Saturday, March 31, 2012

God's Cross: a reading from Peter Abelard

Peter Abelard lived in the twelfth century, and is considered one of the greatest thinkers of his time. Abelard produced great work as a teacher, a church historian, and a theologian. Among his most well known articles is a list of 158 philosophical and theological questions, to which he posited arguments along the lines of yes, or no.  So for example one question is:

  1. Must human faith be completed by reason, or not?
Abelard’s teachings were controversial. The Church challenged him because Abelard used reason to reconcile the inconsistencies of doctrine.  He would have made a wonder Episcoplian.

Here is one of his stories, which portrays his view of what God is doing in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. 

"From somewhere near them in the woods a cry rose, a thin cry, of such intolerable anguish that Abelard turned dizzy on his feet, and caught at the wall of the huts. 'It's a child' voice,' he said.

Thibault had gone outside. The Cry came again. 'A rabbit,' said Thibault. He listened. 'It'll be in a trap. Hugh told me he was putting them down.'

'O God,' Abelard muttered. 'Let it die quickly.'

But the cry came yet again. He plunged through a thicket of hornbeam. 'Watch out,' said Thibault, thrusting past him. 'The trap might take the hand off you.'

The rabbit stopped shrieking when the stooped over it, either from exhaustion, or in some last extremity of fear. Thibault held the teeth of the trap apart, and Abelard gathered up the little creature in his hands. It lay for a moment breathing quickly, then in some blind recognition of the kindness that had met it at the last, the small head thrust and nestled against his arm, and it died.

It was that last confiding thrust that broke Abelard's heart. He looked down at the little draggled body, his mouth shaking. 'Thibault,' he said, 'do you think there is a God at all? Whatever has come to me, I earned it. But what did this one do?'

Thibault nodded.
'I know,' he said, "Only, I think God is in it too.'

Abelard look sharply.
'In it? Do you mean that it makes him suffer, the way it does us?'

Thibault nodded.
'Then why doesn't he stop it?'

'I don't know,' said Thibault. 'Unless it's like the prodigal son. I suppose the father could have kept him at home against his will. But what would have been the use? All this,' he stroked the limp body, 'is because of us. But all the time God suffers. More than we do.'

Abelard looked at him, perplexed. 'Thibault, do you mean Calvary?'

Thibault shook his head. 'That was only a piece of it - the piece that we say- in time. Like that.' He pointed to a fallen tree beside them, sawn through the middle. 'That dark ring there, it foes hp and down the whole length of the tree. But you only see it where it is cut across. That is what Christ's life was; the bit of God that we saw. And we think God is like that, because was like that, kind and forgiving sins and healing people. We think God is like that for ever, because it happened once, with Christ. But not the pain. Not the agony at the last. We think that stopped.'

Abelard looked at him, the blunt nose and the wide mouth, the honest troubled eyes. He could have knelt before him.

'Then, Thibault,' he said slowly, 'you think that all of this,' he looked down at the little quiet body in his arms, 'all the pain of the world, was Christ's cross?'

'God's cross,' said Thibault, 'And it goes one.'

(Found in Celebrating the Seasons: Daily Spiritual Readings compiled by Robert Atwell, translation by Helen Wadell, written in 1933)

Friday, March 30, 2012

RevGals Friday Five: Holy Week

Mary Beth over at RevGals offers this Friday Five:
Holy Week is upon us.

Realizing that most of our readers are clergy, and that clergy don't necessarily have the opportunity to fully worship when they are responsible for leading (creating, writing, facilitating) worship:
I invite you to share five favorite Holy Week things, five things that are truly worshipful for you. It may be that it's the way they are done in your congregation (or were done in a previous one). It may be your personal preparation for certain services or observances.

Breathe. Be still. Look to the week ahead, and Holy Weeks past, and imagine the worship.

I love Holy Week - from Palm Sunday, the Triduum, and Easter. I love the intensity of the week and the focus on who we are as Christians - it's our story of faith. It's our story made new each year. But that said there are a couple of things I love the most:

1. the footwashing on Maundy Thursday

2. the all night vigil that follows the Maundy Thursday service - praying over the consecrated bread and wine in a garden of plants, the bread and wine which will be consumed on Good Friday. I love the all night prayer - I love to come and pray about 1am.

