Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Traveling Headaches

I received from many friends, who are fans of the author Anne LaMott, the very sweet send off: Traveling mercies.
Perhaps they should have stuck to simply, "Help! Help! Help!"  Certainly, that was my constant prayer today as one thing after another just seemed to go awry. 
Let's back up a moment: today, I was to fly home to see my mother who is in a percarious position in a hospital in Manchester, NH.  And today was the day the heavens decided to rain down sleet on Florida, after snowing on Alabama and Georgia the day before.  Sleet and Snow and the South.  Those things don't play well with each other at all.  I certainly checked repeatedly the conditions in Jacksonville, the status of both my flight and the airport in general.  Everything, as of 12:15pm, was just fine.  
And then it wasn't.  One hundred miles from the Jacksonville Airport, I got the phone call from Southwest Airlines that my flight was canceled, I could re-book on their website or call them. Too bad. So sad. We stopped at a Taco Bell in Live Oak so I could call them.  And after a pleading moment punctuated with my tears of frustration and desire to just get home to be with my mom, Louis from Southwest found me a flight to Boston instead of Manchester, arriving tomorrow... exactly 24-hours from the time I was supposed to arrive today.  
But that creates a new problem.  My partner, who decided at the last minute that she would accompany me on this trip, was scheduled to fly first thing Thursday morning to Manchester, arriving in the afternoon.  I was supposed to meet her there, return my rental car, and get one for a much cheaper rate under her name.  After much hashing it out, we finally decided that she would go first and then she would pick me up in Boston.  Problem solved.  Or so we thought.
We went first to the airport to see if there would be a chance that I could get on an earlier flight by going stand-by.  The nice man at the Southwest counter agreed I could do that, and then wind up stuck in Baltimore, still trying to get home.  I was convinced.  We went back to the hotel.  After checking in, Isabelle pulled out her phone.  There was a text.  Her flight tomorrow morning was canceled.
Time for Plan C.  
She spoke with a less helpful person at Southwest.  When Isabelle mentioned that she was attempting to do this trip to be with her partner whose mother is dying, the response was, "Well, but this is her mother, so you have to pay the difference on the ticket change."   I thought that was rude.  These cancellations weren't our fault; we left Tallahassee in plenty of time to get to our respective planes, had the "wintery mix" of light sleet and nasty cold temperatures not wreak havoc on our travel plans.  
So where it all stands now: we are dropping off this rental car we have tomorrow morning, and I will fly at 6:30PM to Boston where one of my brothers will pick me up, and deliver me to a friends' house where I am staying this trip.  Then, the other brother will pick me up in the morning to get a rental car which I will use not only to drive to see my mom, but to pick up Isabelle who is flying into Manchester, NH, arriving at 10:30pm.  The same flight I was supposed to be on this evening.  
Anybody got any aspirin?


Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Break from the Bible

As with other days and times during the past year, I had an intention of sitting down and writing out great, wise words and insights on the readings from Florence Li Tim-Oi Day or yesterday's marking of the Conversion of St. Paul (one of my favorite stories in the Book of Acts).  But intellectual musings and ponderings have taken a back seat to the reality of what is in front of me: my mom's health.

I was sitting in the chapel at St. John's for my weekly communion with the Spirit in that space when my phone rang.  It was my brother Edward, calling me into the care meeting for my mother, the Anonymous Peggins aka "Hurricane Peg."  This was a palliative care meeting, which already had me feeling low.  I could handle a discussion of Hospice care.  But what happened midway into this meeting was a sock in the jaw.  Here's the entry I put up on her CaringBridge site:

"Hello there, Peg Nation,

The past 33+ hours have been quite trying on Hurricane Peg and her children. Mom was brought into the hospital for third time about a week ago. On Friday, the doctors at Elliot Hospital in Manchester did a procedure, using minimal anesthetic, to move her PEG tube from the stomach to the duodenum (small intestine). The thinking was that the feeding tube was causing her to aspirate all her liquids from her stomach into esophagus. This move would mean her nutrition, liquids, and meds would go to the intestine.

