Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

I heard this on NPR today - Writer's Almanac - read by Garrison Keillor:

High school band. Memorial Day.
Country cemetery. Marched all the way.
We stood in formation, took off our caps.
Stood with the nation, we played taps

Year before Kennedy, year before King.
Last year I cared about anything.
But for that moment, we were one.
Honoring soldiers

At Arlington.

Notes drifted across the plains.
Swallows signaled oncoming rain.
Station wagons, pickup trucks
Rescued us then turned to rust

We put on new uniforms
Crisp, creased. Tattered, well-worn
Some forget where we come from
Some come to rest

In Arlington

When he was twelve, took my only son
Lost ourselves in the Smithsonian
Then Abraham, above the Mall.
Then raised our hands, touched the wall.

Headstone horizon, eternal flame
Unknown lie with familiar names
Sacrificed daughters and sons
So I could cry

At Arlington.

-- Dennis Caraher

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Blessed Trinity

Artist: Edgar Degas

The early church leaders described the Trinity using the term perichoresis (peri-circle resis-dance): The Trinity was an eternal dance of the Father, Son and Spirit sharing mutual love, honor, happiness, joy and respect… God’s act of creation means that God is inviting more and more beings into the eternal dance of Joy. Sin means that people are stepping out of the dance… stomping on feet instead of moving with grace and rhythm.
I'm not sure who said this but I found it on Lindy Black's "Sermon Nuggets" page.

I have long delighted in the image of the life of God (as well as the spiritual life of the lover of God) as a dance. When we allow ourselves to experience the Divine as movement (rather than trying to analyze or explain theological formulas) the difficulty associated with the doctrine of the Trinity simply falls away and we embrace the Mystery in joyful celebration.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Oh, yes: Amazing!

If this doesn't make you happy, well, I just don't know what to do for you!


Friday, May 28, 2010

Created for transcendence

Artist: Odilon Redon

I'm sorry to say that I had not heard of the theologian, Joseph Sittler, before I found a passage from his book Gravity and Grace from which I offer the following:
St. Augustine, at the beginning of his Confessions, makes a great and beautiful statement: "Thou has made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee." Back of that statement lies a proposition which says that the human is created for transcendence. It is the Jewish and Christian belief that we are meant for a selfhood that is more than our own selves—that we are by nature created to envision more than we can accomplish, to long for that which is beyond our possibilities.
I am so struck by the words "a selfhood that is more than our own selves". It merits considerable reflection, I think.

You can read more excerpts right here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Something about why people lose heart

Those of us who consider ourselves to be part of the Church need to think about the point being made here with all due seriousness:

Of the friends of mine who have abandoned the Christian faith, very few of them stopped believing in Christ because of intellectual problems with the Bible of because they were seduced by some other worldview or belief system. Rather, they tend to abandon Christian faith because of the irrelevance, judgmentalism, internal dissension and lack of compassion they experience within the Christian community. Rather than finding the church to be the community that most deeply encouraged them in their struggles, they lost heart in their discouragement and lost their faith in the process. Rather than experiencing the church as the site of the most profound hospitality, love and acceptance, they felt excluded because of their doubts and struggles.

-- Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Illuminating what love really is

Artist: Ivan Aivazovsky

I've told you before, I'm sure, how much I admire this writer:

Your life and my life flow into each other as wave flows into wave, and unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you, there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me. To see reality--not as we expect it to be but as it is--is to see that unless we live for each other and in and through each other, we do not really live very satisfactorily; that there can really be life only where there really is, in just this sense, love.

-- Frederick Buechner

There are some very erroneous and unhealthy ideas out there about what love really is. I think this particular Buechner quote comes very close to verbalizing what love - the real thing, I mean - is actually all about.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why perseverence is so very necessary

"The Stonecutters" by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at a rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it -- but all that had gone before.

-- Jacob Riis

Monday, May 24, 2010

A challenge to our assumptions

When you think about it, the celebration of Pentecost is the ultimate antidote against discouragement. And so I like this excerpt from a Pentecost sermon very much:

[W]e have a call, a “stunning vocation,” Walter Brueggemann says, “to stand free and hope-filled in a world gone fearful…and to think, imagine, dream, vision a future that God will yet enact.” Mind you, we are not in charge, God is in charge, but we are called to imagine this future, to trust in it, and to live into it, participate in it, and to share it with all of God’s children. We might be tempted at times to give in to those same impulses we see around us – to build up our defenses, look out for ourselves, find security in our “stuff” and in our sure knowledge that we know best, but this wind of the Spirit – it blows through our lives and it turns things upside down. We want a faith that only consoles us, and instead, God challenges our assumptions, blows them over, and opens up our eyes to see things in a new way, opens our hearts to a new creation of possibility and hope.