3. The way the church changes it's look and feel through out the week, symbolizing the events.

4. The drama of Good Friday and the Great Vigil

5. Coloring Easter Eggs with the little kids on the afternoon of Good Friday.

And, mostly, singing this hymn as we strip the altar on Maundy Thursday.

Thr contents on this blog, photos and written material, unless others cited, belong to mompriest, and cannot be used by others without permission.

Monday, March 26, 2012

It's Monday Musing, but It's Not THAT Monday..

It's the Monday BEFORE Holy Week. Two Monday's from today it will all be complete - the Holy Week and Easter event! So, it's Monday, but not that Monday....

Today has been a full day. It is my day off but I did to a little "work." I went shopping and bought some plants and decorative items for Holy Week and Easter. I did this today because I had a feeling that the rest of the week, when I have a little free time, would quickly fill up.

And, of course, it has.

We now have a wake on Thursday and a funeral on Friday.

I suspected this was coming because on Friday a parishioner went into hospice. That day I drove out to the hospital where I prayed the prayers for the dying for this beloved parishioner. Thankfully this person did not linger long, was at peace, and well cared for. But, my not so busy week before Holy Week has just become busy. (Thank goodness I did that shopping today).

But honestly, it is my privilege to celebrate the life of this parishioner and all that this person was to this community. A real delight back in the day! And as someone who was 91 years old, and married in the church 60 some odd years ago, a person with a long history in this church. We will celebrate well! This person's spouse died shortly after I arrived here, a mere nine months ago. And so we may do the same service - same readings and all. Or not, we'll see... Two beloved saints, loved in this church, rejoined in the life here after. May they rest in peace, rest in God's love.

I do have work to do on the worship services for Palm Sunday, the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil) and Easter Day. I mean, I have already done a lot of work, but all of the services need some finishing touches. Plus I am rewriting the Stations of the Cross for Good Friday, two versions - one for kids and one for adults. So tonight, as I watch The Voice and Smash, I will be tweaking the Stations. I will ponder the phrases and words, theology....I hope that the words will speak into the reality of the world we live in today.....a world that is twisted and broken by the ways we carry prejudice, hatred, fear, sexism, but try to bury them under a false sense of "politically correct." (although frankly, What does that mean?  - these days the political rhetoric is horrid.)

So finishing up some deep soul work. A funeral for someone I love. And some writing for Holy Week, about someone who loves me, and, you.

That's my week. What about yours?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tenacious Love

A reflection on the readings for Lent 5B: Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-33

What was once a garden in the backyard of the house we moved into had, over the years,  been abandoned. It was now a tangled mass of raspberry brambles, tall weedy grasses, and random herbs. The roots had grown so thick and intertwined that it was impossible to pull them. We tried taking shovels and digging them up, but to no avail. So we hired a landscaping company to come and remove the unsightly mass from the yard.

The first day the landscapers came out with a couple of men and a few shovels. They made the same effort Dan and I had made, trying to pull and dig out the mess. After some time had passed, when these professional dirt diggers had done all they could imagine, they landscaper gave up and left, having removed nothing. I felt a little better – like we were not being lazy in giving up on removing that mass ourselves.

A few days later the landscapers returned, this time with a small tractor with a big shovel on one end. Using that heavy machine they dug into the entangled mess and pulled it up. Then they laid down new soil. It was impressive to see how intensely thick and powerful this mass of weeds had become and what it took to remove it from the yard.

Dan and I planted grass over the new soil, blending that section of the yard in with the rest of the yard.  The grass grew in well and before long it was impossible to tell that there had ever been a garden in the middle of the yard. Summer passed as did fall and winter.

The next Spring I noticed something popping up through the grass where the garden had been. Over time, with the nourishment of rain and sun, this growth became larger. Then one day, tulips bloomed. It was quite astonishing to see – these tulip bulbs had survived the tangled mass of weeds, a tractor digging up everything, and yet somehow missing these bulbs, and then even with new soil and a covering of new grass, these tulip bulbs grew again. And not just tiny scrawny things – they grew tall and healthy – with beautiful red and yellow flowers.  Year after year, every Spring, these tulips would arise from the depths of the soil, in the middle of the grass, and bloom.

