Shadow Living

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Read this morning’s Daily Mediation from Richard Rohr

I highly encourage my blog readers to subscribe to Richard Rohr‘s Daily Meditations. Rohr founded the Center for Action and Contemplation. The center offers a variety of program and resources to guide spiritual seekers and activists to join in an interfaith, Gospel-based and cosmic mission . They are “encouraging the transformation of human consciousness through contemplation, and equipping people to be instruments of peaceful change in the world.”

Rohr writes about many themes including forgiveness, love, prayer, and hope. For me, he is a mystic who provides pathways and tools for living more deeply into my life.  He focuses on the intersection of contemplation (mediation and prayer) with action (discipleship, education, activism). Much of his writing is built upon what we learn from addiction recovery such as Alcoholic Anonymous’ 12 Step Program. “Stinking Thinking leads to Stinking Living.” Developing and practicing Mindfulness (contemplation) offers addicts and sober people alike sacred space for finding their soul’s truest desires, skills for accepting reality as it paradoxically is, and accepting (un)expected suffering and joy.

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Falling Upward is about living into life’s two halves.

Today, Rohr focuses on what is a basic reason for why people are struggling with contemporary and complex realities. We don’t know how to abide in shadows of suffering, doubt, and grief. Life is hard and we want it to be easy. In Christian terms we look for joy and new life (resurrection and re-birth) without encountering or enduring injustice, and pain (Good Friday’s Cross) and/or uncertainty, death, and silence. (Good Saturday’s Tomb and Divine Intervention).

Rohr writes: “Mainline Christianity does not seem to be giving people access to God, to the soul, or to the joy and freedom promised in the Scriptures. Christianity is not doing its primary job well—moving people from the first to the second half of life.” (Rohr, Entering the Dark Wood, Sept. 4, 2017, para. #1). Life’s Second Half is all about becoming Easter Christians True soulful and spiritual living requires us, like Jesus, to discount the certain happiness of the world’s superficial allures and pleasures.  Most of our economic, political, relational, and religious platforms are built upon the successes of being wealthy, safe, secure, and innocent.  These are all good and desirable expectations. And, they present only the most comfortable and superficial realities of being fully human and truly soulful.  Is it any wonder that the prosperity gospel is so attractive? Those persons who seek to live into their deepest dreams and their souls’ desires must descend and encounter the shadows and unsafe boundaries of our existence.

People, beginning with myself, are ill-equipped and unprepared to live into the second halves of our lives. Rohr and other wisdom teachers inform us that abiding and holding such suffering is the truest pathway for journeying into our truest means and reasons for being. One only look at our nation’s difficulties, especially racism, xenophobia, addiction treatments, and healthcare policies, to observe how we do everything we can to avoid suffering, encounter darkness, and set aside our presumed innocence. We are beholden to life’s first half even as the world around us calls us into second half realities.

We cannot live as spiritual or emotional adolescents anymore. Secular living appeases and allures us to remaining in search of seemingly life and light giving possessions in and of themselves. Well, we can choose to live in any number of ways. We can continue to consume too much food. We can elect not to observe how we treat one another across the planet. We can allow our egos to dominate our thinking. We can continue to believe that our political, religious, and economic leaders will take care of us. We can decide that we have no say or control over what is happening with us in our primary circles of control and influence. Essentially, we can remain in life’s first half and refuse what is necessary to become spiritually and humanly whole with God’s Grace and Blessing.

We will then assuredly continue to encounter all of the (un)intended consequences of such behaving and believing. Churches, communities of faith, and neighborhoods possess capacities for growing one’s and other persons’ faith in God, one’s self, and one’s neighbors. Doing this work is to live into Jesus Christ’s resurrection as he defines and establishes it. It is also through such sacrificial prayer and acts that we will experience love God graciously offers. To do so, spiritual, religious, civic, and healthcare leaders initiate these opportunities by demonstrating their faith and trust in learning and living in the shadowlands and moving into and beyond them moment by moment. Oh, my inference is that the world is going to move along these unfolding pathways with or without our involvement.

What does in mean to truly love God, neighbors, and ourselves? What does such love look like in days such as ours.  For me, it is learning to gain a deeper sense of humility. Life is as it is and it is always evolving. I am who I am, just this for this moment. I possess a capacity to be more mature, aware,  and honest about my own sins, wounds, and shadows aspects of my personality. Encountering these realities in God’s presence is a significant process. I can’t simply love the light or spend all of my time in the depths of my darkness. New narratives will emerge from dreary despair commingled with slivers of light as they merge with one another.

I wish it were as easy as to say – let’s all grow up. That is not the best solution. However, we can seek out teachers and companions to join us in the descent into the truths of writing second-half life stories – informed from our maturity and life experiences. We can pay attention to ourselves and note when our thinking is unhealthy and immoral. We can pray without ceasing in the manner that is most true to God and our spiritual pilgrimage. We can honestly & decisively decide to accept, enjoy, and engage soulful and secular shadows. To do so, we will hear our soul’s yearnings, become vulnerable to The Divine’s blessings and burdens alike, and re-create the world willing to come into being.

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Saturday Chores

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Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

Mohave-Pyracantha-(Firethorn)-450w“You’ll get your allowance when you trim the Pyracantha bushes and pick them up.” That’s the way my mother invited me to get going on my Saturday chores when I was a kid.  Some Saturdays were easier. Mow the lawn. Pull some dandelions in the backyard. Those weren’t such bad tasks.  The Pyracantha though. They were a pain!  I had to get the ladder out.  The clippers were electric but I had to use an extension cord.  I also needed hand clippers for some of the tougher parts of the bushes.  Cutting the branches was bad enough.  Getting them into the trash cans was a whole different deal.  The branches all have thorns.  Thorns that are long and sharp enough to penetrate the garden gloves I used.  Suffice it to say, I have lingering and unpleasant memories of Saturday chores.

Mom isn’t around to make me do my chores anymore. I’m accountable for giving and receiving my allowance.  I don’t own any Pyracantha bushes. In fact, I don’t have to do too many outside tasks anymore.  I’m lazier than I was 45 years ago. Someone else mows the lawn. It rains more in Pennsylvania where I am now in contrast to Arizona where I grew up.  No one can make me weed the gardens or prune the roses.

Such freedom opens portals to lethargy or complacency. It is leisurely to watch ESPN. Pulling weeds isn’t as much fun. Yes – and – the current human narrative states that a person cannot accomplish great things without putting in the labor necessary to achieve beauty.  One evidences a beautiful yard because the gardener, homeowner, or someone chooses that they enjoy gardening. They and other neighbors around them delight in their yard being beautiful. The same rule applies for living a beautiful life as well.

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Chores are different for me now. I exercise time and energy in something when it inspires me. I’ll move dirt around when I believe such an endeavor will bear good fruit. Putting the work in needs to amount to more than a $5.00 allowance. And yet, setting my expectations too high also keep me on the couch rather than outside with trimmers or a shovel in my hands. The trick is to find a rhythm in something that seems worthwhile beyond the mundane.

