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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Seeking the Sacred:Paying attention to God's LiveJournal:

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Tuesday, February 20th, 2007
10:29 pm
[thecork]
Ash Wednesdday

Ash Wednesday

T. S. Eliot

I

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is
  nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

II

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.

III

At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitul face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jaggèd, like an old man’s mouth drivelling, beyond repair,
Or the toothed gullet of an agèd shark.

At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs’s fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind
over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.

Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy

                              but speak the word only.

IV

Who walked between the violet and the violet
Whe walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary’s colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary’s colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke
  no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile

V

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

    O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and
  deny the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season,
  time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

    O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

    O my people.

VI

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
  of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.
Online text © 1998-2007 Poetry X. All rights
Wednesday, February 14th, 2007
9:10 pm
[thecork]
Real Presence

This past Sunday (11 Feb 07) my mother and I attended the 11:15 service at St. Martin’s, where the preacher and celebrant was The Rt. Rev. Frank T. Griswold, recently retired Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church.  Frank and Phoebe have moved back to Chestnut Hill for their retirement.  Frank has some kind of appointment at St. Luke’s Germantown, which is where they normally attend on Sunday mornings, but he was with us at St. Martin’s as guest preacher and celebrant.  Frank was the Rector of St. Martin’s from ’75 to ’84 before being elected Bishop of Chicago.

 

It was profoundly moving, nostalgic and emotional to have Frank celebrating the Eucharist at St. Martin’s.  His mannerisms and intonations have not changed and it took me back, in a heart-flash, to 1984 and the waves of numinous spirit-sense, God-awareness, healing, grace and other stuff that often washed over me in church during that autumn and the following winter and spring.  Watching him break the loaf of incredibly delicious fresh Challah that we often use, both then and now, and lift the dark-red wine in the exquisite cut-glass Chalice that he and Phoebe gave to St. Martin’s on their departure, I was filled again with the amazing sense he somehow manages to impart of the wonderful beauty of creation, the fabulous playful excellence of so many external sensory things and the joy of being able to taste, touch, see and appreciate them, not just as an “add-on” to the spiritual life, but at the very heart and center of our transformational journey with God, the sacred meal of peace and healing that is the material outwardness, the physicality of Christ’s Real Presence in our midst.  Legend has it that Frank is the author of Eucharistic prayer B in our PrayerBook, which begins “We give you thanks, O God, for the goodness and love you have made known to us in creation”, a simple phrase that quietly overwhelms the notion that the material world is evil – maybe that was the best of the Good News for me in 1984 – God loves the world, not just the souls who inhabit it.  More than any of the many extreme Anglo-Catholic sacramentalists I’ve known over the decades, Frank imparts thoroughgoing authenticity to the word “celebrate” in the context of the Eucharist.  It is a true celebration of Bread and Wine, Body and Blood, Truth, Reconciliation, Healing and Justice.  He was then, and remains now, the classiest of class acts, and I count myself lucky for the times I’ve been around him. 

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007
7:54 am
[thecork]
Bard Study - Bible Study?

King Lear, together with Hamlet, ultimately baffles commentary.  Of all Shakespeare’s dramas, these show an apparent infinitude that perhaps transcends the limits of literature.  King Lear and Hamlet, like the Yahwist’s text (the earliest Pentateuch) and the Gospel of Mark, announce the beginning and the end of human nature and destiny.  That sounds rather inflated and yet merely is accurate; the Iliad, the Koran, Dante’s Comedy, Milton’s Paradise Lost are the only rival works in what still could be called Western tradition.  This is to say that Hamlet and King Lear now constitute either a kind of secular scripture or a mythology, peculiar fates for two stage plays that almost always have been commercial successes”.

                              Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human

                              Harold Bloom, 1998

         

This opening paragraph in Bloom’s chapter on King Lear gets at the idea that Shakespeare is a kind of scripture for our times.   Blasphemy, I’m sure, to many traditionalists, but a source of hope and inspiration for me, and part of the reason I want so badly to see the plays, immerse myself in the texts and discuss them with others:  because they speak the truth.  For me, the fact that this truth is elegantly wrapped in the finest of poetry and prose adds, not only to its eloquence, but also to it persuasiveness. 