The surgery happened... but not without incident. Her blood pressure dropped and she wasn't getting enough oxygen in her blood. The answer was to put her on a ventilator, and then have the surgeons join the care meeting that was already underway with my brothers Tom and Edward, and me, straining to hear the conversation over the speaker on Edward's cell phone. The surgeons informed us of what happened, and made it clear that the wind had been knocked out of the sails of this hurricane. After tears were shed, my brother, Tom, in a moment of calm wisdom, asked them if we shouldn't wait to see what happened when mom came out of the anesthesia. I supported him in this, as well as noting that mom is quite stubborn and we need to see what she (or more accurately, her body) was going to do.

As of this writing tonight, her body is proving that it will give everything it's got. Her blood pressure and her heart rate and all her vitals as of this evening were looking good. She is still on the ventilator, but tonight, they set it to intermittent, meaning that she is doing some breathing on her own. Tom told me that they would be doing a test to see if she can maybe go without ventilation. If they believe that to be possible, they will remove, or extubate, the tubes from her and let her breathe again. As with all procedures, there is nothing that is risk-free, including this. And there is no doubt that three trips to the hospital, draining a quart of liquid from her right lung, and all the other difficulties, indignities, and attitude she's had to put up with since March 27th of last year, has made my mom's body weaker than where it was. And still, she is a force of nature and not one who will fizzle out. She is not always awake, but she is still very aware of what's going on around her. She responds to the voices of her sons, and has moved her hand a few times. Tom says the one hand which had had gout was looking really good.

I am going home this week and am hoping that my mom has enough steam to know that I am with her and love her dearly. It would be good to see her regain a little more wind speed in the next few days."

In retrospect, I'm grateful for the time I had in the chapel on Friday.  We read from Psalm 116, a wonderful reminder of my days of re-membering into this relationship with God.

 1I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of
                              my supplication, *
    because he has inclined his ear to me whenever
                              I called upon him.  
2 The cords of death entangled me;
the grip of the grave took hold of me; *
    I came to grief and sorrow.  
3 Then I called upon the Name of the LORD: *
   "O LORD, I pray you, save my life."  
4 Gracious is the LORD and righteous; *
    our God is full of compassion.  
5 The LORD watches over the innocent; *
    I was brought very low, and he helped me.  
6 Turn again to your rest, O my soul. *
    for the LORD has treated you well.  
7 For you have rescued my life from death, *
    my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.  
8 I will walk in the presence of the LORD *
    in the land of the living.  
9 I believed, even when I said,
"I have been brought very low." *
    In my distress I said, "No one can be trusted."  
10 How shall I repay the LORD *
    for all the good things he has done for me?  
11 I will lift up the cup of salvation *
    and call upon the Name of the LORD.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A New Song in My Mouth

Most people who have been reading this blog for awhile are aware that hymns play a major role in my faith journey.  God used the hymnal of the Episcopal Church to steer me back into a parish, so that I could begin this long, amazing, anxious, and yet strangely calming trek toward living into eternal life.  So, you might imagine my delight at reading this particular verse out of today's appointed psalm:

      He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God; *
    many shall see, and stand in awe,
    and put their trust in the Lord. (Ps. 40:3)

There's no doubt that that certainly happened to me!

And with that new song in my mouth has come a new understanding of Christ and what it means for me to be marked as one of Christ's own forever.  I had never really paid much attention, or even thought that I had a heritage in Christianity.  The loud mouths and the false prophets had successfully sold me on a story that I simply couldn't buy into about a Jesus who only loved the perfect, the straight, the ones who could give a lot of money.  Basically, Jesus could love everybody, except me.  The hymns that haunted me after my dad died and lured me back into the church exposed those lies and showed me a long history of just how deep and wide God's love is for all of us made manifest in the physical presence of Jesus Christ as "God with us."