Surely a sign of new life, of the tenacity of creation to bring forth beauty against all odds. These tulips will always stand, for me, as a symbol of what God is doing in creation – against all odds God chooses to bring forth new life, hope, and beauty – over and over again.

Our readings today are talking about this very idea – what God is doing in the world. And more specifically for Christians, what God is doing in and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  We are heading into the climax of the story; Holy Week will be here in a weeks’ time. And so the stories we hear are intensifying. Words are used again and again to signify this. Words like “Covenant” and “Sin,” “Transgression” and “Glorify,” “Salvation” and “Life.” Each of these words is loaded with meaning, entangled with generations of faithful people adding layer upon layer of definition until the words almost collapse. Words that have lost much of their usefulness under the weight of dirt and weeds that have taken over their meaning and deprived us of words to describe the reality we live in.

Many words are like this – not just religious words – but words in our culture. Words like racism and sexism. Words that are loaded and weighted down; full of meaning which cause us to push back or deny the reality these words describe. Thus perpetuating even greater transgression and brokenness.

We live in a world of brokenness. Broken by people living out of fear; like the tragedy that took the life of 17 year old Trayvon in Florida. A brokenness steeped in racism and masked by a hyped up  fear which caused a distorted need for self- protection. A sexism that perpetuates countless legislation all around this country, both state and federal, that would deprive women of the ability to manage reproduction. This legislation never holds men accountable – sexuality and reproduction become the sole burden of women.

Brokenness buried under fear and nurtured by denial giving birth to a rising tide of sexism and racism.

And so the words we use to describe our broken world, words like sin and transgression, are crucial. But they are crucial only when we extract them from the weight of finger pointing. As Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us in “Speaking of Sin” - finger pointing is always locked into some cultural bound set of behaviors deemed “wrong .”  We must open up these words to their true meaning – broken relationship in all its forms.  Broken because of fear-driven motives that prevent us from seeing others as human beings – created by God and loved by God.  Our covenant with God requires us to see all people as God sees, through a lens of love and compassion.

God’s love, like the tulips, blooming each spring despite all odds, manifests in the midst of the chaos of life. Over and over again God lives into the covenant God has made with creation. God is ever present, loves us completely, and comes into our lives for our sake – that we might be transformed into the best version of ourselves.

In response to all the ways we humans are broken, or cause brokenness, the ways we transgress against God, other people,  and even our-selves, God is faithful to us, forgives us, and invites back into relationship with God.

This requires that we, as part of the covenant, strive to live as God desires –  we love God, love others, and love self. That all that we do and all that we are works for the sake of the other – to lift up and uphold all – that all can live with the essentials of life – enough food, clean water, clothing, and medical care.

When we live into the covenant we participate in God’s glory. In the Gospel of John the purpose of Jesus’ life is to glorify God – in other words to make God’s presence known. Jesus manifests in the fullest possible way God’s presence and how we are to live in relationship with God – through love. By participating in the covenant, working for healthy relationships, mending the broken places in our lives and the world, we live life fully.

Looking back through the lens of the Gospel of John, where-in Jesus transforms the law into love and embodies the fullness of God’s love for all people, we can hear anew the covenant God makes in Jeremiah:

“But this is the covenant that I will make with all people, says God: I will put my love within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

God’s love for us, like tulips blooming against all odds, is tenacious.  May God’s tenacious love blossom in our hearts and in our lives.

Portions of this reflection were influenced by the thoughts and writings of: Kathryn Huey  “Weekly Seeds”; Paul Nancarrow “Process and Faith” blog; Barbara Brown Taylor “Speaking of Sin”; and Marianne Meye Thompson, “The God of the Gospel of John, “ 2001 Eerdman Publishing.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Gospel Is

I spent Friday evening and most of Saturday with Marcus Borg. Well, Borg and several hundred other inquisitive Christians. Many years ago I leaned heavily into Borg's book "The Heart of Christianity" to help guide one of my congregations through a growth spurt. One member of that parish actually told me that such books should never be allowed in church. (Seriously). I appreciated, as did most of the people in that study group, The Heart of Christianity. I think it helped us have a language to articulate what we were experiencing in church. That said,  I also found it a bit repetitive and about half way through the book it began to wear on me. Of course this was about eight years ago. As a result I went to these presentations wondering if they would be engaging or if I would begin to feel bored.