 

I guess what I want is to pursue “Bard Study” the way others pursue “Bible Study” … through study groups, daily readings, commentaries, films, discussion, live performances and whatever other tools and methods might arise.  This feels like a calling to me, not just an idle whim or pastime.  Our homilist at Chapel this past week said that one indicator of authentic vocation is the feeling of being alive:  I feel intensely alive when engaging with Shakespeare.  To be perfectly blunt and honest, engaging with about 90% of the Bible leaves me feeling cold, dead, uninspired and depressed.

 

Many, I’m sure, would say I’m making an idol out of Shakespeare.  But somehow I’m much more inclined to trust the disinterested opinions of hundreds of scholars and critics who affirm it’s everlasting value and relevance to the human condition, than I am to trust religious authorities who assert the supremacy of the Biblical texts more as an instrument of control than a path to enlightenment.

 

 

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007
8:47 am
[thecork]
Sun & Surroundings

Because of a combination of a trick of the light from the streetlamp outside my room on Taylor Street and the shape of a pile of stuff currently on the windowsill, I awoke this morning to a perfect Stonehenge image, two standing stones capped by a third, projected onto the wall two feet from my head.  It was odd to wake up looking at Stonehenge, with all its associations for me of antiquity, lost history, early Astronomy, Druids, sun worship and what I, probably naïvely,  like to think of as the best of paganism.   It was also odd that I had slept soundly for 10.5 hours.  Haven’t done that since the early 70s. 

 

Anyway, my office at Sojourners is a bit like Stonehenge, in that the seasonal movements of the Sun are thrown into high relief by the way the morning sun appears or does not appear through my Eastward facing window.  Unlike the spacious, high-rent offices (like Heidi’s) that face 14th street, my cramped little window office enjoys a commanding few of the back alley behind the adjoining condos on Monroe.  But I like it here because it gets the morning Sun, which tends to crest the horizon during my favorite time at the office, between 7:30 and 9am. 

 

For a month or two now, the Sun has been gone, too far south to hit my window at all.  Last Thursday, it returned, rosy-fingered and playful, reminding me that the year has turned, the days are lengthening and the Sun is heading back my way.  “Cheer up”, it seems to say,  “Whatever it is you’re so worried about – you know what, it might never happen”.  I see it now, a degree or two above the ramp to the upper level of the parking deck, brilliant in a flawless pale blue sky and lighting up a piece of my wall with all the brightness of Epiphany Manifestation.  Thank God for the Sun.

Brightest and best of the stars of the morning,
Dawn on our darkness, and lend us thine aid;
Star of the east, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.
                                   Reginal Heber, 1783-1826  

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007
7:44 am
[thecork]
Merton on Reading & Weather

Merton, Day 3

 

Reading ought to be an act of homage to the God of all truth. We open our hearts to words that reflect the reality He has created or the greater Reality which He is. It is also an act of humility and reverence towards other men who are the instruments by which God communicated His truth to us.

Reading gives God more glory when we get more out of it, when it is a more deeply vital act not only of our intelligence but of our whole personality, absorbed and refreshed in thought, meditation, prayer, or even in the contemplation of God.

-- Thomas Merton in Thoughts in Solitude

 

Following the teaching of Thomas Keating, when I practice Centering Prayer I begin with a prayer expressing to God my willingness to consent to God’s presence and action within.  When I open a book to read, perhaps it would be a good idea to pray in thanksgiving for the faculty of language, for the world of words, for the wisdom of writers, for the intellectual and emotional gifts (memory, reason, compassion, skill) that make us human, and that could not be developed without language.  Yale literary critic Harold Bloom asserts that there is no writer or thinker to rival Shakespeare, with only Dante even in the same league, and that, in some sense, Shakespeare is the creator of our modern minds and culture.  While I dearly love the Bard,  I have to admit that George Eliot and Jane Austen fall more readily to hand when I peruse my shelves.   When I open up King Lear or Middlemarch or Pride and Prejudice it might be good for me to express gratitude for the gift of learning, for the corpus of knowledge preserved for us, for the texts that have not been lost, for the gift of great minds, and the vehicle of writing that provides us with the privilege of drinking deeply from the springs of genius.