I’ve been getting dirt under my fingers and spending time on my hands and knees spending time with monarch butterflies.  I blogged about this initiative a few weeks ago. Tending to butterflies and milkweed plants has become something of an obsession for me.  My neighbors may wonder why I’m looking on the underside of milkweed leaves. (Because I am searching for butterfly eggs).  I’m watering the zinnias and the butterfly bushes in late August because the Monarch Migration to Mexico is underway. I’m interested in sending a few more monarchs on their way south in a healthy way.

There’s more to it though.  I am getting a lot out of it. It is pleasurable to observe a butterfly transform itself from a speck of an egg to a clumsy caterpillar to an emerald green chrysalis to a orange and black butterfly. The process takes less than a month and it seems like a lifetime.  There are heartbreaks in learning how to accomplish this chore. The caterpillars will die if I do not keep their cage clean.  I have to be extra careful what I feed these insects because they are very susceptible to viruses.  The fact is that I can’t keep all of them alive, especially the ones living on my milkweed plants in the garden.  It is wild out there, even in the midst of the beautiful lawn that the church’s volunteer mows for me.

Simply put, I care for the butterflies because it is meaningful to them and even more meaningful to me.  Somehow in this simple, routine, and meticulous labor, I feel closer to God and to myself.

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I suppose that many people, like me, view spiritual disciplines to be something of a chore. Few people I know love to meditate. It is soooooo pleasurable to observe one’s mind flirt back and forth when gazillions of thoughts and feelings leading to absolutely nowhere.  (NOT!) Other people, including myself, pray or intercede to The Divine because they view such a practice as a religious obligation. Praying is believing some say.  Yes and….who, what, or why is more shaped and formed by such prayer? God or us?

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Read Parker Palmer’s 5 Habits of The Heart

 

Quaker, speaker, writer, and educator Parker Palmer offers all of us a valuable purpose for undertaking such daily spiritual practices. Palmer writes: “Our lives are filled with contradictions—from the gap between our aspirations and our behavior, to observations and insights we cannot abide because they run counter to our convictions. If we fail to hold them creatively, these contradictions will shut us down and take us out of the action. … We are imperfect and broken beings who inhabit an imperfect and broken world. The genius of the human heart lies in its capacity to use these tensions to generate insight, energy, and new life.”  (Palmer, 2011, para. 5)

 

My spiritual discipline for now is hardly representative of orthodox Christianity. I’m fairly faithful in saying the Lord’s Prayer at least once a day. I actually am spending more time looking after insects and accomplishing sun salutations. Once again, I am the only responsible for punishing or rewarding myself on most days.  I discern that what matters most is to undertake something and to stay with it. Experiment – probe your limitations with curiosity rather than complacency. If one particular meditative chore isn’t working, find something else.

The world is too complicated a place to take on all of its uncertainty and tragedy without completing daily spiritual chores. So, we all might as well find something that is not just tolerable. It is fruitful.  There are many alternatives to checking in with one’s ego and anxieties to be sure. And, if you want to know God and yourself more wholly, you have to get your hands dirty and your soul renewed in the grittiness of silence and breath – observation and hope. Be mindful of the thorns though. They can be really hard to get out from underneath your skin.

Blessings along The Way,

Telling the Canaanite Woman’s story today

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Learn more about sexism and racism in modern-day Canaan (Lebanon) here.

10 Jesus called the crowd near and said to them, “Listen and understand. 11  It’s not what goes into the mouth that contaminates a person in God’s sight. It’s what comes out of the mouth that contaminates the person.” … 25 But she knelt before him and said, “Lord, help me.”26 He replied, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs.”  (Matthew 15: 10-11, 25-26)

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Perhaps we should memorialize our victims rather than our military officers. Read Maggie Penman’s comparison and contrast to memorials and statues in Germany versus the United States.

I have read dozens of articles, tweets, Facebook posts about last week’s protests in Virginia.  Sean Patrick HughesThis is Us blog post is excellent. David Brook’s Op-Ed, How to Roll Back Fanatacism is also outstanding. They both suggest that U.S. citizens, especially those of us who are white, are wrestling with the realities of our nation’s history and socio-economic/racial hierarchies. Brooks writes: “I’m beginning to think the whole depressing spectacle of this moment — the Trump presidency and beyond — is caused by a breakdown of intellectual virtue, a breakdown in America’s ability to face evidence objectively, to pay due respect to reality, to deal with complex and unpleasant truths.” (D. Brooks, Aug. 15, 2017, para. 7)

Many of us possess a culturally scripted and approved nature of life in America. We don’t like it when a black woman, a Latino child, an Asian Man, or a Native American teenager disturb us with facts about who is on top of the cultural pyramid in our country. Many people demand someone with more power, authority, and control to fix these inequalities or just leave us alone, NOW!  Well – one way of taking on some responsibilities for the world we live in is to do something about it, beginning with ourselves.  Both Ignatius of Loyola and St. Augustine are attributed with the ideal of praying as if everything depends upon God while acting as if everything depends upon us.  Regardless, this principle resonates with an even older Greek ideal – God helps those who help themselves.

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Watch Bishop Michael’s Curry’s “Where do we go from here” video

Closer to my spiritual home, The Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop urges Episcopalians to act.  Bishop Curry points to Jesus Christ’s loving example of moving through chaos toward becoming God’s Beloved Community. Bishop Curry says: “Through his way of love, he has shown us the way to be right and reconciled with each other as children of God, and as brothers and sisters. ” (M. Curry, Aug. 17, 2017, 2:00) He concludes with providing purposeful resources for Becoming Beloved Community Where You Are.

Walking toward justice is not privately praying for a solution.  Walking toward racial/cultural reconciliation is not sitting in the couch and watching today’s protests and counter protests. Crap, being a member of Christ’s beloved Community is not writing this blogpost. Walking faithfully is interacting with people as Jesus did. Dare I say, Jesus learned something about practicing and repenting from racial discrimination himself.

 

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Bazzi Rahib, Ilyas Basim Khuri – The Canaanite Woman asks for healing for her daughter – learn more about the Canaanite Woman and her interaction with Jesus here.

Many Christians will not suggest that Jesus of Nazareth erred  sinfully in his human life. Consider then his interaction with a Canaanite woman pleading for the well being of her demon-possessed daughter. The cultural backdrop for this setting is in Canaan, the land that the Israelites – Jesus’ ancestors entered and occupied.  1st Century Jews viewed Canaanites as idol-worshiping enemies. (I. Russell Jones, 2013).  Male Jews who would have observed a Canaanite woman publicly seeking assistance from one of their religious leaders as culturally inappropriate. The Canaanite’s woman’s protest is out of bounds because she screams out loud in daylight for her daughter’s healing. Jesus’ first response – silence. His second response, following the woman’s desperate plea for help while kneeling before him is: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15: 25).  Equating a Canaanite woman to a canine is equivalent to calling a contemporary woman a “dyke” or a “welfare queen” in our own day.

