Thursday, April 28, 2011

Living in the in-between space

The Tibetans have a word for in-between-ness. They call it the "bardo" and it's the place of liberation - the only place, when you think about it, that we can exercise choice.

As usual, Fr. Richard Rohr offers great clarity:

Faith is so rare--and religion so common--because no one wants to live between first base and second base. Faith is the in-between space where you're not sure you'll make it to second base. You've let go of one thing and haven't yet latched into another. Most of us choose the security of first base.

-- Richard Rohr

Oh, for my readers across the pond: the above is a baseball metaphor!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The meaning of awe

Artist: Van Gogh

I think, perhaps, we have become strangers to awe or that we simply do not take the trouble to predispose ourselves to it. We so easily get immersed in the mudane to the point of becoming a bit jaded. Maybe the following sort of reflection would help:

We can never sneer at the stars, mock the dawn or scoff at the totality of being. Sublime grandeur evokes unhesitating, unflinching awe.... Awe is an intuition for the dignity of all things, a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme. Awe is a sense for the transcendence, for the reverence everywhere to the mystery beyond all things. It enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine; sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal.

-- Abraham Heschel

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What we love when we love

Artists: Giovanni and Francesco Cagnola

During Easter Week, this time of resurrection joy, we might well ask ourselves what is the nature of the life that is resurrected. Here's something I found today over on the Gratefulness website. You can read the rest of this particular piece right here if you like.

Life is not the opposite of death. Birth is the opposite of death. Both birth and death are part of life. When we are born, we come from the One who is Life. And when we die, we go back to the One who is Life, because we are life from this Life. It is this live core – which some traditions have called “soul” – that we love when we love another. Regardless of what we call it, it is not subject to death.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Something about these last few days

Artist: Pierre II Veyrier

The writer, perhaps, might not have used this word, but the following truly sounds like resurrection to me:

I have come to terms with life - nothing can happen to me, and my personal fate is not the issue.... By 'coming to terms with life' I mean: the reality of death has become a definite part of my life; my life has, so to speak, been extended by death, by looking death in the eye and accepting it, by accepting destruction as part of life and no longer wasting my energies on fear of death or the refusal to acknowledge its inevitability. It sounds paradoxical: by excluding death from our life we cannot live a full life, and by admitting death into our life we enlarge and enrich it.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The glorious danger of Easter

Artist: Piero della Francesca

This speaks to me:

In many respects I find an unresurrected Jesus easier to accept. Easter makes him dangerous. Because of Easter I have to listen to his extravagant claims and can no longer pick and choose from his sayings. Moreover, Easter means he must be loose out there somewhere.

-- Philip Yancey

Of course, he is not only loose "out there somewhere"; he is loose "in here". We live in a Christ-permeated universe. No other teaching is so consoling, so strengthening, so encouraging and, finally, so demanding.

Alleluia, dear people! Alleluia!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The harrowing of hell

Artist: Benvenuto di Giovanni

Traditionally, Holy Saturday is the day Christ is understood to have descended to the dead and that event is known as the "harrowing of hell". On this occasion, Christ is seen to have "led captivity captive" and "preached to those in prison". The word "harrowing" (as it is used in this tradition) is actually a military term and it referrs to an incursion into enemy territory for the purpose of taking something.

Here are some observations by Rowan Williams in describing an icon that depicts the Christ rescuing people from the abode of the dead:
As his hand grasps the hands of Adam and Eve, Jesus goes back to embrace the first imaginable moment of rebellion and false direction in human life...we are reminded that he goes fully into the depths of human agony. He reaches back to and beyond where human memory begins: 'Adam and Eve' stand for wherever it is in the human story that fear and refusal of God began--not a moment we can date in ordinary history, any more than we can date in the history of each one of us where we began to forget God. But we are always dealing with the after-effects of that moment, both as a human race and as particular persons.
I love this teaching. For me, the story of the harrowing of hell communicates that Love does not strive to protect itself as long as anyone truly has need of that Love.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The intimate cross

Artist: El Greco

Complete truth – for here at the intimate cross is a man in whom there is no falsehood, and God exists completely. And even in this scene, one intuits somehow that life itself emanates from death, and is the reason for the cross. Life you can access.