                                                                                                … mn

 

Merton Day 4

 

"Our mentioning of the weather — our perfunctory observations on what kind of day it is, are perhaps not idle. Perhaps we have a deep and legitimate need to know in our entire being what the day is like, to see it and feel it, to know how the sky is grey, paler in the south, with patches of blue in the southwest, with snow on the ground, the thermometer at 18, and cold wind making your ears ache. I have a real need to know these things because I myself am part of the weather and part of the climate and part of the place, and a day in which I have not shared truly in all this is no day at all. It is certainly part of my life of prayer."

— Thomas Merton in When the Trees Say Nothing: Writings on Nature edited by Kathleen Deignan

 

As the terrifying reality of global warming begins to take hold more generally in our public and private discourse, the fact that we are all part of the weather is more and more relevant.  It strikes me that this excerpt underscores a profoundly North American aspect of Merton’s spirituality, or at least and aspect more common in cold-weather climes.  The visceral, corporeal urgency of an 18-degree day with snow on the ground leads a spiritually thoughtful person down a path of reflection that would be unlikely to occur in the tropics.  As Garrison Keillor observes, cold weather is a great leveling factor: yes it’s cold out there, but it’s just as cold for everybody else as it is for you, if you’re cold, go put on a sweater, turn DOWN the thermostat, what, are we heating the whole neighborhood here with the doors wide open all day long?   Walking in the bitter, biting cold of a Minnesota night or an Ottawa early morning yanks us sharply back into understanding the fragility and delicacy of our lives, into gratitude for warm houses, for fire, for the means to survive in a hostile climate. 

                                                                                                … mn

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007
8:30 pm
[thecork]
Compassion

Compassion is counter-cultural in the sense of flying in the face of conventional wisdom, which is highly uncomfortable with “unearned” benefits, to borrow a term from accounting.  CW feels strongly that people should get what they earn, what they deserve to receive, but no more – that there should be justice in the sense of a proper meting out of consequences that are appropriate to the actions that preceded them.  CW hates the idea of anybody getting away with something, getting off scot-free, getting a free ride.   CW often seems less concerned about people getting less than they deserve – it’s main preoccupation is to make sure people don’t get MORE than they deserve, and thus become complacent and lazy.

 

All of this is probably good social policy, in many circumstances.  But the Compassion of Jesus is another thing altogether, a radical overturning of what it means to be human.  In a word, it is to Be Compassionate, as God is Compassionate.  To feel as deeply for another, indeed for ALL others, as we do for ourselves and our closest loved ones.  Which, of course, we can never really do – my love and concern for Julie, like that between most parents and children, is a huge, wonderful piece of me, deeply embedded and ingrained.  I can’t imagine feeling that deeply for everyone – it would probably kill me.  But I can well imagine striving towards that as a goal – believing that full humanity involves having that kind of deep, unassailable love for the whole human family, for God’s creation, even for the composers of English Turkey hymn tunes, God bless them.  And ordering my life so that I tend toward that ideal, and not away from it.

 

Borg contrasts Compassion with Purity.  He believes that the Politics of Compassion lay at the very heart of Jesus’ message and ministry in Palestine, that it was a boundary-shattering call away from the politics of purity, holiness, well-defined categories of “sinners” and “righteous”, and toward God’s overflowing concern for and devotion to the most downtrodden, miserable and unlovable folks around.  That it’s not about keeping oneself pure or holy, rather it’s about reaching out in love to all those in need, particularly the most needy.  The Good Samaritan is an indictment of the Purity-code approach to spirituality which, surprisingly, is still with us today in fundamentalist Christianity.  Jesus spent time hanging out with people we would call not just ragamuffins, but complete fuck-ups.  And loved them and healed them.  We’re called to do the same.