Parse that lack of hospitality on Jesus’ however you wish, theologically or otherwise. Dwell on the implications of God’s Son publicly pronouncing that God’s mercy is prejudicial and restricted.  Thank God that the story doesn’t end there.

What is remarkable, more enlightening, and most transformative for Jesus and his immediate and contemporary disciples resides in the Canaanite Woman’s ultimate rhetorical reply.

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“Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Matthew 15: 27)

When does a protest become more than a display of public outrage? How does an overt statement of discrimination become the lever for life-giving compassion? What does an ultimate act of faith from a marginalized person who confronts courageously God and humanity mean. This scriptural encounter between God incarnate and a marginalized woman provides the impetus for us to continue praying even as we take further steps to live as God’s believers and doers of the The Word?

 

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The world responds to Charlottesville and our nation’s President’s inadequate and prejudicial response.

Brene Brown told Krista Tippett and their (Becoming Wise) listeners this objectively and idealistically true fact.  “I can tell you as a researcher — 11,000 pieces of data — I cannot find a single example of courage, moral courage, spiritual courage, leadership courage, relational courage, I cannot find a single example of courage that was not born completely of vulnerability. We buy into some mythology about vulnerability being weakness and being gullibility and being frailty because it gives us permission not to do it.” (Brene’ Brown, March 18, 2016, para. 3)

The Canaanite Woman classically typifies such vulnerability. She’s willing to confront public shame and humiliation because the life of her daughter matters more than anything else. Consider how people of faith and their religious leader initially react to the Canaanite Women. Then, gaze upon Charlottesville and the millions of time before last weekend when marginalized people in our nation cry our for justice.

Open our hearts O Lord.

Contemplate the dozens of times we as people of faith remain silent, or bark back at people unlike us when they question our discriminatory habits and beliefs.

Kyrie Eleison (Lord have Mercy).

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Ten Ways for Communities to Fight Hate

Protests are awesome when they transform people to confront the often unspoken and undesirable truths of our world. Protests often do not in and of themselves manifest transformation because such interactions frequently become violent and exacerbate more hatred.  You and I can and should do something beyond protesting though. As Jesus did, we must offer mercy. Being Jesus’ disciples, we must proclaim the Gospel beyond worship and charitable acts.  The Southern Law Poverty Center suggests that collaborate, creative, compassionate responses are numerous. The Center for Courage and Renewal provides resources for creating Circles of Trust. Episcopalians can connect with one another through dozens of racially re-conciliatory opportunities.

All of this work begins where we are, what we believe, who we interact with, and whether or not we possess the vulnerable, repentant, cognitive and spiritual hope to accomplish life as Jesus Christ did and commands us to do.

Blessings along The Way

 

 

 

 

Faithful

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Dara Lind explains the Charlottesville White Supremacist Rally

…. But I have no faith myself
I refuse it even the smallest entry.

Let this then, my small poem,
like a new moon, slender and barely open,
be the first prayer that opens me to faith. … (Faith – from Where Rivers Meet – David Whyte – available on Gratefulness.org

People wonder why other people are so hateful.  We witness a group of young white men march on streets of a wealthy, college Virginia town. They wield guns. They shout anti Semitic, racist statements.  They are incensed by counter-protesters who arrive in greater numbers. Consequently a reckless, young white domestic terrorist from Kentucky now living in Ohio chooses to drive his car into the crowd. He kills one woman and injures 19 other people.  The person occupying the Office of the Presidency of the United States quickly identifies Radical Muslim Terrorist activities. He neglects to call out radical white terrorism. Shameful and not surprising.

Such racially-drive violence has happened in our nation since slavery’s first days.  President Lyndon B. Johnson is quoted as saying“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” The problem with this past weekend’s events is that many of the white supremacists were not poor. They were led by men who graduated from the University of Virginia. @Yes,You’reRacist  identified participants who are college students and gainfully employed men who flew from across the country to ‘protect Western civilization’ and seek ‘peaceful ethnic cleansing.’ If this had been a Black Lives Matter protest many participants would be convicted of violent crimes and awaiting trial. Almost all of Saturday’s White Supremacists got into their cars or boarded airplanes and went home – pistols, rifles, guns, Nazi flags, and KKK symbols all intact.

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Kudos to the Isaiah 6:8 Group Members and other folks who attended a Peace Rally in Lewisburg, PA yesterday

Yesterday, many faithful clergy and laity denounced the violence and racism that occurred in Charlottesville. The Diocese of Central Pennsylvania’s Bishop issued a public message.  Bishop Audrey Scanlan wrote: “Pray for the dead and injured and their families, pray for those who witnessed the viciousness, pray in thanksgiving for those who came to control the chaos, and pray for the perpetrators.   And then, commit to work in your own sphere of influence for change.

Yes, what can we do within our own spheres of influence. As Amy Walter said yesterday on Meet the Press: ” What I really worry about is that we are going to move from this conversation very quickly because some shiny object is going to get thrown in front of us and we’re going to miss the opportunity to have this conversation. There are very few people who are leading this conversation beyond just the violent piece of this. And I just fear that by Monday, we’re going to be moving on to something else.” 

Human beings, including me, despise admitting to our shame.  We rationalize why bad things happen to good people so as to negate any role that we might play in allowing tragedies to happen. The harsh fact is that everyone who is an American citizen who is white male, straight, gay, bi, or otherwise sexually orientated inherently possesses large amounts of social capital and cultural benefits because we are male and white. This is true for economically poor, middle class, and wealthy white guys. We rarely if ever pay the same costs for committing the same crimes as our black and brown brothers do.

And, feeling guilty about these benefits really doesn’t change much. What changes the culture and changes me is doing something righteous, courageous, and loving because of my faith. My faith is not some simplistic recitation of a creed on Sunday mornings. My  faith isn’t just about claiming Christianity as my tribe.  If I’m to live as a follower of Jesus, I must get out of the boat as Peter did. I sure as heck don’t have St. Paul’s courage and I can’t just nod my head when he writes that there is no distinctions between Jews and Gentiles. The same Lord is Lord of All and generous to all who seek God. (Romans 10: 12-13)

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Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

In seminary, I recall that there is little value in shaming or blaming anyone about what is taking place around us. What  creates conditions for spiritual and social change is advocating on behalf of oppressed and marginalized persons. Those of us who are fortunate to live in this nation who possess educations, jobs, families, good health, and white skin need to step back from time to time and consider how we may best serve the people around us – beyond our usual boundaries.