-- Kate Huey

I believe I have quoted Kate Huey on this blog before. I'm starting to like her preaching very much indeed. She is a United Church of Christ minister, by the way.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Day of Pentecost

Bamberg Apocalypse miniature (11th Century)

The following quotation may seem very simple but it is deceivingly so. Phillips is communicating a powerhouse here - something utterly radical:

Every time we say, "I believe in the Holy Spirit," we mean that we believe that there is a living God able and willing to enter human personality and change it.

- J. B. Phillips

The question before us is this: Do we really want our personality to be entered by the living God and then changed?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Something about readiness

Artist: August Macke

Have you ever tried to read a spiritual book before you were really ready and managed to get nowhere only to pick that same book up some years later and have it be utterly illuminating? Here's something about that:

Words are merely carriers of the secret, supernatural communications, the light and call of God. That is why spiritual books bear such different meanings for different types and qualities of soul, why each time we read them they give us something fresh, as we can bear it.

-- Evelyn Underhill

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The benefit of solitude

Artist: Giovanni Fattori

It grieves me when people have an aversion to being alone, who have not discovered the richness of a purposeful and chosen solitude. Here's a little encouragement in that regard:

We need not wings to go in search of Him, but have only to find a place where we can be alone -- and look upon Him present within us.

- Teresa of Avila

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The archangel who fights for us

I just found this stunning mosaic of St. Michael and wanted to share it with you all. The original is in Moscow.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A paradox

Artist: James Tissot

Oh my. There is just so much to this one:

Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.

-- Joseph Campbell

There is unbelievably rich material for reflection in this great observation. I'm very glad I found it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday after the Ascension

Saint Paul the Apostle

I was very struck by this morning's first reading from the book of Acts. In this narrative, Paul and Silas exorcise a divining spirit from a slave girl who is being exploited by her owners. Later they are locked up in an "inner prison" and an earthquake sets them free. The jailer is about to commit suicide (as he will surely be blamed for letting them escape) but Paul assures him that he and Silas are still there. The jailer then asks what he must do to be saved and is baptized along with his entire household.

How many of us find ourselves locked in an "inner prison"? And how many of us assume that freeing those parts of ourselves that have been locked up for so long is bound to be a disaster?

Here is an excerpt from a commentary I found on this reading. It has given me much material for reflection:

When the jailer asks Paul what he must do to be saved, Paul answers simply that he should "believe on the Lord Jesus." This is still a difficult question today, and Paul's answer presents its own challenges as well. Perhaps we need to spend much more time on what it means to "believe" (and Marcus Borg has written so helpfully on this in books like The Heart of Christianity). However, Ronald Cole-Turner's reflects on this question in the context of this story and poses this question for each one of us, personally: "What must I do," he asks, "to be saved from what destroys me? What must I do to be saved from my particular bondage, my oppressive addiction, emptiness, or boredom? There are countless ways to lose our way in this world or to be in bondage, just as there are many different threats from which we need to be saved." One of the most powerful captivities of our age, besides materialism and militarism, is the way fear can imprison us in our convictions and our desire for security, making us unable to open our hearts and minds to others, to events, to the God who still speaks through them. How amazed the jailer must be, just as he's about to kill himself, to see that the prisoners are still there! Fear almost leads to death, but compassion leads to his life, and his family's life, being transformed. Cole-Turner writes that "Believing….means becoming decisively aware that our small lives are swept up into a great drama, God's story line. God is indeed reaching out to us in Jesus Christ, taking our lives into the gospel story of transformation and redemption."

-- The Rev'd Kate Huey

You can read the entire commentary right here.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Honest and dishonest questions

I have admired and been influenced by Richard Rohr for many years now. He is a wonderfully skilled conference leader and retreat conductor. I had the great privilege of attending one of his conferences early in 2009.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Artist: Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337)
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Christ is already in that place of peace, which is all in all. He is on the right hand of God. He is hidden in the brightness of the radiance which issues from the everlasting throne. He is in the very abyss of peace, where there is no voice of tumult or distress, but a deep stillness--stillness, that greatest and most awful of all goods which we can fancy; that most perfect of joys, the utter profound, ineffable tranquility of the Divine Essence.