 

Conventional Wisdom calls us to exactly the opposite.

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007
7:53 am
[thecork]
The Journey of the Magi
For Epiphany ...

"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

                     T.S. Eliot, 1888-1965

Friday, December 29th, 2006
7:18 am
[thecork]
The Bird of Dawning

Now is the time to adopt a set of practices to encourage and guide the pursuit of the full, flourishing life.  Welcome to God_Quest, conversation about paying attention to God and what God Loves.  To comment on an Entry below, click on “post comment” at the bottom of the Entry – no enrolment required.  To post a New Entry, you’ll need to join the “God_Quest” community by clicking on “user info” above.



Some say that ever 'gainst the season comes,
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, or witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is that time.
 
                                            Hamlet 1:1
Thursday, December 21st, 2006
8:41 am
[thecork]
The Oxen - Hoping it Might be So

Welcome to God_Quest.  Now is the time to adopt a set of practices to encourage and guide the pursuit of the full, flourishing life.  Conversation about paying attention to God and what God Loves.  Please join the conversation.  To comment on an Entry below, click on “post comment” at the bottom of the Entry – no enrolment required.  To post a New Entry, you’ll need to join the “God_Quest” community by clicking on “user info” above.
 

The Oxen
 

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock,

"Now they are all on their knees",

An elder said as we sat in a flock

By the embers in hearthside ease.

 

We pictured the meek mild creatures where

They dwelt in their strawy pen,

Nor did it occur to one of us there

To doubt they were kneeling then.

 

So fair a fancy few would weave

In these years!  Yet, I feel,

If someone said on Christmas Eve,

"Come; see the oxen kneel

 

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb

Our childhood used to know",

I should go with him in the gloom,

Hoping it might be so.

 

Thomas Hardy, 1840-1928

12:46 am
[thecork]
Gratitude

Now is the time to adopt a set of practices to encourage and guide the pursuit of the full, flourishing life.  Conversation about paying attention to God and what God Loves - a worthy and worthwhile practice.  On the road to the full, flourishing life.



I think cultivating Gratitude is an important part of the Christian life.  Knowing what we know about pain, evil, darkness, suffering and loss, is it not a good idea, when blessings come our way, to savor them deeply, linger over them, celebrate them in every way? In story, song, journal entry and e-mail? In thankful hearts and prayers? In smiles, hugs, jokes and laughter?

Recalling an earlier piece below about cheerful faith, St. Paul, Wordsworth and Garrison Keillor all provide impressive lists of the various calamities with which life presents us, the broken “bent-ness”, wickedness, and just plain badness of events that happen all the time. To some of us more than others, it sometimes seems. Perhaps most eloquently, a good friend sums it up this way: “This shit fucking happens”. Rather well put, that – true, and very much to the point in late 2006.

But there are still times, people and places “where the gravy soaks in and grace shines through”, where the campfires of gentle people are glimmering nearby, where nature can impress and feed us with joy, quietness, beauty, where we can remember the Love of God, made known to us in Christ Jesus, where we know that we are not and cannot be separated from it, even when we do our best to push it away. Where there will be new children to cuddle.

So, … neither suicide, nor sudden death, nor the Somme, nor nuclear attacks, nor Nine-Eleven, nor the Holocaust, nor loneliness and isolation, nor our own deep wounds, nor the wooden hearts of those who do not comprehend, nor the quick-fix diagnoses of the ill-informed, nor the empty comfort of those who will not listen, nor the shattered fragments of lives blown apart by loss, shall shake our cheerful, stubborn, fast-holding faith that all which we behold is, nevertheless, full of blessings. Full, flourishing blessings.
12:40 am
[thecork]
Cheerful Faith
Below are three connected quotes on cheerful faith and cause for hope, from Garrison Keillor, William Wordsworth and St. Paul. I think it’s important that our faith be cheerful. So much of it is so serious and earnest and well-meaning and sober.  But when we stumble or pause or get lost or stuck, cheerful faith, without being naively Pollyanna-ish, can lift us up and give us the momentum that carries us forward to the next resting place.

