Friday, December 26, 2008

beatified...

Detail from a painting by Simone Martini

If my tongue cannot tell You at every moment that I love You,
At least may my heart repeat it with every breath I take.


Her mother found the blood upon her sheets that morning, crossed herself to mark what she thought was a daughter's normal passage, while Marie slipped out the door to school to avoid her family's questioning eyes, a father who would surely shout his daughter's coming of age and his plans to betroth her to a prosperous young man of the town. What she needed to accomplish was easily done in an alley, with only God to watch her. Cradling her hands, she wondered only how she would now hold the pen, carefully copy the psalms. She had given herself to him and the means of entry and egress -- his spirit wracking her thin body -- now leaked from palm and foot, seeped a slow river from her side. But then, why copy the psalms at all when the new singing inside her created more potent music, waiting only to be annotated and sung? At home that night, Marie dressed for sleep, carefully unwrapping the layers of gauze to kiss the marks of his claim, then lay herself down like an offering to await his return, singing a song the pope himself would call a blasphemy in centuries to come, the willfulness of a child who took a knife to her own flesh in order to better avoid becoming a temporal bride.
--author unknown

Friday, August 15, 2008

stigmata: i pray, ergo sum...


I sometimes say within myself that there are really only two things that draw and distract me from continual prayer - one, when all is exhilaratingly well. The other, when all is desperately unwell. The first can buoy up false hopes that life is 'fine...just fine', thereby missing the opportunity for real-time redemptive reach. And the other may present as an insurmountable pit of self - leading to, one presumes, some self pity, or at least a singular focus on the self, thereby missing the crux of that same reach.

I always thought the wounded healer was a balanced combination of each - or, perhaps, 'above all that'. But this is not my experience. It is frequently first and foremost a very dark place...a black hole journey, blinded by muddy darkness and seemingly insurmountable despair. And there is nothing fine about that. It is to be resisted, even in its chilling familiarity. And finally, gradually, embraced as strangely welcome.

So, to this place, I first come unwillingly. Slipping, imperceptibly but surely; skidding, reluctantly; landing - painfully. Efforts to dig out might be compared to ineffectual scraping rock with bare and, thus, bleeding hands.

Why shouldn't the dark night of the soul rupture? Why shouldn't black muteness be cleaved in two, speaking in gushes of redemptive blood? Pleading eyes - facing inward - turn out in redemptive empathy with the world's broken...tingling palms break open, leaving imprints on everything in their path?

And why not, in Christological inspiration, carried out in eyes of faith, a clean cut of a cross at the heart of my open palms, becoming a stamp of grace as those hands clasps others, on and on, with a never ending supply of sacrificial ink to go around. Perhaps smudging a crimson cross on a forehead like burning ashes... or carving one into burdened flesh. Whatever is the degree of pain, that is to be literally marked, covered - not with the coveted clean white bandages of humanity, but the messy ones from His side.

The surprise gift in all this? That, finally, as part of the process, the cosmos screams for an anointing of the self -- whatever is begging, aching...eyes, forehead, palms: all feel the pressure of the phenomenon of Grace bending back on itself.

No matter how many times it has happened, it's still an epiphany of suffering and grace and participation in such. So why, then, should I not look for it - welcome it, even deliberately seek it. And why should I hope for any escaping of my own oppressive pain, imperfection and frailty when I can participate in and through that into something that reaches so much farther out...with carved palms looking for their true home in others'...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

i pray, ergo sum...

Coming soon to a blog near you.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

touching the hem...

This past Lent, I spent time living into an image from the New Testament, taking the place of the woman who, in the press of the crowd, found her ultimate connection/relationship by merely touching the hem of Jesus' garment.

As with other mystical and prayerful images for me, it found its inspiration in - and emanated from - walking the Stations of the Cross each Friday. Traversing that path must, for me, involve the present as much as the past - a divine coexistence between the two. Here is where I am nearly 'slain' by gratitude for the liturgical tradition I am part of: time and space are bound only by lack of imagination.