All in all I sat through four presentations by Borg. Each of them was based on his book, "Speaking Christian." So, if you have read that book you have an idea of what he was talking about. For the most part I found him a bit too hooked into duality - the "Conservatives" and the rest of us. On the other hand, that is a paradigm that most people understand. I just think it's a bit more nuanced than a simple duality. I do appreciate that he describes "Conservative" as a response to the modern world - which began in the 1600's.

Prior to the developments of the modern world (science, industry, printing press, etc) the Bible was viewed as a metaphor. No one wonder about the veracity, the factuality of the Bible stories. Instead people embraced the truth of those stories, took them to heart, as they told of pain, suffering, struggles, hope, despair, love, life, God. The truth of the stories was deep, profound, mystical, told by firelight, from memory.

Friday night began with a reflection on how Christianity was understood in its hay day of the 1950's:
Jesus died for our sins so that we can be forgiven and go to heaven if we believe in him. Doing the right things in order to win our place in the after life was the primary motivation, for we all wanted to ensure that we would spend eternity in heaven.

Post 1964 that understanding of faith, God, Jesus, church - has become unpersuasive.  And the stories of the Bible now need to be proved, or believed as truth, like the sun rises every morning and sets every night. Night and day truth. All of this hinges on what we believe. As if "to believe" is a set of concrete principle and rules.

Borg burst open the believe concept by reminding us that believe comes from a root word that means "belove."

Do I believe in God? or do I belove God? In my mind, given how we have used and abused the word "believe"- the concept of "belove" pretty switches up everything.

...and, that was just Friday night.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

When Believe is Really Belove

A reflection on the readings for Lent 4B: Numbers 21:4-9 and  John 3:14-21

Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets, has written several poems about snakes. Here is one:

What lay on the road was no mere handful of snake. It was the copperhead at last, golden under the street lamp. I hope to see everything in this world before I die. I knelt on the road and stared. Its head was wedge-shaped and fell back to the unexpected slimness of neck. The body itself was thick, tense, electric. Clearly this wasn’t black snake looking down from the limbs of a tree, or green snake, or the garter, whizzing over the rocks. Where these had, oh, such shyness, this one had none. When I moved a little, it turned and clamped its eyes on mine; then it jerked toward me. I jumped back and watched as it flowed on across the road and down into the dark. My heart was pounding. I stood a while, listening to the small sounds of the woods and looking at the stars. After excitement we are so restful. When the thumb of fear lifts, we are so alive.[i]

Joan Halifax is a Buddhist Roshi who works with people in hospice and death row. A recipient of the TED award in December 2010, in her book, “The Fruitful Darkness” Halifax contrasts the idea of poisonous plants and creatures as evil and dangerous, with the idea that they are actually “protectors” of the habitats in which they live. She writes:

“Poisonous” plants and creatures can be invoked as protectors, protectors of place. Within a bioregion, they protect the deeper forest and are allies to their ecologies. As allies of human beings they protect against drowsiness and insensitivity, preventing us from charging through the fragile terrain with a heavy foot and a blind eye. They teach alertness and respect as we interact with place. They also evoke certain qualities within humans. One can, like the jaguar, stalk and enjoy the night, blend with the environment and disappear into its body. Protectors teach humans to sing like the wolf, to go inside like bear, and to relax like snake.

Human beings have for a long time destroyed the protectors of the wild regions. For many humans these plants and creatures are dangerous and mean suffering or death. They represent something evil in the world…. They excite the impulse to eradicate, to kill… wolf and mountain lion are shot; coyote is poisoned. That which requires one to be more careful, more mindful is eliminated….”

No doubt our scripture reading this morning from Numbers evokes our sense of danger as we recoil from the descriptive images of snakes biting and killing humans. It’s confusing to consider snakes becoming a vehicle through which God calls humanity to mindfulness and restores health in the staff of Moses. Last week Jesus transformed the temple, the place where God resides, into his body – God is in Jesus. This week in our reading Jesus once again changes an iconic image of the Hebrew people, Moses’ staff, into himself. Jesus becomes the means through which God transforms the world, restores health and well-being.