The lessons for this morning, all of which speak to the calling and the gathering of those who will be charged with being "a light to the nations," are part of that on-going message of Love.  For Isaiah, it is a love that has extended before time, when he was still in the womb.  It is the love that God showed to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.  Now, God is bringing that love of to the people through the prophets.  I'm always a little amazed when I hear fellow Christians characterize the God described by our Hebrew ancestors as a "judgmental and vengeful God."  Really, if God was that vengeful, God could have just said, "Y'know what: I'm done with humanity!" and drowned the whole lot of us and that would have been the end.  But, as our story goes, God gave Noah the instructions on how to save himself and many choice creatures.  And then, through that covenant, promised not to wipe us off the face of the earth, no matter how tempting it might be.  Is the story of Noah and the Flood real?  No, not likely.  But again, that's not the point.  The point is that God is love, and love will not quit.  Hence, the prophets, such as Isaiah, who finds his strength in God, will become one who will bring God's love to the people.  The same can be said for the reading out John as today's Gospel.  John the Baptist, who in last week's lesson, witnessed the Holy Spirit descending as a dove on Christ, sees Jesus walking about and proclaims to those who were his own followers: there is the Lamb of God!  This is the one we've been waiting for!   John's disciples begin to fall in line behind Jesus.  One of them, Andrew, fetches his brother, Simon, and gets him to come meet this Rabbi, Jesus.

He first found his brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Ce'phas" (which is translated Peter).--John 1:41-42

Re-naming him "Peter" is an important detail.  As we learn later in the story, it is Peter who denies Jesus, and then it is Peter whom Jesus redeems on a beach after the Resurrection, and it will be Peter who will stand up at the time that the Holy Spirit gets the whole group of disciples babbling in foreign tongues to proclaim who Jesus is, and why people should come to believe in his power to redeem and renew the world.   Not only will Peter get a new name, he, too, will get a new song in his mouth.

Each one of us who comes to believe and follow Christ are gifted with this new song.  Each one of us is encouraged to sing out in full voice the new song that is written on our hearts.  I believe that the more who join the chorus and sing of this love called Love have the power to drown out the false prophets of the world.   And that's a song many still need to hear.   

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Rockin' the Psalms

There are many advantages to being involved in the Education for Ministry program as a co-mentor. First of all, you get to keep going with your group, listening and learning, and delighting in seeing minds open and expand as folks come to really own their participation in life and liturgy of their church and how their faith can inform and shape their actions and opinions.   And there is the bonus that you are on a listserve with hundreds of other people that are leading seminar groups across the country.

OK, sometimes that is not a bonus.  Sometimes that can be a pain in the neck because your inbox gets flooded with a gazillion emails on a topic that may not have been of any interest.  This year, most of what has been all a-buzz is the new curriculum, and the approach Sewanee is taking to presenting the material.  One big difference with the First Year approach is that rather than reading a book (or two) of the Bible while also reading the material from Sewanee which offers interpretation of the Scripture.  In the end, that's a lot of reading!  This year, those in the beginning of the program read the Scripture one week, and then read the chapter from the textbook which offers an interpretation of what they've read.  For me, that's a lot easier.  The other thing that's different is that they've changed when we'll read certain passages.  And--thanks be to God!--that means we get the Psalms now, in the middle of the program, rather than as a toss away at the end of the year.

I love the Psalms.  They are raw emotion, exuberant joy, fall-on-your-face praise of the holy.  They are laments, songs, and shouts of "Hallelujah!"   And they are the one book that comes the closest to speaking to my heart consistently every time I encounter it, which is daily with the daily office.  I love leading people in reading the psalms when we read it responsively, either by the half-verse or the whole verse.  I had such an experience last week on Wednesday when we were reading Psalm 118, responsively at the asterisk:

1Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; *
    his mercy endures for ever.
2Let Israel now proclaim, *
   "His mercy endures for ever."