     To know and serve God, of course, is why we’re here, a clear truth that like the nose on your face is near at hand and easily discernible but can make you dizzy if you try to focus on it hard.
     But a little faith will see you through. What else will except faith in such a cynical, corrupt time? When the country goes temporarily to the dogs, cats must learn to be circumspect, walk on fences, sleep in trees and have faith that all the woofing is not the last word. Time to shut up and be beautiful, and wait for morning. Yahooism, when in power, is deaf, and neither satire nor the Gospel will stay its brutal hand, but hang on, another chapter follows … hang on.
     What keeps our faith cheerful is the extreme persistence of gentleness and humor. Gentleness is everywhere in daily life a sign that faith rules through ordinary things; through cooking and small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing, tending animals and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music and books, raising kids – all the places where the gravy soaks in and grace shines through. Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people. Lacking any other purpose in life, it would be good enough to live for their sake.
                                                            Garrison Keillor, c. 1986

Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings.
                                    Wm Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey, 1798

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
                                      Romans 8.
Monday, December 18th, 2006
3:19 pm
[thecork]
Stir Up Sunday

 

Stir up your power, O God, and with great might come among us.  And because we are sorely hindered in our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us.  Amen.

                                    Collect for the Third Sunday in Advent, Book of Common Prayer

 

Some old Anglicans like me still think of Advent 3 as “Stir up” Sunday, a colloquial name arising from the first words of the Collect above.  A good day to make Christmas Cake and get the whole family to help with the stirring.  

 

Marcus Borg makes a very strong case against the idea of an interventionist God.  And yet he prays daily for peace, healing, reconciliation and more, not only in general terms but for specific people and places.  He thinks that prayer seems to change things.  He does not know why or how and he is content not to know.  He thinks it’s arrogant and presumptuous, maybe even  blasphemous of us to claim to know how such things work, to assert boldly that we are smart and perceptive and faithful enough to know for sure that God intervenes because of our prayers.  To claim to be able to control or influence God.  And yet we are bidden to pray, to invoke God, to make our requests, to beg most fervently for God’s loving assistance.

 

I love this Collect, with it’s ringing and declamatory opening:  Yo, God!! Come on!  Chop Chop!  We haven’t got all day here.  You’ve got power and plenty of it.  How about using a little to help us out just a wee bit.  Stir up your power, O God, let’s get cracking, move the waters, stir the pot, turn the crank, Let’s Go!! .  Great Might – we could use a little Great Might, if maybe, you have just a minute to actually Come Among Us and share the wealth.  Would that be too much to ask?  Oh, by the way, may we just remind you that things are pretty rough at the moment, that we are, in fact, Sorely Hindered by our sins and badly in need of Speedy Help and maybe a little touch of Deliverance?    Hellllooo, God!  Can I get an Ay-men here?

 

Or something.

 

This prayer does make me weep a lot of the time.  The “sorely hindered” part is so true, not only with so much bad news of war and destruction every morning, but also with my own deeply ingrained tendencies to be critical, mean-spirited, hypocritical and impatient.  Sin, in fact.  Like Godric, we can spend a lifetime praying for grace and working for justice and still be very much aware of our own deep sinfulness.  And what can reach us there but God’s bountiful grace and compassion?

 

O God, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us.  Please Please Please.

 

Another way to come at this prayer is to recall the idea that God works in the world through us, that we ourselves are the means by which God acts in the world.  God’s power and might is acted out in the world through the human beings who have learned enough openness, trust, awareness, compassion, faithfulness, perseverance, obedience and listening skills to be able to carry out some of God’s healing work in the world.   In some sense, when we say this prayer we are asking ourselves to do something, asking ourselves to Stir Things Up, Get Moving, Wake Up.   Another Collect notes that God shows forth her almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity.  To the extent that we can show mercy and pity, can embrace compassion and empathy, the almighty power of God to heal and strengthen is unleashed among us.