So, it happened one Friday evening that Jesus walked down the center aisle of St. John's. Images of blood are strong for me, and were present there, but I will not yet go into that - not now, not at this point. I believe that each individual's mystical path is a unique revelation (having tried and tried for years to copy others' practice, I gave up...and found myself waiting for me in God's open hand). So...for me, that night, spiritual gravity pulled not my hand or fingertips, but my forehead all the way to the spot where a holy but dusty garment brushed the blood red carpet.

Again, speaking to/from the liturgical, mystical tradition, all senses are invited to the event. So...my forehead felt the gravitational weight of my prostrate head as a unique and focussed ache. Seemingly, mere fingertips were not enough. Eyes, pregnant with tears, could not bear the light-ness of the moment...and themselves bowed shut.

This was a place that I would continue to go to during Lent, and still do. Each time, the image is a call to drop everything - yes, even my very self. The collapse is reminiscent of a child's toy -- the jointed figure, laced together by string, that loses all tension at the touch of the button under its tiny platform - only to be raised up, refreshed, when it is released.

This is a good place. A place of nourishment...of communion. And through that, an electrical current of pure Love does more than reach out from the past or reflect back from the present: It is both...and more...all at once...as it passes between us.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

hedged in by a wall of cecil bruner roses: a post from 'the other side'

Fr. Carioca is trying his best to save the whole of the Anglican communion. Personally, I think he could do it. His intellect and heart, both huge, are in the right place. He eagerly debates, encourages, interacts. And though he occupies a place in the whole continuum that is definitely to the right of center, he can listen to the opposite point of view so thoroughly that he can paraphrase the heart of it back to them, accurately. His ideal world would include a communion of much more than just a bunch of folks who easily agree.

It would be a giant understatement to say I process things differently from him. At the time of our General Convention last June, with some very weighty things going on there (and Fr. C right in the middle of it, being one facet of a cross-section on an important committee), I wrote a spontaneous (note: don't try this at home when you've had a bit too much sake) e-letter to him, posted on our diocesan blog, using our dining room as an imaginary point of Episco/Anglican reconciliation. 'Let the community come to the table.' With a current crisis now threatening, I set out on a different journey.

As I walk through our neighborhood, I'm keenly aware of its grand past, its reconstructing present, and a future of probables and possibles. Formerly one of the finest areas of town, time and the natural propensity of life to eventually level things out caused it to decline. Yet, it has evolved into something perhaps greater than what it was at its inception. Originally mono-chromatic in all respects, it is now mixed in every way possible: economically, racially; types of dwellings, nearly mansions and far-reaching apartments; residents as renters, owners, rich, poor. The hospital I was born in is two blocks away – big, still a respectful part of the surrounding community. Our house is a few feet away from the shadow of the Roman Catholic cathedral – glorious, yet not pompous, a stable, beautifying presence for us. As I walk Lucy each morning, parishioners arrive for the first mass of the diocese. It feels good.

Yet, our neighborhood is not immune from expressions of unhappiness from our city's troubled youth. Along with other ‘unthinkables’ in its illustrious past: graffiti. It isn't rampant in our area; but when such self-expression is carried out, something new is usually the target. Across the street from the cathedral, newcomers to the neighborhood put up a lovely fence of beautiful, natural finished wood. It was quickly tagged. The fence was then painted. Tagged, again. Areas with the offending scrawls were covered with splotchy paint, a painful testimony to an act borne of human alienation. There it sat, seemingly defeated. Yet, over time, a unique countering strategy unfolded. Slowly, in the flower bed bordering the fence, roses were planted. Later, nails and string combined to form a twisted support, graffiti still part of the effect. Climbing roses have now reached the top of the fence, and some are quite full. There will soon be no room for 'new art'.