-- The Rev. Rob Gieselmann

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Beyond words

Artist: Simon Ushakov

Today, I came across a Maundy Thursday sermon that gives me much material for reflection. It's by the Rev. Ben E. Helmer, a priest in Arkansas. Here are a couple of excerpts:
There is something about this sacred day that sets it apart – something deeply transforming. We’re not merely remembering the night before Jesus died, we are actually living it through liturgy. The flash of insight as we are connected with the Passover of our Jewish sisters and brothers, the solemn washing of the feet, the taking of the bread and the cup, these experiences leave us with a depth of meaning that goes beyond words, as all good liturgy does.
Maundy Thursday gives us liberation, freedom, and grace to become a new community, not one centered merely on liturgy that remembers, but one centered on liturgy that leads us to act. If we see Christ crucified and risen from the dead, then our lives are transformed forever. If we believe Christ offers himself on the cross as the ultimate act of love, then we can see ourselves as called to act on behalf of others.
May this sacred night bring each of us true awareness, insight and the depth of meaning of which Fr. Helmer speaks.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The most radical teaching of Jesus

Artist: Rembrandt

You know, I never quite thought of the parable in exactly these terms. This makes me think. It makes me think a lot:

Love your enemies is probably the most radical thing Jesus ever said. Unless, of course, one considers the parable of the Samaritan. There the admonition is to let your enemies love you.

-- Robert Funk

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The summons

If we are truly entering into Holy Week - all that it means and all that it has to give - we can let this happen:

We have gotten so used to the ultimate Christian fact--Jesus naked, stripped, crucified and risen--that we no longer see it for what it is: a summons to strip ourselves of earthly cares and worldly wisdom, all desire for human praise, greediness for any kind of comfort; a readiness to stand up and be counted as peacemakers in a violent world; a willingness to let go of those pretenses that would have us believe that we really aren't worldly. Even the last rag we cling to--the self-flattery that suggests we are being humble when we disclaim any resemblance to Jesus Christ--even that rag has to go when we stand face to face with the crucified Lord.

-- Brennan Manning

Monday, April 18, 2011

In remembrance of her

Artist: Dieric Bouts

Today is Monday in Holy Week. Each year on this day we remember the woman who anointed Jesus with costly perfume. Jesus said that she was doing this for his burial.

Let us each imagine what it would be like to pour such devotion on Jesus.

Let us imagine what it would be like for the fragrance of the anointing to fill the room in which we find ourselves right now.

Let us imagine what it would be like to hear Jesus' words of affirmation. "Leave her alone. She has done what she could."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Descent into greatness

Artist: Pietro Lorenzetti

I am very struck by the juxtaposition of these two words, "descent" and "greatness". It reminds me of Henri Nouwen's term, "downward mobility".

Pastor Bill Hybels wrote a book entitled, Descending Into Greatness. Too many Christians only come to church for the triumph of Palm Sunday and then skip directly to the triumph of Easter missing the trip down through the week. They skip from the wave crest of Palm Sunday to the wave crest of Easter, and they miss the descent into greatness. The only way up is down. Jesus is calling us to that same journey downward into greatness.

-- Mickey Anders

And here's another quotation that is really appropriate for today:

This day is not in anticipation of is in anticipation Good Friday.

-- Peter Gomes


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Something about human nature

Artist: Fra Angelico

This is a seriously great story!

We think of monks as being remote from the world, but Saint Benedict, writing in the sixth century, notes that a monastery is never without guests, and admonishes monks to "receive all guests as Christ." Monks have been quick to recognize that such hospitality, while undoubtedly a blessing, can also create burdens for them.

A story said to originate in a Russian Orthodox monastery has an older monk telling a younger one: "I have finally learned to accept people as they are. Whatever they are in the world, a prostitute, a prime minister, it is all the same to me. But sometimes I see a stranger coming up the road and I say, 'Oh, Jesus Christ, is it you again?'"

-- Kathleen Norris

Friday, April 15, 2011

The full light of God

Artist: Paul Nauen

Oh, my. This is really focused. I think we could reflect on this deeply and for a long time:

To pray means to stop expecting from God the same small-mindedness which you discover in yourself. To pray is to walk in the full light of God and to say simply, without holding back, "I am human and you are God." A human being is not someone who once in a while makes a mistake, and God is not someone who now and then forgives. No! Human beings are sinners and God is love.