Both of these readings plant us firmly in the context of what God is doing in and through the lives of human beings. What God is doing is known as “Covenant.” Some suggest the entire Bible is a story about the covenant making that God is undertaking between humanity and God. Various scholars will site any number of Covenants God makes – with Adam and Eve and the consequences of free will; with Noah for whom, after the flood, God promises to always show compassion to human beings and all creation. With Abraham and Sarah – a covenant to love and bless God’s people. With Jesus through whom the covenant of forgiveness, grace, and compassion, are brought fully into human life in the Christ, the Word made flesh, Jesus.

In Numbers the story follows a common pattern: God liberates God’s people from that which binds them. But life continues to be challenging and the people complain that God has not done enough. God punishes the people for complaining. Moses pleads with God to relent from the punishment, God does, and health is restored. In the context of the people who told this story 3000 years ago this view of God made sense.

But there are many problems in hearing this story through our modern context. It reflects a world view in which God seems to be a petulant, vengeful old man who gets angry and punishes those dependent on him for the merest of infractions or the slightest hint of disrespect.[ii]

As Christians we value the human qualities of relationship that we understand to be part of God’s nature. And yet, we need to be careful not to limit God through those same qualities. God is being, God is relationship, and God is much more.

Viewed another way we can understand the complaints, not as a breaking of the rules, but as a distortion of the relationship between God and humanity. The Book of Common Prayer, on page 848, defines sin as a “distortion” of relationship. Complaining in the reading from Numbers is a distortion of the relationship because the people are unable to trust in God’s fidelity, trust that God has their back, trust that God’s compassion and love will prevail, even in and through adversity.

Of course the people have wandered in the desert for many years eating only a bland food called Manna, something like soggy communion wafers. They want real food, like they had in Egypt. They are tired and anxious. They are fearful of the dangers of the desert and the reality that there are snakes that bite and kill. They complain bitterly. Who can blame them?

What’s important about this story is not how literally we hear it. Rather there is a truth within this story that speaks of the reality of the life of faith. The snakes in this case are a metaphor - there are dangers in this world that threaten our faith and yet they also call us to be attentive and mindful. As Joan Halifax suggests, that which we perceive as dangerous can serve another purpose. And, as Mary Oliver writes, “When the thumb of fear lifts, we are so alive.”

From perceived dangers we can learn to be attentive, alert, respectful, recognizing that what we perceive as dangerous may actually serve as a process for transformation. That which challenges our faith may be the very means by which we grow in faith and become transformed through God’s love.

All we have to do is believe this, right? That’s what the Gospel says.  But the word “Believe”  has its root in a word that means “belove.” We are not called to believe in Jesus as some set of concrete rules, rather we are called to love, to belove God, belove Jesus.[iii] Think about that when we say the Nicene Creed in a few minutes. “We belove God…” How might that change your understanding of the Gospel or the creed  - to ponder them through the idea of love? How might that feel dangerous? Or challenging? Or transformational?

[i] — Mary Oliver, "May"
    New and Selected Poems, Volume 2
    Beacon Press, Boston, 1992

[ii] Paul Nancarrow: Process and Faith blog
[iii] Marcus Borg, March 16/17 presentation at Christ Episcopal Church, Grosse Pointe, MI

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Praying In Color

The weather is unseasonably warm, but since the redwing black birds and robins have returned, it seems that Spring is here. As I walked the dogs this afternoon I delighted in the possibility of a real Spring. In this part of the Midwest a real Spring is rare. Usually we have rain, cold, rain and then sun and hot summer. And I know it is only March so we could easily get a major snow storm. But for now it seems that we are having a proper Spring, with birds and flowers and temperatures that are just right.

We are into the third week of our Lenten Series which we are calling: "Kindling the Fire - Igniting Our Prayer Life". We are sharing this series with a near by Lutheran Church, each taking turns hosting the soup supper and the program. Tonight we learned to pray in color. This is a really delightful prayer form "created" by Sybil MacBeth who wrote the book "Praying In Color." She and her husband are in the area for a while and so we were blessed to be able to have her with us in person. Sybil is delightful, playful. And, she has a dance background, as do I, so I appreciate her invitations to move in our seats as we prepare to pray. We spent the evening in quiet prayer, lifting up in our words on paper, and the doodles in color, a number of people who need prayer. I appreciated the chance to just sit, pray, and play. Very Spring-like Lenten night.