Take some time this week and listen to Patrisse Cullors and Robert Ross as they explain OnBeing the “Spiritual Work of Black Lives Matter.” Dr. Ross , of the California Endowment, invites all of us to actualize our faith when he says: “This is powerfully spiritual, important work upon which the future of this nation rests, and I think it calls upon us to bring the best of the total experience of our best selves to the table. It’s not — we can’t mail it in on addressing inequality in this nation. Each of us is going to have to bring the best of ourselves to the equation. Not just the best of ourselves, but the best of ourselves in unity and in coalition.” (Robert Ross, May 25, 2017)

As an Anglican Christian, I most realize my faith in actions on life’s common grounds.  That is, I treat the young African American girl at the communion altar in front of me with special respect.  I meekly speak in my elementary Spanish to the Hispanic server at the Mexican restaurant I enjoy. These are but small kindnesses. The more profound baptismal work happens when we observe evil and do not avoid or become paralyzed by it. Rather we exercise compassion as Jesus did. We go out each and every day and allow God to transform sin into good through our lives.  Our meditations, words, and actions radiate the story of God’s reconciling work around us. (Brother Aidan, Order of The Holy Cross, <OHC>, A Prayer for Charlottesville, August 13, 2017)

Christianity is more than a spectator sport. Today’s world requires Christians to profess to more than the job of offering next-world salvation to other people. This world requires plenty of healing now – especially as such redemptive work applies to racial and cultural tribalism. The deeply wounded, racially biased white supremacists around us require prayers for repentance and wisdom. Thank God for the people who stood up to them non-violently in Charlottesville.   Now, on Monday, truly religious work begins on the streets where we live, the community centers where we learn and play, and especially in our churches where we profess to love a God whose merciful and eternal love knows no boundaries. We will convert minds and win hearts through acts of justice, kindness, and abiding love as God presents such opportunities to us nearby.

Blessings along The Way

 

The Moment When

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What is it?  What might it become? How might it die? How might is also coincidentally live.

From Cocoon forth a Butterfly
As Lady from her Door
Emerged — a Summer Afternoon
Repairing Everywhere
(From Cocoon Forth a Butterfly – Emily Dickinson)

I’ve been working on a creative project since the middle of July. My soul needed (needs) something to believe in. I’m weary of following politics. I preached plenty about parables. I’ve gone on a few hikes. I’ve anxiously pondered what my “Why” is. All of these psychological and spiritual tasks have been worthwhile. I still felt depleted, uninspired.

What is life all about when it is happening? Do the sleepless nights and walks in solitude really matter? What is occurring beyond the veils of my anxieties and unfilled expectations that grounds me? Does my meditation on my comfortable chaise create fruitful pathways to calm and clarity. Most of the time I seemingly chase my thoughts and wonder why the f%#k I’m wasting 20 – 25 minutes. Focusing on my breathing and being still with God is tedious.

Being alert isn’t hard for me when I’m leading worship, sharing communion, or chatting in Christ. And, that work requires energy. Being a person of faith and professing it in word, deed, and prayer also begs for belief in God beyond creeds, collects, and spoken confessions of faith. Thus, the contemplative time, though chaotic is worthwhile.

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I need(ed) a project. It is time to believe between anxious sighs. I grow weary with proclamations bemoaning the nation’s current political and religious crises. I stumbled into this project somewhat unconsciously. Throughout the summer, I’ve been gardening. My zinnias and roses are blossoming. I’ve verified that garden_2you have to work really hard to kill transplanted Milkweed and Rose of Sharon. Waking up early and watering the garden has brought me a certain sense of serenity.  A month ago, after a hike in Nescopek State Park and a short stop in the park’s  butterfly garden, I made a choice. I visited Folks Butterfly Farm.  David Folk gave me a tour. He showed me his butterfly garden. He taught me about monarch butterfly stages of life. I came home with 15 caterpillars, lots of questions, plenty of doubts, and a significant sense of awe. Monarch butterfly caterpillars can really eat!  They are very particular though. They only feed on milkweed. It is a creative evolutionary mechanism for them. The milkweed is toxic to most of their predators.  Otherwise, butterfly caterpillars are very low on the ecological food chain. They don’t have any natural defenses other than the vast numbers of the eggs that adult female butterflies disperse on milkweed plants near and far.

monarchpupae1I had a business trip that I had to take during this pregnant period. So, I offered instructions to friends for the time I would be away from the nursery.  I didn’t do a very job of guiding them. Ignorance is no excuse. Sadly, many of the caterpillars died.  I’m still not sure why.  I think that their food supply wasn’t as fresh as it should have been. And, while I was away four caterpillars pupated. The first one connected herself to the top of the cage. She  was hanging out for me along three others when I got home.

This past Saturday morning, I went to check on the survivors and the first chrysalis had turned a deep, deathly black. I panicked. I thought that she was dying.  Then, some of my meditative practice took hold. An inner voice told me to be patient. Wait and see. Let go of the matters that are beyond my control.  All of those spiritually pithy statements that I share with other people I shared with myself.  I went shopping. I checked on my email. I prayed, asked friends on Facebook to pray along with. I lit a candle. Then I came back in about 90 minutes later.

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Born – August 5, 2017

Bill Plotkin in one of his recent Soul Musings wrote: To the caterpillar, the cocoon is a tomb. But it’s actually a tomb-womb. To the caterpillar, it’s only a tomb. This is a place to die. Does the caterpillar know that there is some possibility for life after being a caterpillar? We don’t know, but we imagine not. For us humans, we don’t know what’s possible for us. We’ve heard stories, and yet we really don’t know, individually, for us personally, what the possibility might be. In the cocoon, the caterpillar body liquefies. It becomes caterpillar soup. It’s just soup. But there are these special cells that have been in the caterpillar all along that are in the soup, too. These cells biologists call “imaginal cells.” (Bill Plotkin, Waking Up and Co-Creating a Life-Enhancing Society, July 28, 2017, para. #1)

Imaginal cells.  Imaginal cells are born in cauldrons of uncertainty. Creativity is an infant born out of tension, expectations, confusion, and faith.  Plotkin adds that people who choose to go through such a metamorphosis have to die much like monarch butterflies do.  We can’t become truly who we are unless our psychological, sociological, and spiritual adolescent is consumed. Cocoons of discovering cultivate the wisdom our souls desire. Our addictions, distractions, grief, and hopelessness are the essence,as David Whyte writes, of our true vows.  (Plotkin, July, 2017).

I don’t know if I’ve discovered my truest purpose. I still wonder why I am here.  Nonetheless, I regained a sense of wonder. I observed an intelligence that is so far beyond my own through the birth of a monarch butterfly. I am confident that a human birth, mortally and spiritually are equally if not more powerful. I have baptized a baby who was about to die. I cried.  I understand too that many mothers encounter a sense of joyful death as they give birth to a child. Sadly too many mothers and too many babies die during childbirth. Tragically, we as a species are killing butterflies by the millions.  In the midst of problems far beyond my sphere of influence, I personally regained a sense of purposeful joy through this summer project.  The next class in my own spiritual cocoon as well as in the silent carnivorous presence of 20 more monarch caterpillars began yesterday.