3Let the house of Aaron now proclaim, *
   "His mercy endures for ever."
4Let those who fear the LORD now proclaim, *
   "His mercy endures for ever."
5I called to the LORD in my distress; *
    the LORD answered by setting me free.
6The LORD is at my side, therefore I will not fear; *
    what can anyone do to me?
7The LORD is at my side to help me; *
    I will triumph over those who hate me.
8It is better to rely on the LORD *
    than to put any trust in flesh.
9It is better to rely on the LORD *
    than to put any trust in rulers.

I was having a blast leading this!  Even though we were reciting it, I could hear the musicality in this song of reassurance and where to place our trust.  Not in those man-made "things" but in the eternal things that cannot be so easily seen: the unseen and mysterious nature of God.  Because, with God, in God, and through God, we are given the tools necessary for us to survive even in the times when we are being put to the test.

I was a little surprised to read on the listserve that there were actually people out there who don't like the psalms.  I was also scratching my head when some mentors said that they would have preferred if there was an academic presentation of the psalms first before people read them.  But, really: do you need to have an academic review of this highly-evocative material in order to "get it"?  Yes, I suppose one might want to learn some of the "facts" behind the psalms: 119 is the longest, David is thought to have been the primary author.  But when I think that as Jesus was left to die in a painful and brutal manner, he reportedly recited the beginning lines of Psalm 22: "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?" I have to think that this is one book in the Bible that really doesn't require a PhD interpretation as much as it requires a willingness to open to an experience of God that runs the emotional gamut.  For some, clearly, this is a challenge.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Spiritual Friendship of St. Aelred

The Prayer of St. Aelred
Sweet Lord, sweet Lord release wisdom from the seat of your greatness that it might be with us, toil with us, work with us, speak in us; may it according to your good pleasure direct our thoughts, words, and all our works and counsels, to the honor of your Name, the profit of the community and our salvation; through our friend Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.

As I said yesterday, January 12th marks a little celebrated saint day, especially in my part of the Episcopal Church.  Today is St. Aelred of Rievaulx Day, aka the patron saint of the LGBT Episcopal group Integrity USA.  All the official sites of the church downplay Aelred's sexual orientation, but Integrity (and queer theologians) have found enough writings to show that the monastic abbot of the Cistercisan order at Rievaulx had male lovers among the monks, although the modern concept of "homosexuality" was still unknown.  

Aelred lived in the 12th century.   He served for a time in the court of King David of Scotland as a page.  He became the first abbot of the Cistercisan monastery at Rievaulx in 1146, when he was 37 years old.  He is mostly considered a historian, and spiritual director.  He died at age 57 reportedly of kidney disease.  During his lifetime, he left a record of sermons, and was commissioned by Bernard of Clairvaux to write "The Mirror of Charity," which delves into the life of someone in the Cistercisan monastery.  And then there is "Spiritual Friendship," which is written as a dialogue with another brother named Ivo.  This is probably Aelred's best-known work and it draws the distinction of the love a Christian extends to all with a special love that exists with those more intimate, made even more so by having a third-party, Christ, in the relationship.  He sees what he calls "true"friendship as not only necessary, but essential.

"In human life nothing holier can be desired, nothing more useful sought after, nothing is harder to find, nothing sweeter to experience, nothing more fruitful to possess than friendship. For it bears fruit both in this life and the next, showing forth all virtues in its sweetness and in its strength destroying vice. It softens the blows of adversity and moderates elation in prosperity...