 

There is a Collect that asks God to grant that his people may pay attention to the scriptures: hear them, read, mark learn and inwardly digest them.  Terry Fulham once noted that this is a prayer that we ourselves can answer!  I think this is also true, even if much less obvious, of many other prayers.  Perhaps The Collect for the Third Sunday in Advent is just such a prayer.

 

Stir up your power, O God, and with great might come among us.  And because we are sorely hindered in our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006
8:13 am
[thecork]
The Deacon Thing, Part 2
 Now is the time to adopt a set of practices to encourage and guide the pursuit of the full, flourishing life.  Conversation about paying attention to God and what God Loves - a worthy and worthwhile practice.  On the road to the full, flourishing life.

When someone asked me about “The Deacon Thing”, if there was time and I judged that they were truly interested I would tell them a rather lengthy narrative about all my various non-work activities, all the peace and justice stuff, the local organizing, the advocacy and direct service stuff, the church stuff and the non-church stuff.  I would wrap it up by saying that The Deacon Thing seemed like a good way to leverage that work by giving it the force or authority of institutional approval.  Kind of like getting a Certification in church-related volunteer work, so that people who did not know me well could have a certain trust level in my abilities. 

 

Nice Idea.   And, just as a fruitcake contains raisins, it does contain some truth.  But there are also some balancing realities.  As a Deacon in the Episcopal Church you work directly for a bishop, and you may or may not have much say in what you get do, or even in which Bishop you get to work for.  Many deacons end up serving primarily as Sunday Morning clergy substitutes in dying parishes, preaching and officiating at grimly depressing non-Eucharistic worship services.  Like Simon Darcourt “turning the crank of the dogma mill”.   But many vocational deacons are very very happy and fulfilled in their work.  Most have a regular job to earn a living and do “The Deacon Thing” as the work of the heart. 

 

One experience that called me to pay attention to the process was particularly vivid.  It was sometime in 2002, and I was in Tampa, FL on a training class for Abra, the Human Resources software that my company sold and supported.  All of us in the class were strangers to one another, and all were from different parts of the country.  The two important characters in the story are Big Bald Bill and The Middle-Aged Woman from Ohio, whose name escapes me.   On the evening of day 3 of the 4-day class the three of us went out to a beachfront place to have dinner and watch the gorgeous sunset.  We chatted about our families and hobbies and interests.  In spite of my Introvert reticence among professional colleagues, the two of them managed to pry out of me some of the things that really matter to me.  As Big Bald Bill drove us back to the hotel afterwards, I sat in the back seat and the MAWO sat up front, asking me question after question about faith, justice, peace work, Nicaragua, church life and so on.    I tried to respond appropriately, struggling, as I recall, to suppress the pain of contradiction that always threatened to overwhelm me in this type of conversation.  At one point she asked me if I’d ever considered ordination and I gave my standard reply indicating that Wild Horses Could Not Drag Me There.  Big Bald Bill, a rather personable and loquacious guy, drove silently on.

 

[What I mean by the pain of contradiction was the huge and (back then) ever-present tension between the fact that there is so much truly valuable work that desperately needs to be done in the world and that I was spending my life doing something else that seemed to have much less value.  Most of my time and energy (50 to 60 hours each week) went into achieving goals that had little or nothing to do with healing the world or alleviating the enormous suffering, pain, injustice and brokenness that are all around us, crying out for us to fix them, heal them, do something to help them.] 

