right side, left side). The Eastern Orthodox cross right to left. I do both. The gesture makes the sign of the cross to remember the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, Christians’ role model to say the very least, and to remind me—and God—to be in my mind, womb, right side, left side. [I cannot resist an old yiddish joke that explains crossing oneself to remember: spectacles, testicles, vallet and vatch.] 

Most prayers address the Divine. ALL prayer is energy that connects divine and earthly, temporal and eternal. Do animals pray? Of course. Look deeply into the eyes of a dog. Relax into the vibrations of a cat’s purr. Shiver to a lion's roar. Or go on a silent retreat and listen to your own breath.

Prayer is a spiritual practice, a habit as essential to life as cleanliness and courtesy. It keeps the soul alive. When you cannot pray, others do it for you.

I have kept a prayer journal at different times in my life. I write letters to God: Dear God, love, Lyn. P.S. Amen and I love you.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

2020.01.12 The God Between Us. A Spirituality of Relationships

I had this idea some years ago: we think that the space in between us is empty, but it is really crackling with energy. That energy pulls for connection. That energy is the one Christians call Holy Spirit. That energy is like an electric current. I call it the God Between, pulling for healing, healing with which we can cooperate should we chose to trust it. I wrote about my idea.
The God Between connects us through Word and Sacrament, through a tiny blade of green grass, through the grin of a child, over distances our bodies cannot traverse but for which our souls deeply yearn.  

When I met with couples for counseling, I invited them to focus on their relationship, the space between them, the space we called their relationship, a relationship on which each depends for spiritual nourishment  How do they take care of its life, tend it?  I’d tell them: “Your relationship is the client/patient here. We are here together to examine the relationship." They’d either flee, thinking me insane, or become creatively involved, with me and their trust in God, in examining what each one brought to the shared space between them: regular rage? icy cubes? nothing?A relationship into which each one dumps constant anger, for example, begins to look like roadkill—malnutritious, if not downright toxic to all parties.

To my delight, my current publisher has just brought my out-of-print 2001 book, The God Between Us. A Spirituality of Relationships, back into circulation. It contains midrash stories based on biblical relationships. It is available on Amazon or from publisher, Wipf and Stock. What others said:

""This work is absolutely unique, and potentially radically transformative for any reader who takes its premise to heart. Rev. Brakeman proposes a way of listening to biblical narrative. . . that brings the contemplative reader a fresh awareness of how the divine is present to us in the 'between' of vital human relationships."" --John McDargh, PhD, Boston College, Department of Theology

""A skilled weaver of stories, Lyn Brakeman offers a creative and challenging approach to the Great Mystery of divine and human love. Her use of words is lively and disarming. . .her refreshing perspective on familiar biblical stories draws the reader into unexpected depths. There is much in this book for prayer and pondering."" —Margaret Guenther, author of The Practice of Prayer

""Lyn Brakeman is without a peer as an imaginative wordsmith in making biblical characters come alive in the fullness of their humanity while wrestling with powerful issues that are of contemporary concern. By her poetic description and beautifully crafted dialogue, she captures the loving truths of interpersonal relationships and human struggles amidst the presence of the God Between Us.”"—Merle Jordan, ThD, AAPC Diplomate, Emeritus Professor of Pastoral Psychology at Boston University School of Theology, Author of Reclaiming Your Story: Family History and Spiritual Growth. (Sadly, Professor Jordan died in 2018)

Sunday, January 5, 2020

2020.01.05 Gratitude?

Gratitude is platitude.  This phrase popped into my waning, wandering mind sometime earlier this week on a dreary, drizzly, doomsey, sunless day, the umpteenth in a row. What a horrid thing to think! I berated my ingratitude, platitudinous as it may be. I have attitude.

What am I saying when everyone reminds me in every way possible in church and secular deepest state, and deeper church, that I should be grateful —ALL the time—for my health, my security, family, friends, a beloved husband who isn’t sick and who is still mentally alert, and much fun.