Alas for anyone who is alone and has no one to lift him up when he falls. Without a friend one is indeed alone. But what joy it is, what security, what a delight to have someone to whom you dare to speak as to another self; to whom you are not afraid to admit that you have done something wrong, or shy of revealing some spiritual progress you have made; someone to whom you can entrust all the secrets of your heart and with whom you can share your plans." (from Spiritual Friendship)

Given how many LGBTQI people have been treated by the Church throughout history, having a patron saint of such deep and abiding friendship, who was also a gay abbot, suits us well.  We get a taste of his "true" friendship with a monk named Simon.  When Simon died, Aelred wrote this lament:

"He was the refuge of my spirit, the sweet solace of my griefs, whose heart of love received me when fatigued by labors, whose counsel refreshed me when plunged in sadness and grief... What more is there, then, that I can say? Was it not a foretaste of blessedness thus to love and thus to be loved?"

Naturally, there are those who want to deny Aelred's sexuality.  I'm sure it would cause the Roman Catholic Church quite a bit of consternation to think that one of their spiritual writers was gay, and it certainly would call into question the ridiculous demands of celibacy among the clergy, a practice that was NOT orignially part of the church, but came into vogue as the Church became more and more powerful, and heirs would make things messy in terms of property.  But I, for one, am delighting in the knowledge that there was a St. Aelred, and that his commitment to friendship... "true" and otherwise... sets an example for us all.  Aelred knew that there was no greater power than love as expressed by the One Love.  And so we give thanks for his life and labor, which was not in vain.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Baptized into the Wilderness

I figured I would get this entry written and up on the blog a day early, mostly because I have another entry that I want to post tomorrow to mark an unrecognized (generally) day in the lives of the saints.  Anyway, for those who might be scouring the blogs looking for insights and musings upon the baptism of Jesus, here's mine!

The Gospel lesson from Matthew gives us the story of the baptism in this way:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." --Matt 3:13-17

We have, in our traveling through time in the liturgical church calendar, completely skipped over many years of Jesus' life.  He is not an infant; he is a young man.  His parents have obviously returned from Egypt, secure in the knowledge that their child is safe from a fearful despot King Herod.  We don't know a whole lot about Jesus' child years, save for one story told in Luke's Gospel, in which Jesus the youngster has gone missing and his parents are desperately looking for him.  They eventually find their son sitting in the Temple teaching the elders.  Mary, as one might imagine, is pretty ticked off that her son decided to go off somewhere and left her frantically looking for him.  And Jesus answers his mother by saying he was where he was supposed to be doing what he was supposed to do.  In today's vernacular he might toss in a "Chillax!"  And, just as at the time of his birth, Mary listens to her son's words and ponders them in her heart.  Moms very often have an inkling when something is up with their children.

So, that's what we know of Jesus the teen from Scripture.  Now here he is getting baptized in the full immersion experience.  And, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 

I see this as the critical moment in which Jesus is opened further to know what his path and his destiny must be.  I'm not saying he isn't God, but when "The Word became flesh" the Word became a human being with all the limitations and the ability to bleed in the same way as everybody else.  If the Word had been the Word as it was without the human baggage, well, it seems to me that would have blown apart the whole mission of redemption.  And so, Jesus emerges from the water...

Water, in psychological terms, is associated with emotions.  In the practice of the energy-based Polarity, a "water session" involves having a client lie in a prone position while working with their legs and their sacrum up to their shoulders.  The times when I have used this session are when a client expresses or demonstrates some kind of blockage in their emotions.  Either they are overwrought with emotion, or maybe they can't seem to express themselves.  The theory is that this work, by contacting certain points and moving their legs, connecting the lower part of their body to the upper part, can bring balance.  So that Jesus comes up out of the river Jordan, a body of water that has had emotional connections in the life of the Hebrew people and cleansed them of sin, and then has "the heavens opened to him", to me, reads as an opening of Jesus' consciousness, and God, through the Spirit descending as a dove, is revealing new wisdom and new understanding.  God punctuates the moment with the exclamation point:

"This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."