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Blessings along The Way

Mountain High

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Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

28 About eight days after Jesus said these things, he took Peter, John, and James, and went up on a mountain to pray.29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes flashed white like lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with him. 31 They were clothed with heavenly splendor and spoke about Jesus’ departure, which he would achieve in Jerusalem. 32 Peter and those with him were almost overcome by sleep, but they managed to stay awake and saw his glory as well as the two men with him. (Luke 9: 28-32)

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A view from Windy Point Vista in the Coronado National Forest, AZ -photo by @Arizona_Hiking

I was probably six or seven years old when I first went to Mt. Lemmon. My friend Rudy Drahovzal’s family had a cabin not far from Rose Canyon Lake. When I was 11 or 12 years old I had something of a conversion experience while participating in a Royal Ambassador Camp  on that same mountain. I pledged at a worship service that I would become a missionary for Jesus Christ. Then, a couple of days later, my mom came to pick me and a friend up. We drove home and I went back to playing baseball in the park close to my house.  That’s true and it isn’t.  From time to time I pulled out the bench from in front of our living room spinet piano. I placed on the bench the Bible that my mom gave to me. It was a baptismal gift. Then I silently preached like Pastor Crowder did at Calvary Baptist Church. Our cat Lucky looked up at me with cold, dark confused feline eyes. Then I became a teenager and church became impacting me like my sermons impacted our family cat. I stopped going to Calvary when I was 15 or 16. It’s weird though. The church’s current mission statement is “Empowering the Generations to Love and Serve God.”  I guess something kinda took.

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Feast of the Transfiguration Icon (12th Century) – St. Catherine’s Monastery – Mt Sinai, Egypt

This Sunday is the Feast of The Transfiguration. Episcopalians celebrate Jesus’ Transfiguration on Aug 6th. This feast day occurs rarely on a Sunday. (5 times between now and 2050). Celebrating Jesus’ transformation is important. And yet, the feast day of Transfiguration is like many other churchy events. (Easter, Christmas, All Saint Day). We gather together. We sing special hynms. We’re going to play with play dough at Christ Memorial this Sunday. It should be fun if not life transforming. And, that’s the point!  Why climb a mountain if it isn’t going to benefit you and the people around you. Is it just for “the sake of it?”    What does it mean for us that Jesus takes his closest friends and disciples up on a mountain for a mystical encounter with the Divine? Do such transforming moments happen for us? Is Jesus the only transfigured One?

Again, if so, what’s the point?

Why pack the family in the car and drive for 45 minutes to get to Windy Point Vista to see a beautiful sunset? Is it just to have fun?  I hiked up to Finger Rock a couple of times when I lived in Tucson. It’s a big time workout! You definitely shouldn’t go alone or forget water like I did one time. On the other hand, taking it all in is a unique opportunity to experience the Divine in the beauty of Southwestern deserts and mountains. The Feast of The Transfiguration offers Christians the same sort of faithful exercise.

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Finger Rock – Santa Catalina Mountains – Southern AZ

A quick summary of Jesus’ scriptural visit to Mount Tabor suggests that God intended for Jesus and his disciples to receive a prophetic message from Elijah and Moses. God provides this particular moment for Jesus’ closest disciples to observe and “listen.”  Unsurprisingly, Peter, James, and John are confused and amazed. The moment so impacts Peter that he wants to enshrine it.  Let’s build an altar! That never happens today, right?

Instead, Jesus guides his disciples back down the mountain. The moment doesn’t exist for itself. Indeed, the moment occurs for the purpose of entering into Jerusalem to confront evil earthly powers and practices. This transfiguring, life-changing event shoves Jesus into the darkness of Gethsemane’s Garden. Moses and Elijah’s presence were God’s means for reassuring Jesus that he would be able to endure the Cross of Calvary’s agony.  The Feast of The Transfiguration and Easter Sunday’s brilliance are incomplete and spiritually insignificant without Maundy Thursday’s and Good Friday’s shadows.

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Easter Vigil Altar at Grace Episcopal Church – Brunswick, MD.  ‘Looks like a cool church!  Check out their Facebook Page and Live Broadcasts.

The Rev. Anjel Scarborough – Rector of Grace Episcopal Church – Brunswick , MD writes:  The Transfiguration is a story that calls us to face our understanding of Jesus’ identity: “Who is Jesus to me?” and “Who is Jesus to us? (A. Scarborough, Who is Jesus to us?, The Transfiguration (A,B,C) – 2014, Aug 6, 2014, para. 10.) She adds that many contemporary Christians identify Jesus with all kinds of false messages. Jesus’ transfiguration allows us to claim that we are a Christian nation. That’s a bold claim! Millions of people are suffering from all sorts of addictions, racism, and poverty. We claim to be Jesus’ faithful disciples and messengers of Christ’s gospel. Preachers, politicians, and congregants claim hypocritically that God’s intention is for us to have more worldly possessions. Such glorified messages of Christ’s transforming power and resurrection fail to recognize that Jesus Christ empowers his (and our) glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. Millions of people will die of starvation today, including people in our hometowns.   And to follow Jesus means to join him by living faithfully and hopefully in irrational, real-world and bewildering steps of daily discipleship. Faith in God, courage in confronting death, and accepting Christ’s graceful, merciful resurrection happens because of the Transfiguration. (A. Scarborough, 2014)

There will be lots of people this Sunday who will transform their lives by climbing mountains rather than sitting in church pews.  Thousands of Christian children are attending camps. They will read bibles, go on hikes, and hopefully gaze on divine sunsets rather than connecting with their I-Phones.  For those of us who will be in Church, let’s respond humbly to the question of what does it mean to be a disciple of our transfigured Lord?  Here we are – living in our own Jerusalem. Is our church communicating the transforming message of God’s love? Do we seek to heal the suffering of someone close by as Jesus does? Does our faith communicate that we are special and people who don’t share our beliefs are flawed; or, does our faith invite us and other people to climb up mountains to encounter God, offer thanks for God’s radiance, and return to be deliverers of justice, joy, and eternal life beginning with right now.

I’ll place my virtual piano bench away now.  Blessings along The Way – Become Enlightened this Sunday!

 

 

 

Going All In – or at least a lot of The Way

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“Go Forth and Adventure” – Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

I spent a week (re)learning about organization(al) development (OD) last week. It seems there is some disagreement in whether or not you include the “al” when naming the Screenshot (6)discipline. I infer it depends upon when and where you first began studying OD. For me, it began studying at George Washington University’s School of Education and Human Development (GSEHD).  I received my Masters Degree in Ed. and Human Development in 1997. My studies emphasized Organizational Development. It doesn’t really matter. What really matters is that GSEHD still claims its purpose is that “Transformation Begins Here.”  That was its purpose back then too.

We spend a lot of time these days in church committees and leadership programs talking about change, evangelism, vitality, stewardship, sources of transformation  . We contemplate and make decisions about important topics relating to God’s mission and purpose for contemporary human beings and the systems they abide in.  This is powerful stuff. The Feast of The Transfiguration is upon us in a few days.  Seems like a great time to do more than just preach, talk, or otherwise diddle about changing our world.