But how silly all this meandering is, I tell myself.  You feel blue? So get up off your arse and DO something that makes a difference. So I do. First, I moan and whine to my beloved who listens and supplies counter attacks on my essential feelings of inadequacy. His solutions are too obvious, but they make me cry, which I need to do when I’m squeezed into a mood like this. What do the Jungians calls it? Oh yes, my shadow side, or some such hifalutin malarkey. The next thing I do is practical and useful: I clean the inside, yes, INSIDE of the washing machine.

Ok, so how about reading something uplifting that will NOT make me feel grateful. Because I’m sick of gratitude. It only makes me feel guilty and mealy-mouthed. It has no tread, no backbone.
I pick up my Berkeley Divinity School newsletter and read a brilliant letter from Dean McGowan whom I admire—for his accent and his wise mind. He reminds me that the whole church is on the fritz. I know that already. He has no ideas but says it all so brilliantly that I fall into a jealous swoon. McGowan calls for more “thought-leaders to engage both the perennial truths of the Gospel and lessons from history, ancient and modern.”

I’m a thought leader, I think. So I read further into the magazine. There I see numbers of wonderful women who have brought honor to my seminary. Women who are firsts. Women who have done amazing things. Women who get prizes named after them. Yes, I should be grateful for these wonderful leaders shining from within the pages of the Anglican branch of my seminary’s newsletter. I have done some amazing things too. I have been passionately preaching about non-binary (love that word) gender-free language for God for years. I’m an author. How great I am. How under-appreciated I feel. How needy. Oh boo hoo and bullshit.

Then suddenly I feel a swell of anger. I’ve hit bottom, and bottom is exactly where I need to be. It’s where God took me as a disgruntled child, and where God always takes me when I’m overwrought, upset, and self-critical. God listens to me get pissed off and powerful. Why?

Why in the bejesus are we STILL touting firsts and sheroes and women who are doing all the same thing men before them have done and still do? Same praise recipe, just add a gender. How can we REALLY heal the oppressively patriarchal system in which we all have been trapped for centuries? REALLY change it rather than simply touting all the top ten players. Oh yes, lots of others get named because they gave money, that list too is rank-ordered. How can we go for deep change to bring about real justice, real embodied and shared equality in this patriarchalized, topdown world without bashing traditional winners?  All we do is move the players around like pieces on the same board without changing the game. It’s not enough for abundant gratitude—the worst kind of spiritual slather-on-demand gratitude.

My anger lets me rise up, focus, and by God I do feel better! Better enough to go out into the dark, because I want to get to CVS before the day is out and redeem my feeble little $10 off for the $40 I will have to spend just to redeem one godforsaken coupon. I buy a HUGE  jar of soothing Cetaphil for my aging skin, and then something sensible like Mucinex-D for my cough, plus a bag of M&Ms. I have to buy these in order to get enough on my tab to validate my coupon. The young man behind the counter checks me out and with me goes a paper strip—more coupons. It runs from my chin to my ankle (literally)—a large dose of corporate coupon hospitality. By now I’m laughing out loud. I bust open the M&Ms and throw a handful into my mouth. God, I’m grateful for the sweet wee treats.

Laughter is very close to anger focused and released. Much more healing than gooey gratitude.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2020.01.01 New New New

We have 7 flesh and blood children. We have 12 flesh and blood grandchildren. We have 28 stuffed children, too. Here are some of them to say Happy New Year to you all. See them grin and wave.

They are l.tor r.—Walter, our pescatarian, Leo, our zodiak sign, Ganley #1, wee hedgehog atop Leo, Ganley #2 another wee hedgehog a she-hedgehog, Miss Wise, my totem, standing as a watch-owl over the whole group, and lastly but not leastly, Izzy, the Ladybug.  

You see what can happen when you don't have your own children together? Well, you infuse your stuffies with mystical meaning and love. These 6 sleep between us every night and travel with us, only when they're very good.

When we told a good friend about "The Babies," she commented with a grin: "You two fascinate me." 

Anyway, have hope and grin and grist in 2020.