That's a good thing for Jesus.  Because what is about to come next is a time of trial, a sense of being alone, and a period of great difficulty.  Next in the story will be the time in the wilderness, forty days,  which means "a long time" when talking about the Bible.  It will be in this period that the man who had just been immersed in the watery emotions of the Jordan River, and granted new insights in a bright beaming light with a dove descending upon him, will face the perils of what it means to be a person with wisdom.  Fools can go blithely along in life, bumping into walls and stumbling in the dark.  But to the one who has been given much, in this case wisdom, will face the test of using what he has to benefit himself alone, or understand that his mission is humankind's redemption.  Now that he's been baptized and called "My Son, the Beloved,"  will he claim nations for himself to enrich his own ego?  Will he live like he is invincible and throwing himself from the Temple to let the angels catch him?  Why not make a meal for himself out there in the desert out of the rocks?  In other words, being a beloved baptized son doesn't give him a pass on being tempted to be a selfish jerk.

The same applies to us.  We don't need to have doves descending, or bright beaming lights at our own baptisms to be called Beloved Sons and Daughters of God.  Even if those words weren't heard in our human baby (or older) ears, they are the true words that God speaks of each one of us.  Once brought into the fold, and into the church, we are now part of Christ, including all the difficulties and trials and temptations Christ faced.   This is why I call Christ, "My brother."  Like an older brother, who has been through every imaginable good and bad thing, Christ's life as told back to us by the evangelists is like sitting on the steps of my childhood home in New Hampshire, and having my brother share, "Here's how you deal with the bullies."  Christ's constant invite to us is to look at his life, listen to his words, and know that he has walked through fires like ours, and not allowed those fires to consume him.  Because he, just like us, have been first bathed in the waters of baptism.  People and institutions may attempt to grind us down, but nothing will rob us of our true selves as "beloved children of God." 

And that alone I think is reason enough to say, "Thanks be to God!"

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Late Epiphany

O God, who by the leading of a star manifested your only Son to the Peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

I know: Epiphany was on Monday the 6th.  And I had had the best of intentions to get something posted on that day, but I just couldn't muster up the power to write anything.  I couldn't understand why that was: what was bugging me, and getting in my way?  

Then I remembered: this was an anniversary.  A 30th anniversary at that.  It was January 6, 1984, that I almost walked out the door of my Religion E class at Governor Dummer Academy to release myself into the bleakest recesses of my mind to take my own life.  I did not walk out the door.  I could not walk out the door.  Because in that darkest moment, my body's inability to move, almost an enforced paralysis,  was the thing that saved me.  That, and the divine intervention in the form of my teacher and advisor, the school chaplain.  She had made me promise that if I ever thought I was going to commit suicide, I needed to talk to her first.  And I did.  And I am here, thirty years later, to say, "Thanks be to God."

As I reflected on this moment from past, I realized that there is something appropriate and real that my darkest hour was met with just enough light to see me through.  That light guided me out from a place of death, self-destruction, and succumbing to every negative thing that was in my head and brought me to a place where I could accept help, and heal, and eventually come into a right relationship with myself and with God.  Mind you, this wasn't some miraculous cure that happened in a day or even a month.  That moment was the start of a long journey of recovery of who I am with the Great I Am.  My dad's death in October, 2007, was another unveiling and revelation of God and God's presence and desire for me to live.  It's almost as if at times of darkness and despair, this is when God provides the rising star to reveal the Christ to us.  And each time it happens, the knowing of this Christ, this light, goes a little deeper into our hearts to power up the light that is within ourselves.  The more we absorb that light and let it join with our own, the brighter we can become for others who are in their own darkness and Hell.

I offer this reflection to anyone out there who is a victim of bullying from others or under mental assault from believing the voices in our heads that deny the essence of our goodness.  I have been in that dark place.  But somehow I kept my eyes open to perceive the light that was coming to guide me out.  Keep looking for that light, and trust in it when it comes.  The road out of those places will be rough, but the star will lead you if you'll follow.  