-- John Henry Newman

Think about how these words, "the very abyss of peace" are put together. What wonderful words. How full they are of both assurance and mystery.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Artist: Raphaelle Peale

The shell must be cracked apart if what is in it is to come out, for if you want the kernel you must break the shell. And therefore, if you want to discover nature's nakedness, you must destroy its symbols and the farther you get in the nearer you come to its essence. When you come to the One that gathers all things up into itself, there your soul must stay.

-- Meister Eckhart

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sunday, May 9, 2010


"River of Life" from the Bamberg Apocalypse

I have treasured these two verses of this morning's reading from Revelation for many, many years now:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Now here is a commentary:

The river of life in 22:1-2 is based on Ezekiel 47:1-12, where the river flows out of God's temple. In Revelation's New Jerusalem there is no temple building, and so the river flows from the throne of God, flows with life from the presence and the ruling power of the Lord of all. The old serpent has been dispensed with (20:2, 10), and the tree of life flourishes among the people again. In Ezekiel, the river was lined with all kinds of trees, but here there is only one, the one that matters, the tree of life lost with Adam's and Eve's sin. In Ezekiel's vision, the leaves were for healing (of Israel), but here they are for the healing of all the nations. Here there is nothing cursed (verse 3). Paradise is fulfilled in this city.

-- Brian Peterson

The fact that in Ezekiel the leaves were for the healing of Israel but now are for the healing of all the nations is a critical point to notice, I think. God wants us all to be healed - every single one of us.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The song of our soul

Artist: Benjamin Vautier

I discovered Martin Buber while taking an undergraduate philosophy class when I read I and Thou. Many is time I have wishe I knew German so I could read his works in the original. Here is a lovely passage that adds to my collection of quotations about valuing the ordinary:

One should hallow all that one does in one's natural life. One eats in holiness, tastes the taste of food in holiness, and the table becomes an altar. One works in holiness, and raises up the sparks which hide themselves in all tools. One walks in holiness across the fields, and the soft songs of all herbs, which they voice to God, enter into the song of our soul.

-- Martin Buber

Friday, May 7, 2010


Artist: Hildegard von Bingen

Now this is really worth thinking about:

All God's angels come to us disguised.

-- James Russell Lowell

Remember, the Greek word angelos simply means messenger.

Think back over your life and call to mind the divine messengers that have come your way. That's one approach to learning about the disguises taken by God's angels.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A paradox about worth and worthiness

"St. Martin and the Beggar" - El Greco

Today's society - in the United States at any rate - is very caught up with the idea of personal and individual worthiness. Many of us believe that we shouldn't assist anyone who isn't worthy of being assisted according to our own understanding of what that means. Such an approach is not, however, the Christian way:

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.

-- Thomas Merton

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Embracing reality

Artist: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

One of the temptations that often assaults those who are striving to be spiritual is that of trying to escape reality rather than learning to embrace it:

If we want to be spiritual, then, let us first of all live our lives. Let us not fear the responsibilities and the inevitable distractions of the work appointed for us by the will of God. Let us embrace reality and thus find ourselves immersed in the life-giving will and wisdom of God which surrounds us everywhere.

- Thomas Merton

Monday, May 3, 2010

Supporting and inspiring the young

Artist: Max Slevogt

I've really liked this saying ever since I first came across it. I think it applies not only to parents with children but also to teachers with students:

Do not limit your children to your own learning, for they have been born in another age.

— Jewish proverb

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sharing our home

Artist: Philippe Legendre-Kvater

From this morning's Gospel reading:
[Jesus said,] "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
And, thus, the following quotation really gave me pause:

Martin Luther King said once that the story of the church is like a great extended family that receives a tremendous bequest: they receive an inheritance of a wonderful, beautiful, spacious, luxurious home to share. There is only one stipulation. All must live in it together.

-- from Lindy Black's "Sermon Nuggets"

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Something about regret

"Hope in a Prison of Despair" by E. De Morgan

Here's the lament of someone who spent just one day in "riotous living" and is experiencing great regret:

The Debt

This is the debt I pay
Just for one riotous day,
Years of regret and grief,
Sorrow without relief.

Pay it I will to the end—
Until the grave, my friend,
Gives me a true release—
Gives me the clasp of peace.

Slight was the thing I bought,
Small was the debt I thought,
Poor was the loan at best—
God! but the interest!

-- by Paul Laurence Dunbar

It's a beautifully crafted little poem and a truly evocative one. It can give us material for reflection about making reckless choices, I suppose. Of course, a reasonbly high doctrine of grace helps us let go of the suffering that accompanies regret. Sometimes, however, the consequences of recklessness really can't be undone - at least not in this life.