This day reminds me that there is much to take delight in. I know that all around are challenges and struggles. I stand just this side of my own journey through the bleakness of the desert. I haven't forgotten. But, neither am I in that dismal place. Life has come full circle. Spring is here, and Easter is just around the corner.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday Morning Musings

Last week was crazy busy. I returned from my trip to New York City and the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, with a cold. The cold went from annoying to terrible. And yet I had so much work I had to do. Last Monday a tour group came to our church. 87 people on a day long "Historic House of Worship" tour. I had to be present to greet them and talk about our church.

Tuesday I had worship and two classes on our Lenten book, "Speaking of Sin" by Barbara Brown Taylor. So far the conversations around this book have been amazingly fruitful and engaging.

Wednesday I had my annual doctor's appointment with a fasting blood draw. Later that night we had our Lenten program at the parish, shared with the Lutheran church. Thursday I hosted the Bishop and a group of local clergy participating in "Fresh Start." Friday we had our picture taken for the new photo directory. Saturday I had to write a sermon. And Sunday was the time change and a full day of work.

This week will be just as busy, but at least my cold is gone. I was faithful in my use of Zicam, Airborne, and supplements of zinc, calcium, and B-complex.

It's a rainy day here but the rest of the week should be unseasonally Spring like. According to the weather "records" this kind of warm winter and early Spring comes about once a decade. But I still think global warming is at play.

Tuesday will be a local clericus meeting, then that night a book study group discussion. Our Lenten program on Wednesday will host Sybil MacBeth for "Praying In Color" - it will be delightful, I just hope a lot of people come. Thursday is a vestry meeting.Then, I plan to see Marcus Borg at a local congregation on Friday night and Saturday morning.

So. That's my week...what about yours?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Word Between the Lines

Our Lenten book study this year focuses on Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, “Speaking of Sin.” Taylor begins the book with a reflection on words that are no long used such as “Forsooth” and “Perdition” and “Vouchsafe” – words that we sometimes hear in the Rite One liturgy of the Episcopal Church, but no longer are expressed in ordinary vocabulary. Taylor also discusses words that have changed their meaning and context, an idea which lead to some engaging conversation in the study groups thus far as we thought of words that have changed their meaning in our lifetimes. Can you think of some words that have changed their meaning in your lifetime – words like, “Cool…”

I ended up with an ear-worm of an old Neil Young song called, “Words” and the refrain: “Singing words, words between the lines of age.” Taylor writes that “Language is a particular community’s way of making meaning over time.”

Recently I attended the opening week of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York City. This two week event occurs every year around the end of February. It is a time when NGO delegates from all over the world come and address their UN Representatives on the issues specific to women and girls in the world. It is a time with the UN considers policies and responses to the issues and needs of women and girls. It is a powerful experience, hearing stories from women all over the world. The Episcopal Church, brings in people who serve as delegates to the UN and for the many parallel events that take place while the UN meets. Sponsored by the Episcopal Church and Anglican Women’s Empowerment, I offered two workshops on a project I have been working on for two years called The WordsMatter Expansive Language Project. In this project we consider language as more than words, language includes words, images, and symbols – acknowledging that what we say and do and see and hear has a wider context than words alone. And the very words that I find comforting to me in my faith may in fact be words that cause you pain.

Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

As I child this was a common phrase sung and said by my friends and me. But as an adult I know that it is not true. Words can wound deeply, as can the images and symbols that arise from the words we use. All one need do is read the newspaper or pay attention to the news and we hear of the aftermath of bullying and the impact of words on the lives of human beings who have been taunted and tormented by words.

As I have worked with the Expansive Language Project I have learned from people about the power and potency of words. One woman commented on the way in which Christians use the word blindness as a spiritual metaphor for failing to see and know God. This woman is blind and she said, “Blindness is how I am made in God’s image. Being blind is my most precious gift.” Another conversation took place around the metaphor of “darkness” and how Christians use that term to describe the inability to know and see God. Unfortunately darkness is then used as a negative term to oppress other human beings who have dark skin. How, we wondered, can we change the metaphor? I suggested considering that life begins in darkness: from night comes day, from the dark womb comes life; darkness is where life is born. Darkness is the very source of creation.