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Our group of “transformers” from the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania

The College of Congregational Development, (CCD) claims that a Christian congregation’s primary purpose is to be Christ’s Body. With God’s help, creative Christians live and act as God’s loving presence.  Such discipleship renews the faithful as well as this world. How does this happen? Well, CCD teaches that transformation unfolds through concerted and contextual efforts (interventions in OD language) to be God’s messengers of forgiveness & hope.  Resourceful Christians affirm compassionately that communities believe life is graceful and difficult. Our churches are responsible for promoting the further  in-breaking of God’s realm of justice, grace, and vitality. Such sacred spaces, and people faithfully strive to  incarnate reconciliation, courage, compassion, justice, peace, and hope.” (College for Congregational Development Manual – Year A, 2017, p.29).  That’s a lengthy purpose statement. It takes more than a week, perhaps as much as an entire lifetime to even begin to comprehend, analyze, and engage it all.

Let’s see if I can sum it up.

Being a Christian today means being willing to be courageous – for the Sake of the Gospel. The Good News isn’t about going all in like World Series of Poker players do. In their game, they push all their chips in so they can win a big pot of money – for themselves. These days, Christianity isn’t about scoring wealth.  I don’t think that has ever been the purpose, really.  We might understand the weight of the Gospel’s importance by occasionally (re)reading Matthew 19: 16-30. (Mark 10: 17-31, Luke 18: 18-30) Jesus declares the difficulty that wealthy people have entering into the Kingdom of God.  “Who can be saved;?” the disciples ask. Peter complains! “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you. What will we have?” (Matthew 19: 27).  Jesus said to them and says to us, “anyone who has left house, husband, wife, brothers, sisters, parents, or children because of God’s kingdom  will receive many times more in this age and eternal life in the coming age.” (Luke 18: 29-30)

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Sunrise over Canandaigua Lake, NY

Such faithful discipleship is chips all in, bare-naked belief in a God who willingly, joyously, hopefully invites us to participate in the creation of a world where other people’s needs are as important as our own.  Being a Change Agent in the Church these days isn’t merely about increasing average Sunday attendance.  Transitioning congregations from one way of life to The Way isn’t about improving stewardship.  Transformation begins inside of everyone who, however meekly and uncertainly, says yes to God’s soulful bidding to redeem the world’s brokenness, within our own contexts.  It requires a lot of laughs with friends. Sitting with someone on the threshold of deep, deep grief is a mandate. Personally, I need time in God’s Creation by myself, usually early in the morning. I reacquainted myself last week with the realities that vital Christian communities require people with all sort of personalities. I personally am striving to spend more time in all 16 rooms of the Myers & Briggs Personality Types. As I’m aging, I’m reacquainting with my need for introverted renewal as well as for more spontaneity. I’d like to believe that God delights in such random wanderings. Jesus stayed on task for almost all of his documented life. Oh well, I believe  as best I can in Jesus Christ and … I’m not him. 

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Truth #1 – “All truth is a paradox.  Life is a precious, unfathomably beautiful gift and it is impossible here on the incarnational side of things. … it is filled simultaneously with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, desperate poverty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart; all swirled together.  I don’t think it is an ideal system.”  View all of Anne Lamott‘s transforming truths in her life-changing TedTalk (April 2017)

Anne Lamott published a phenomenal book entitled Traveling Mercies about two years after I graduated from GW.  Anne shares her life stories about her addiction, her faith, and miraculous stumbling pilgrimage to sobriety and wellness.  She writes: “When you make friends with fear, it can’t rule you.”  18 years later, in her TEDTalk, she says: “You’re going to feel like hell one day if you wake up some day and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart.” … your truths, your versions of things in your own voice. That’s all you really have to offer us. And that’s also why you were born.” (Anne Lamott, April 2017, 8′, 20″).

I’m musing about transformation alot. I want my life, my relationship with my spouse and our three cats (abiding in two separate houses because it is just easier that way) to be heavenly.  I want to develop crazy-like Petrine courage and jump into the water for Jesus.  I don’t have it yet and I may never gain it. I would prefer that the Episcopal Church’s existence is indeed more than a rumor. I show up at organizational design meetings and congregational development programs because these values are important to me. I think it is purposeful to be risky as a spiritual and human being. Trying to get it done at the poker table of faith is better than sitting in the audience.

My prayer is that God rejoices in the work I’m doing. I’m thankful for George Washington University for sparking my Organizational Development(al) flames. I’m happy for the learning I am gaining from the College for Congregational Development on best means and techniques for being helpful with congregations as I share models of Life Cycles of Organizations or the Gordian Knots of Organization(al) Systems. I don’t know. For today, that seems like enough chips to play. Blessings along The Way, Jim

In The End

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16 When Jacob woke from his sleep, he thought to himself, The Lord is definitely in this place, but I didn’t know it. 17 He was terrified and thought, This sacred place is awesome. It’s none other than God’s house and the entrance to heaven. (Genesis 28: 16-17)
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There are more than 20 miles worth of hiking trails at World’s End State Park.  It is worth getting lost in time there.

Who knew?!? The World’s End is just a little more than 7 miles away from Eagles Mere, PA.  I discovered this apocalyptic location when I went for a hike in the Loyalsock State Forest. We are fortunate to have a state park there. 19th Century Loggers completely deforested the old growth forests of Eastern White Pine and Hemlock. Clearly, millions of animals’ world came to an end because of Pennsylvanians’ needs for lumber. A new world came into being when  the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources purchased the property in 1932. The Civilian Conservation Corps began restoring the area throughout the 1930s and thereafter.

However, the end times for this pristine region are potentially occurring. The earth under the forests is rich in shale.  Seemingly Pennsylvania doesn’t own mineral rights in most of its parks.  Should a company such as Anadarko decide to drill for shale they will imperil the area’s environment and inhabitants including bears, otters, deer, turkeys, and more than 200 species of birds. (Kibbe, 2004).   Your thermostat is set at _______?

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Linkin Park’s “In the End” Video – May Chester Bennington rest in peace and rejoice in eternal job.

Why are you so grim today Jim (you may ask)?  Well,  I usually blame such episodes on my melancholic Celtic heritage.  Walks in the woods accompanied by my appreciation for this planet’s grandeur invokes a sense of commingled woe and wonder.

Here’s another matter disturbing my soul. I’m not a huge of Linkin Park. I have friends who are. Chester Bennington’s suicide shockingly grieves them. His battles with depression and addictions are documented. The suffering he experienced must have been overwhelming.  I have had friends commit suicide and I’ve thought about it too. Some of the weeds that spring up in our psyche go well beyond our genetic matrix. We live in desperate days and some people can’t handle it. I am sad every time someone or something dies tragically and unnecessarily.

More than 44,000 people commit suicide in the United States each year.  Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15-34. (National Institutes of Mental Health, 2016). I doubt that most opioid overdoses are classified as suicides and they probably should be.  Everyone is worthy of love and belonging.