 

The next morning I happened to meet up with Big Bald Bill at breakfast in the hotel restaurant.  We had a nice meal and then he became rather quiet and serious and told me that he had something important that he wanted to tell me.  He said he had listened carefully and with great interest to my answers to MAWO’s questions, that he shared some of my passions and that he sensed I might be struggling a bit with how to fit them in with the rest of life.  He made a little speech saying that he was going to ask me to consider something prayerfully, not right now but over a period of time.  He said he was making this request as an almost complete stranger, but that he hoped I would agree to do it anyway.  After this buildup he said, I want you to think about and seriously consider ordination to the Vocational Deaconate.  As he said this, he reached across the table and handed me his personal business card, not the professional one he had exchanged earlier in the week.  His e-mail was DeaconBill@juno.com.   There were a few moments of silence as I tried to breathe deeply.  Then I said “Okay, … I’ll do it”. 


I was so disarmed and surprised by the situation, by his candor and directness, and by the genuinely sincere concern behind his request, that I forgot to issue the Usual Unconditional Refusal.  Instead, I said "Yes" and embarked that day on the path that eventually led me to Sojo/CTR.  

Thank you, God, for sending Deacon Bill and MAWO to help me get moving.  Wherever they are now, I hope you'll bless them today.

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006
7:18 am
[thecork]
Micah

Now is the time to adopt a set of practices to encourage and guide the pursuit of the full, flourishing life.  Conversation about paying attention to God and what God Loves - a worthy and worthwhile practice.  On the road to the full, flourishing life. 


And what does the Lord require of us, but to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God?  Not a bad start for a set of practices or a rule of life.  A simple, threefold path of Justice, Compassion and Humility.  We could do a whole lot worse.  At least for me, the work of justice and compassion depends so heavily on a life of prayer and reflection that the two are almost inseparable.  But a person has to be honest about the fact that if you have an hour of time you can’t spend it all on both prayer and action.   My tendency is to neglect the prayer and meditation in favor of casting off rapidly in all directions with action.  Don’t just sit there, DO something!!  But the doing gets pretty empty pretty fast without the undergirding support of regular prayer and, for me at least, my Centering Prayer practice, to which I will turn right now.


 


 

Friday, December 8th, 2006
6:41 am
[thecork]
Listening to God

"Now is the time to adopt a set of practices to encourage and guide the pursuit of the full, flourishing life. Or something."   Conversation about paying attention to God and what God Loves - a worthy and worthwhile practice.  On the road to the the full, flourishing life.

At the Name of Jesus: A Three Step Centering Prayer Exercise

 

Here is a brief exercise in Centering Prayer using the name “Jesus” as a symbol of our intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.  Briefly, the three steps are:

 

1.     Consent

2.     Breathe

3.     Return

 

  1. Consent: Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and allow yourself to be loved deeply by God, to be restful and receptive.  Begin silently to repeat the name “Jesus”, with each inward and outward breath, consenting to God’s presence and action within.

 

  1. Breathe. Be open to the gentle beginning of an attitude of waiting silently on God with loving and receptive attentiveness.  Be open to a feeling of deep rest, quiet and refreshment.  Rest in the silence.  This is the place to stay in and return to, the place of healing, grace, love, goodness.    Breathe in.  Breathe out.  God is here.

 

  1. Return. When you become aware of a distraction, return ever-so-gently to repeating the name of Jesus, until the sense of deep rest is re-established*. 

 

At the end of the exercise, spend a few more moments in silent reflection.  You can choose to spend 5, 10 or 20 minutes on the exercise.  While not essential, some find it helpful to set a timer, which frees us from thinking about time.

 

  

*  Distractions can include thoughts, feelings, items for your to do list, items for other peoples to do lists, reminders, e-mails, topics, parents, books you’ve read, movies or shows you saw last night, appointments or deadlines you missed, memories, meetings, parents, church, worries, kids, friends, plans, items that need to be planned, siblings, opportunities, news items, controversies, celebrations, obligations and on and on and on.

Thursday, December 7th, 2006
5:53 am
[thecork]
Herbert Howells "Like as the Hart"

Here is a note I wrote on 07/31/06 to our Cathedral Choir friends about our performance the day before in church of Herbert Howell's anthem "Like as the Hart", a setting of Psalm 42.  The subject line was "The Summer of Singing Reclaimed".  That Sunday was our last with Damien, the wonderful bass/baritone who left for France later that week.  We had a farewell party for him at our house after church, way out in suburbia.  The picture associated with this post is of the interior of The Philadelphia Cathedral where we sing.