Our scripture readings this morning all deal with words and images. In the reading from Exodus we hear the Ten Commandments given to Moses. The core value in all of these Ten Commandments is relationship: scripture is designed to guide people in building relationships with God and with each other that are faithful, steadfast, just, and reflective of the integrity of both self and other. The prohibitions on murder, theft, adultery, falsehood, and covetousness are not just principles for social regulation, but are specific ways of regarding the integrity of the other as a center of value and intention, and not depriving the other of that which enables and maintains their integrity and dignity.

In this way human relationships are meant to mirror the idea that God is relationship. The steadfast love of God sustains people. We respond to this relationship with God by refusing to limit the divine with images that confine the expansive nature of God. We are called to nurture this relationship with God through study, prayer, and practice of faith – by loving others as God loves us.

Paul’s First Letter to the church in Corinth is ultimately describing the ways in which Jesus is breaking open the limitations of God’s love, previously limited to just the Hebrew people as they followed the law  and the practice of their faith, expanding this community to understand that God’s love includes the Gentiles, everyone. 

The Gospel of John is distinctively different from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke in how Jesus is portrayed. The Gospel begins with, “in the beginning was the WORD, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Jesus is God expressed into the world as the Word – symbolizing God expressing God’s self in and through creation and manifesting in human flesh as Jesus. In the Gospel of John Jesus knows exactly who he is. He is not afraid and he does not suffer and he does not wonder where God is. In John Jesus knows everything about who he is.

The Gospel reading this morning focuses on Jesus in temple. The Temple for the Hebrew people symbolizes where God resides, God is in their midst, in their presence, because God is in the temple. But in this Gospel Jesus has come to show the people that the temple is no longer necessary because God is in Jesus. Jesus now takes over the Temple’s function. Jesus is the “place” of mediation between God and human beings.

In observing a holy Lent we are called to ponder the ways in which God comes to us in the person of Jesus. In the WORD of God expressed in human flesh. In the words we use to express our experience of God and one another: in darkness and in light, in seeing and hearing, in the WORD that falls between the lines and the ages. And, in the WORD that lives and breathes in us, calling us to become sanctuaries of the living God.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Friday Five: Talking About Women

Karla, over at the RevGalBlogPals blog, posted this Friday Five, as she prepares for the Women's Retreat at her church this weekend:

1. Name a woman author you very much love to read. I have several, each for a different reason: Barbara Kingsolver, Terry Tempest Williams, Mary Oliver , Jennifer Weiner, Elizabeth George, Julia, Spencer-Fleming, Anita Diamont, Susan Albert Wittig. I have read almost everything these women have written, and I anxiously await there next book.Each is very different. Some are murder mysteries. Some are fictionalized history. Some are reflections on life, spirituality, the environment and humanity. One is a poet.

2. Name a woman from the Bible with whom you would like to enjoy a nice long coffee talk. Mary Magdalene. The woman at the well. Leah. Deborah.

3. Name a famous woman from history with whom you would like to have lunch. Susan B. Anthony (we were born on the same day, albeit many years apart). But also, Hillary Clinton. Or, Michele Obama. Or Queen Elizabeth I.

4. Name a living famous or infamous woman with whom you would like to go out to dinner. Oh, well, see above. Hillary. Or, Terry Tempest Williams.

5. If you could be SuperWoman (o.k., I know you already ARE) what three special powers would you like to have? Strength. Or, maybe Balance. I would like to be stronger physically, spiritually, and emotionally. And, by this I don't mean stoic or rock like - but with better balance. This is something I am always working on, so it's not an ignored area, but an area in which I am always growing.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Images of Lent

Close up of the dried sunflower, curly willow in a vase of rocks

Chapel with dried sunflower and curly willow in a vase of rocks

The altar in the Church with rocks, the box (tomb) where we buried the alleluia's, and pussy willow branches in glass vases with rocks

The baptismal font with rocks and a bubbling fountain, reflecting the rocky journey of life and yet, the love of God that bubbles forth in and through life

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...