-- Henri Nouwen

Notice how he does not say that prayer is anything about technique. It is rather about identity and awareness.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What the purpose of Christianity is NOT

Artist: Heinrich Hoerle

I've probably posted this before but it bears repeating - probably because the so-called "prosperity gospel" gives rise to so much suffering. It is tragic, really, when people lose their faith in times of adversity because they were taught that Christian commitment would protect them from things going wrong in their lives:

“The purpose of Christianity is not to avoid difficulty, but to produce a character adequate to meet it when it comes. It does not make life easy; rather it tries to make us great enough for life.”

Monday, April 11, 2011

Security in prayer

Artist: William Holman Hunt

I certainly give thanks for the ministry of Fr. Richard Rohr. I've benefited so much from his talks and books:

Have you been loved well by someone? So well that you are secure that person will receive you and will forgive your worst fault? That's the kind of security the soul receives from God. When the soul lives in that kind of security, it is no longer occupied with technique. We don't condemn people who don't do it our way. All techniques, spiritual disciplines are just fingers pointing to the moon. But the moon is the important thing, not the pointing fingers.

-- Richard Rohr

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The ultimate power of acceptance

Artist: George Herbert McCord

I have an "official" type duty this afternoon so I decided to run a habit (one that had been hanging in the back of my closet for months) through the washing machine to freshen it up. As I was cleaning out the pockets, I found a piece of paper with the following printed on it:
Sometimes... a wave of light breaks into our darkness and it is as if a voice were saying, "You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you... Do not seek for anything...; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted."
It's by the great existentialist 20th Century theologian, Paul Tillich. I remember using this passage during a sermon a number of years ago when I was a guest preacher somewhere during Lent. I told the congregation that if I were the rector of a parish, I think I would read this to my people every Sunday for an entire year. That's how important this message is.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Letters from God

Artist: Cornelis Norbertus Gijsbrechts

I have Walt Whitman on my mind today. That's probably because I watched the rebroadcast on PBS this week of the masterpiece documentary by Ken Burns entitled "The Civil War." In it, Walt Whitman was quoted frequently. Here's something from "Song of Myself" that I have loved since I was a girl:

Why should I wish to see God better than this day?

I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,

In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,

I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign'd by God's name,

And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe'er I go,

Others will punctually come for ever and ever.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Covenant with Unconditional Love

I believe I've mentioned Robin Meyers on this blog before - one of the best preachers I've ever had the privilege of hearing. Robin is senior minister of Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City and I respect him hugely. Here's something he said in his most recent book, Saving Jesus from the Church:
Indeed, a quick glance around this broken world makes it painfully obvious that we don't need more arguments on behalf of God; we need more people who live as if they are in covenant with Unconditional Love, which is our best definition of God.
These are words to live by, I would assert. They are words to help us frame to ourselves what our discipleship really means.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A powerful remedy

Artist: Nicholas Roerich

Sometimes I think that the most pernicious pollution of all is noise pollution. So it will not surprise you that I agree with this:

"The present state of the world and the whole of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice, I should reply, 'Create silence'."

Søren Kierkegaard

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mothering Sunday

"The Mother of God of Tenderness toward Evil Hearts"

To my American readers: In Europe, Mother's Day is observed on the traditional "Mothering Sunday" - the fourth Sunday in Lent or Laetare Sunday.

I've been saving the above painting for some time waiting for the right occasion to post it. I think today is a pretty good day!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The meaning of life

Forgive me, dear friends, but I just found the following and I love it! For some reason I can't completely explain, I think I want to post it on this blog rather than somewhere else:

When compiling his great dictionary, the young Noah Webster travels to the Himalayas, where he climbs to the cave of the world's wisest man. "O, great sage," he says, "tell me the meaning of life." The sage sits Noah at his feet and, with great solemnity, commences to unfold the meaning of life. When finished, he places a hand on the young man's shoulder and says, "Do you have any other questions, my son?" Noah flips a page in his notebook and says, "You wouldn't know the meaning of lift, would you?"

~Robert Brault