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Dream A Little Dream

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him."--Matt 2:13

Aren't we lucky that Joseph was a dreamer?!  I talked about this episode with Herod and the slaughtering of the youngest children in Bethlehem.  So, it's lucky that our holy family made a quick get-away, and the wise men, who also received warnings in dreams, headed home along a different route, and Joseph later learned through another dream that, when he brought the family home, he was to head to Nazareth in Galilee and set up his carpentry business there.  This is how we can arrive at the question, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" which always makes me think that Nazareth must have been the equivalent of Newark, for those of you from the Northeast... or maybe Orange, for those of you from the Texas Gulf Coast.

Another famous Joseph, the one in the book of Genesis with the fancy coat, was also a dreamer.  That Joseph was carried off as a slave to Egypt; this Joseph was also going to the foreign land as a slave to God's directions.  And so, it seems to me, that even though God supposedly drowned the Egyptians and their chariots and chariot drivers in the Book of Exodus, Egypt, nonetheless, holds a special place in the story of Christianity as a safe harbor for those fleeing oppression.  Maybe God, in the way God does things, is using this as a moment to right the past wrongs of Pharoah and the Egyptians?   Could be.  We'll see if that catches fire with any theologians out there.

Dreams are wonderful ways for us to experience communication from the Source of all life.   At long last, our egos are put to bed, and we are submerged into a non-linear time/space continuum where communication can happen in strange and mysterious ways.   Sometimes, this is the place where we are able to untangle whatever gordion knot-like problems have plagued us during our waking hours.  At other times, our dreams might be helping to point us toward things that need attention in our lives or show us a direction that we should take.

I don't always remember my dreams.  And the ones I do remember are often very odd.  But there is one that I had many years ago in which I the scene was my family's home in New Hampshire.  The landscape was glowing in a reddish hue and had almost a feel of anarchy and dystopia.  I had a sense that everything had fallen apart for my family, and there was nothing, absolutely nothing, I could do.  Over the horizon, a large figure rose up over the trees and taunted me with a "Where is your God now?"  

I think that is one of those questions that touches on a deep fear that I have and probably many people do, too: the fear of abandonment and being totally alone.  Whether you believe in God or not, that sense that there is no one and nothing that is there to catch when you fall is truly scary.  That's what, for me at least, is at the heart of that taunt.  In the dream, what I recall feeling was a very strong sense of being totally alone and no matter which direction I looked in, there was no one who was coming to my aid.  I was powerless and defenseless against this looming figure who seemed to take pleasure and feed off the fear that was rising up inside me.  That's when another voice came to my rescue.  That disembodied voice directed me to this circle of light and told me to go to it and stand in the center.  I followed the instructions.  The laughing, looming figure dissolved, and my own uneasiness melted away.   

The experience of standing in the light is something that has stayed with me long since I woke up from that dream.  It is the thing that's been on my mind this last day of Christmas.  I have spent enough of this lifetime listening to the voices of tempters, destroyers, and robbers of joy.  I have allowed doubts to override me and make me cower.  Now it's time, more than time, for me to simply go to the light and stand in that center.  I think this is good advice for all of us.  I think it's what the wise men were understanding when they went after that star that rested over a certain place in Bethlehem.  

On this night, I hope everyone dreams a dream of more light in their lives.  Merry Christmas!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Bread for the Journey

There is a book that sits on a table in our bedroom waiting for me to read it.  It's the spiritual memoir of Sara Miles called, "Take This Bread."  It's the story of how this atheist, left-leaning former journalist, lesbian stumbled into a church one day, received the Eucharist, and underwent a radical transformation that led to a journey of feeding all kinds of people and not in a one-time, "Here's a sandwich" sort of way, but a constant feeding of the multitudes of those who are going hungry in this country of plenty.