That last point is what’s got me wound up the most. In Sunday’s Gospel text  , Matthew’s Jesus shares a story about weeds and wheat winding up in the same ground.  The wheat was doing very well on its own until an enemy came along and through some weeds into the same soil. The workers desired to quickly pull out the weeds and the chief gardener directed them to leave them together.  “Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Matthew is the only synoptic gospel who shares this parable. It seems that Matthew’s Jesus wants Matthew’s listeners to pay close attention to whether or not they are righteous and faithful. Such virtues seemingly get you into the heavenly barn when the endtimes happen.  Nonbelievers or heretical folks…. well hang out for the eternal fracking party.

That’s nice and oh so bonecrushingly unfair .  The woeful human weeds, get burned while the righteous shine like the sun. I need a different interpretation than that one.  Maybe I’ll preach on Jacob and the ladder descending from heaven instead.

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Here’s a simple yet paradoxical theological point. Life is no picnic. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Celtic or a member of some other cultural group. You and I can’t control whether or not some greedy mining company is going to start fracking the beautiful forests in Pennsylvania. We can complain like hell and in the end it may not matter.

People who wrestle with depression and addictions need help. They sure as hell don’t need to hear that they are going to eternal damnation. What seems evil to me is to not to strive to protect God’s creation, God’s creatures, and our neighbors, especially people who wake up in the morning believing that this life isn’t worth living. Can we fix other people. No. Can we strive to be agents of God’s healing. Yes, this is delicate work and we won’t always succeed though we try.

For some reason, the presence of evil is inherent in God’s creation, and therefore in ours. I understand that many Christian theologians want to erase God’s divine thumbprint on evil. I’m unconvinced. The little I know about cosmology and biology is that the universe somehow operates with seemingly bad things harming seemingly good things. Black holes consume entire galaxies.  Suffering happens in the World’s End State Park, in the hearts of rock stars, and throughout gardens everywhere.

Okay, theodicy (why does evil exist?) is way too big of a problem for me. What seems much smaller and a little more manageable is that weeds and wheat are aspects of my human condition. They probably are for you too.

There are degrees of choice in paradoxical wheat/weed living.  First, when possible, enjoy picnics – especially when wandering onto life’s uncertain and potentially wicked roads. Don’t fall too much when  getting outdoors in PA. Minimize the weeds of depression with the wheat of wholehearted living. Listen to what the roots of pain are trying to teach rather than ignoring them. Identify when displaced dissatisfaction is working overtime. Seek out activities that are enriching. Give to people, especially someone in need of encouragement, compassion, and justice. And, keep searching for the World’s End with the hopes of not finding it until the appointed time and place.

Blessings along The Way

 

 

Thoughts from Eagles Mere

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West End Ale Haus in Bloomsburg PA
West End is becoming one of my favorite places to have a brew, share my story, and learn more about Jesus.

I hung around for one more beer following Sunday night’s Bible and Brews gathering at West End Ale Haus. We  discussed the Parable of the Farmer and Seeds.  Is Jesus teaching us about God’s abundance? Yes.  Is Jesus directing his listeners to pay attention and be good soil for his teachings? Yes. Is Jesus teaching parables so he can confuse some of his listeners.  Yes, Jesus’ parables offer an array of optional learning.  Life is a parable. Listen, learn, and welcome to the adventures of spiritual growth if you trust yourself and God enough.

bp_2xipa1.pngThe conversations were awesome although I really wish we could find a bar where the acoustics are more cooperative.  Listening to 80s soft, rock while the server inquires about who is drinking the Southern Tier 2xIPA even as someone from the far end of the table offers a profound insight about Jesus’ teachings requires unique multitasking auditory skills.  Nonetheless, these are great gatherings, not just because we’re learning more about our faith. We’re getting to know one another. St. Paul calls that becoming “members of The Body.”

Somewhere during the night, our conversation wandered into what it means to find one’s self in bad soil (tough times).  I’ve been wrestling with some of my chronic family systems baggage as well as other anxieties for the past few days. I was moping about my crap until Erin shared her shitty soil story.  Some years ago, she experienced the following coincidental moments – All within two weeks time:

1.)  Her brother was murdered.

2.) Her husband announced he was divorcing her.

3.) She failed her medical exams.

4.) She suddenly had single parental and immediate responsibilities for her three young sons, with no place to live.

I was worrying about my sister. How I would manage my bills for August. Really?

Amazingly, Erin went on to share her story.  Co-workers she hardly knew supported her through the tumultuous waters. She discovered that the most threatening and uncertain days of her life led to her finding her most authentic work. She articulated what a great fortune it was to meet a man who would become her true soul mate.  She survived and we are all better because of it.

Erin possesses a unique understanding of people’s needs. She would not be able to share her story and her gifts as brilliantly if she had not gone through her soul’s dark night . The depths of despair entered her into the light of a resurrected and more purposeful life for herself, her children, and the people she loves and serves.

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“Anchored” by Jack Simonds

Eckhart Tolle suggests that people who navigate their way through the woods of one way of being into another are awakening to their truest self. Transformation requires letting one’s ego die so that a person may be reborn. (Tolle, 2011) Goethe wrote: “Life belongs to the living and he who lives must be prepared for changes.” Jesus in Thomas’ Gospel.  proclaims “Blessed is the person who has suffered (Laboured); he (she) has found life.

The shadowy cells of our subconscious selves innately and paradoxically cause us pain even as they prompt us to give birth to something or someone new.  I infer the reason that childbirth is equally painful and rewarding is because a mother loses a significant part of herself even as she provides new life to a human being.  In spiritual terms, a seeker must let go of the old way of being including the suffering associated with old wounds. Disciples must exercise their faith, discipline their egos, and demonstrate courage that is sufficiently strong to overcome doubts and obstacles alike. Two or three pale ales in the company of trustworthy and vulnerable friends help a great deal.  Someone who rescues you away from a dark night’s dungeons and safely holds you until the morning’s dawn is a divine angel who you should thank unceasingly.

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Inlet Light Play – (The Lake at Eagles Mere, PA) – Photo by Jack Simonds

Morning’s grace for me has come via the invitation to spend a few days with very close friends in Eagles Mere. We played board games, drank wine, and ate spaghetti last night.  I’ve napped for about three hours since I’ve been here. I’ve dreamed dreams that seem to be important though I can’t quite get my conscious mind on what my inner being is working through or trying to convey to me. Life is a parable asleep and awake.

This morning, I took a three mile silent walk in the woods and wondered. Two white-tail does kept unconcerned eyes and ears upon me as I stepped. My mind and soul reflected upon my newfound friend’s tenacity. She inspires me. I am encouraged further by Christ’s presence in the gathering of people where I now live  because of the previous dark nights and bright mornings I’ve experienced. What does it mean for us to be New Testament people in 21st Century CE circumstances?