Dear Friends:

Thanks so much for making the long trek to spend a few hours with us out on the far-flung fringes of civilization yesterday.  Those of us secluded in rural backwaters with little or no access to cultural amenities are always refreshed and energized when a fashionable delegation from the Metropolis stops by.  Quite seriously, it was a lot of fun to have you with us.  Here’s a little thing I meant to share yesterday, but I was too busy chatting and eating ice cream:

Our favorite singer is Damien
He’s British and hardly Ukrainian
He’s heading for France
This is our last chance
To hear him say “Epithalamion”

It has been a remarkable summer for singing.   Not wanting to be elitist or anything, but there really aren’t very many places in the world that can find what it takes to pull off a pretty good performance of Howells’ “Like as the Hart” in late July.  So we feel very fortunate to have landed in just such a place. 

There’s an extraordinary thing that happens sometimes when we sing, when the planets line up and just the right music is ready for just the right voices in just the right place and time.  When this thing happens the result is much much greater than the sum of its parts, and there is great and intense blessing for those who participate, listeners and performers alike.  It’s a kind of connection to God and each other that includes healing and wisdom and sadness and joy and probably a lot of other stuff.  A kind of mystical experience or “Thin Place”, where the border between the everyday and eternal worlds becomes more permeable for a while. . It certainly happened yesterday for me.  It doesn’t generally happen all that often and, when it does, I remember how much I’ve been yearning for it, really pretty much the way a thirsty deer must yearn for a cool stream.  Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O Lord.  

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006
5:57 pm
[thecork]
Full Floursihing Life

"Now is the time to adopt a set of practices to encourage and guide the pursuit of the full, flourishing life. Or something."

Conversation about paying attention to God and what God Loves - a worthy and worthwhile practice.  On the road to the the full, flourishing life.

6:16 am
[thecork]
Marmite
Marmite is a richly flavorful spread that English people put on toast or crackers. It's made from a variety of byproducts from the brewing process, and includes many important nutrients and vitamins. Many Americans find it rather too intense, and are put off by its dark color (Racism?), viscosity and apparent similarity to axle grease, or used motor oil. Australians have a preference for related products called "Vegamite" and "My Mate" even though Marmite itself contains no beef products, and is certified Vegetarian by the Chaps who Know.  Because it is very nutritious many British parents give Marmite to newly-weaned babies, who acquire a taste for it early in life.

For pictures and more, visit http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/marmite.htm

According to my sister Barbara, the Puzzle Nazi, Marmite has apparently reached gourmet status: the true afficionado searches for the Burton-on-Trent product, probably from a particular year and a preferred side of the brewery. Barbara enjoys Marmite sandwiches for lunch, bread and butter with Marmite thinly spread, in between. When she's having a poached egg for breakfast, she prefers it to be on a piece of toast with Marmite. Other family members refer to this as "Poached Egg on An Oil Change", an apt and convenient shorthand.

Deb asserts that full disclosure should require me to note that many non-UK people, if and when they actually get a taste of Marmite, either throw up or come close to it. Personally, I think that's a little harsh, but does perhaps contain an element of truth content, just as a fruitcake contains raisins. It occurs to me that maybe even Cous Cous could be rendered acceptable by a spoonful of Marmite. I should also note that Marmite has an honored place on a list Julie maintains entitled "Disgusting Stuff My Father Eats". Near the top perhaps.

So ... raise a glass today to Marmite, official tasty spread of Anglophiles everywhere.
Saturday, November 11th, 2006
11:06 pm
[thecork]
The Donkey
The Donkey
G.K. Chesterton, 1874-1936

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
11:04 pm
[thecork]
God Says Yes to Me
God Says Yes To Me
Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don't paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I'm telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/126.html
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