I thought of this book as I read through today's daily office readings for the morning on this, the ninth day of Christmas.  We have moved beyond the major saintly feast days, and since I don't do the "Saint of the Day" readings for the many minor saints, martyrs and prophets as assigned through Holy Women/Holy Men, I had the chance to read and reflect on the story of Elijah on the run from Jezebel and being directed by an angel to eat cake baked on hot stones and John's account of Jesus' miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.  And as I read these two passages, I was reminded that Miles' book awaits me for whenever I am done reading the multiple books assigned for the Education for Ministry program.  I look forward to it.  Mostly because Miles' introduction to a new life driven by Christianity begins with the bread of the Eucharist, which we believe is the embodiment of Christ.  It was taking in this bread that led to her change of heart.  And that is the theme that I see in both readings from this morning.  

Naturally, the cake Elijah consumed was not identified as Christ.  But I am mostly interested in that the cake baked on stones comes when Elijah, feeling scared and alone in the wilderness, lies down under a broom tree begging for God to just kill him and get it over with.  Instead, he gets roused by an angel who instructs him to eat the cake and drink the water that is there.  He does so once, and then laid down again.  No, no--this won't do.  So, the angel, again, wakes him up and tells him to eat again--"Get up and eat otherwise the journey will be too much for you." (1 Kings 19:7).  That's the phrase that stood out for me as I read through this and continued on to the selected passage from John, where five thousand feasted upon the bread and fish provided on a grassy plain.  I thought about the people who were fed to their heart's content, so that they can journey on.  I think this is the lesson to be pulled from these two readings: if we are to survive the journey, and not have it overwhelm us, we have to be fed.  This nourishment comes through the bread and wine of Eucharist; it becomes extended to others in our willingness to take our full selves to meet others who need to be fed.  Sometimes, this is a literal distribution of food to those who need it.  Sometimes, this is the willingness to enter into the place where somebody is in their suffering and pain and be present to that.  Sometimes, it is the ability to put our own suffering and pain on hold to share in the joy and celebration of another.  Always, this should be the out growth of having received the body and blood which is the symbolism of life, light, and Love.

For this Ninth Day of Christmas, I want to commit myself to living as one who is fed, both literally in this land of plenty, and spiritually as one who is striving to keep on a path with God.  I know that, for me, I must partake in the Eucharist as this is the food that supplies the energy to my cells so that I can continue to offer what gifts I have to others.  It is the bread for this journey called Life.  And it helps me to remain alive to the world around me.  

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year and Holy Name!

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. --Luke 2:21

Circumcision doesn't get a whole lot of play in Christian tradition, especially since our understanding is that one does not need to cut a baby boy in order to show an allegiance to God and God's people.  Circumcision is in the heart.  At least that's what St. Paul told us as he was bringing Christ to the Gentiles who are part of our heritage.

But also part of this ritual is the naming of the child; hence why we call it the Feast of the Holy Name.  And it was at this time that Mary and Joseph, following their divine instructions, name the child, "Jesus."   Naming is a powerful act in the course of events in the Bible.  Naming things, and claiming a name on things in our own lives, is a way of asserting some kinship with whatever it is that we are naming.  We can also cast off the names that have been given to us that don't fit or accurately describe who we are.  On this Feast of the Holy Name, the eighth day of Christmas, we can perhaps choose a new name to fit with the new life emerging from us at this season of good tidings and joy.

As I enter into 2014, I hope that I will gain confidence and courage in being willing to name myself as a person on a journey with God. It takes guts to do that.  It isn't so much that I fear people rejecting me for being a Christian; I am more worried that some of the noisy gongs that have clanged out messages of hate in the name of Christ have upped the ante on what it takes for those of us aren't one of "them" to present ourselves in a way that won't offend just by identifying ourselves as affiliated with Christ.   I am not going to plead persecution.  I will plead misunderstanding.   

And that's part of my on-going mission: to be a presence that isn't the nasty bastard Christian, but the more loving, steady presence of Love.  Maybe that should be the name I adopt in 2014.  Steady Presence of Love.