I sadly pondered whether  I would be able to re-accomplish what I did some 20 years ago when I encountered my darkest night. My Air Force career went up in smoke because of my sexual orientation.  My boyfriend walked out on me. My faith in the world’s goodness was temporarily shattered. I abandoned relationships under the clouds of an investigation and returned home to re-start my life. A group of unknown Episcopalians took me in and cared for me as a family member. I was reborn and it hurt like divine hell. The costs I paid for it I would prefer not to pay again. Who can say?

In the midst of my own ongoing worldly and spiritual uncertainties, I continue to believe. God’s Graceful gifts are like living with someone who always runs late. The miraculous beauty of living spiritually is that love is present on this side of death and always on the other side.

Blessings along The Way …

Sowing Seeds

 He said many things to them in parables: “A farmer went out to scatter seed.

american meadowsI’m a novice gardener.  I plant flowers and vegetables requiring very little oversight. Last year, my spouse and I decided to set up a raised bed with wildflowers attracting butterflies and bees.  He and a colleague did almost all of the labor.  I bought the seeds and distributed them into the bed in a very haphazard, California free style approach. Seeds of all sorts got tossed into the bed together and the silent battle for soil, water, and sun began. The Mexican Sunflowers won the season.  They grew the fastest and tallest. Xenias and Purple Coneflowers didn’t do as well.

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A farmer went out to scatter seed

This year, I adopted a new strategy in the church garden where I serve.  The garden was an overrun mess. Fortunately, the church hired a landscaper to do the hard work. I cleverly avoided mulching the yard and digging out most of the weeds. However I chose one spot to leave rough. I hacked the weeds and grass out of it but I didn’t treat it with any mulch or much potting soil.  Then I threw some wildflower seeds into it.  That was about a month, maybe six weeks ago. Some of those seeds have taken root as you can see. I water them whenever I water the rest of the gardens. Fortunately too, we’re having a wet and muggy July here in PA. Thus, there are some weeds and grass that are resurfacing along with the wildflowers in the area. Summer seasonal garden games – take two.

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Other seed fell on good soil

On the other hand, I decided to be more intentional about a small section in another garden area.  I used potting soil as a base for the seeds.  I thoroughly disposed of the weeds and grass.  Once the seeds were settled, I watered them thoroughly.  I asked the landscaper to be gentle with the wildflowers with mulch in the one area while leaving the other area alone.  You can see that the seeds in good soil are thriving, for now.

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Jesus’ parable of the sower, (or parable of the soils) [or parable of the seeds] depending upon your point of view, is excellent. A parable is a lesson that offers listeners an understandable way to view the world. However, parables at their best incorporate a challenge as well as perhaps an unexpected ending.  New Testament scholar A.J. Levine writes that Jesus’ parables are “designed to afflict, to draw us in but leave us uncomfortable.”   (Amy-Jill Levine, March, 2017, para. 2). Matthew’s parables are particularly confrontational because Jesus presents a great deal of judgmental outcomes.  The sheep are separated from the goats as an example. (Mt. 25: 31-46). Jesus declares that The Kingdom of Heaven is much like my garden – in more ways than one. One man plants good seed and another man plants weeds in the same space.  The weeds and the wheat grow up together. The outcome of the plants’ battle for sun, soil, water, and care is uncertain “until the harvest.” They must grow up together.” (Mt. 13: 24-30).

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other seed fell among thorny plants

I was working in the rectory garden earlier this summer when I came upon some pieces of an old baptismal font.  They were separated from one another and hidden under some hydrangea bushes. I rolled them out and set them aside.  Just a couple of days ago, our landscaper set the font up in the yard. It is weathered and I’m not really sure how it go there, or why?  Perhaps a giant wind or some strong-armed parishioners moved it out following a fire or some other calamity.  The winds of history sweep across our memories and facts get lost in the ground.

Alexander J. Frick and H.F. Hawke donated the font to the church, sometime in the middle to late 19th Century. Mr. Frick was confirmed at Christ Memorial Episcopal in 1843. He was buried in 1915. He served as a Union Officer during the Civil War including the Battle of Gettysburg. He returned to Danville following the war to continue his law practice. (Deeben, 2000).  Mr Hawke’s historical record is a little more difficult to determine other than he was a prominent contractor.

The garden font got me to thinking about baptism.  Baptism, in terms of our Christian faith, is where seeds first get planted. The priest, family, sponsors, and gathered community have no way of knowing what will happen to the baptized person whether they be young or old.  Those of us who baptize infants do so because we know, especially in churches as old as this one, that life’s gardens are full of all kinds of soil. Some children sadly die when they are young. Other children die on battlefields.  Mr. and Mrs. Frick had at least one daughter, Elizabeth, who was baptized at Christ Memorial. Perhaps she began her Christian life in the font that is now in the garden?  If not, certainly many, many children were immersed, buried, and raised up in Jesus Christ’s resurrection and the seeds of their life began to grow roots.

Each human life is a seed, sprout of God’s creative process.  Some of us are really fortunate perhaps even privileged. We land in good soil. Our parents are generally stable. The family’s wealth is sufficient – though not overly so. The marriage of the mother’s and father’s genes are strong, resilient, and healthy.  The tragedies of war, abandonment, and generational poverty do not pillage the parents or their children.

Sadly, the other fields of life are ripe with seeds too.  Pennsylvania’s coal country isn’t too far from Danville.  Poverty is rampant there and families can’t easily pull themselves up to higher levels of wealth and education.  The soil doesn’t yield as much coal. Natural gas and other factors have changed the economic landscape. People are suffering. The Church’s work is to become compassionate workers in such rough soil.

However, as often as not, the seeds of our humanity spend time in all of sorts of soil, maybe coincidentally. The Christian life, at least for me, is an ongoing gardening process. I need to trust that the Holy Spirit’s wind will blow me out of the weeds when I’m lost. This is true and I still require the kernels of my faith to prompt me to be open to such transitions.  All people spend time on the roads of their lives being tossed to and fro. The possibilities of dying spiritually and mortally are ever present and uncontrollable. Richard Rohr gently reminds us that those of us who seek a truly transformed life must come to expect and live into the unsettled ground of order, disorder, and reorder.

Gardening verifies a universal truth – life is chaotic.  This year’s harvest of flowers, fruits, and weeds is hardly at all within my control.  I remind myself first thing in the morning to water the plants when it hasn’t rained in awhile.  Contemplative Prayer is a similar habit. It requires me to often till and let go of silent, anxious spiritual garden plots. I can’t control how much sun the seed gets or the wind will do, or how many birds will come to eat today or tomorrow. I can choose to remain connected to God who blesses me with all of these conditions.

Jesus encourages his followers with the words: “Happy are your eyes because they see. Happy are your ears because they hear.”

Happiness is not necessarily an easy virtue when wrestling with the weeds or being cooked by the sun. And, none of these realities negate the glory of God’s gracious harvest, today or when the end times come.

Blessings along The Way, Jim