A few days ago, I detoured from my usual morning walking route to get a closer look at the area: Wow –bountiful bushes of climbing Cecil Bruner roses are about to burst into bloom!! My heart leaped: 50 years ago, when my parents built a house on a humble country road north of here that (ironically - the context of this post) became one of the best streets in this town, our Cecil Bruner bushes were my secret garden. Their miniature beauty, symbol of sweetness, youth and happiness, captured my heart and imagination. Time was spent surrounded by legions of small, delicate, pink buds, which were cut and carefully woven into our braids or 'buns'. Now, my adult heart was bursting with remembrances of wonder and grace, immediately extended back to this moment in time.

Standing there, on that corner, my heart pictured another community gathered – this time, not by a polite dinner invitation extended, but rather by a forced corralling of all in a certain world-wide Communion. Closed in and encircled by a wall of Cecil Bruner roses, past, present and future would work their primal magic, bonding together until hearts are bound by strands of roses in sweet grace.

Through human hands, climbing roses cannot make a hedge or a wall. But in God's hands, they may.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

postcard from the mystical edge

Dear Fr. Dan --

For doing such a superb job of leading the BCP's festival Eucharist for Easter Day, I want to thank you deeply and sincerely. On one level, you may have only done your duty as a priest; but on another and deeper level, I could tell you led the Holy Eucharist on Easter from the heart, enthusiastically and in a profoundly devout way, no doubt stemming from your individual trust or faith in our risen and living Lord, Messiah Yeshua, our Great Redeemer, Christus Rex, the Incarnate Word. May our sweet Lord continue to bless your holy priesthood, and please tell Brenda her organ music and the choir literally moved me to tears -- I unashamedly wept for joy!

- Grant

(a postcard from an angel truck driver who stopped in on Easter Day. Just think what he would have written if he had come to the Easter Vigil!...though I don't what the postage is for missals from a beatific state...)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Fr. John-Julian on The Mystical Christ

What has been eroding the Church for the last two generations has been the denial of its central and primal mystical dimensions. We keep seeing Jesus as some historical personage, delimited by time and space. We keep seeing “church” as institutional. We keep seeing the Word as a collection of black scribbles on a page. We keep seeing the core of our ecclesial nature as either canonical or biblical or organizational. We keep refusing the ineffable, immeasurable, and unimaginable dimensions of our Christ, and the universal utter Presence of the Holy Spirit.

Why are young people these days talking about wanting “spirituality” without “religion”? Because religion has been shrunken and withered into law, measurement, emotion, and/or overt certainty about those things we cannot even vaguely comprehend. Why do people turn to New Age religion? Because it recognizes the mystical dimension, albeit in a sad, weak, and occult way.

Meister Eckhardt, Dame Julian, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and dozens of other Christian mystics through the centuries all speak of the “divine” in each human being – something of the Creator God, some image of Divinity, implanted or inherent in our very creation. And that is not dependent upon any specific creeds or canons. The Creator Christ dwells no less in the Muslim or the Jew than in the Christian. We are each a “mini-incarnation”. When the Muslim bows down in his five daily prayers, it is Christ bowing down. When the Jew lights the candles for her Sabbath meal, it is Christ who brings light to that table. When the Buddhist seeks for union with the Eternal, it is the Christ who is both seeking and sought.

John’s plain and unadorned theological statement that “God is love” was extended in our antiphon for the Maundy: “Ubi amor, ibi deus” “Where love is, there is God!” And we can say with the same certainty: “Where love is, there is Jesus Christ.” That same Jesus Christ died not for some, but for all, and he has brought the potential for the fullness of salvation to every human soul – even those who because of some accidental historical or sociological or prejudicial circumstance don’t happen to call him “Jesus” as we do. He is the Way – that is, any human way to God is Christ. He is the Truth – that is, every truth is Christ. He is the Life – that is, every life is Christ. There is no way to the Father except through the Christ, so all ways to the Father are also Christ, even when that is not overtly stated.

The difference is that the Christian sees all this more clearly, understands it more deeply (though no less incomprehensibly), calls him by his name, and worships accordingly. And the Christian is joyously eager to share that insight, that comprehension, and that worship – not as triumphantly righteous or rigidly exclusive or narrowly judgmental, but as eagerly generous and utterly unselfish, so glad that the joy can be shared lovingly (as is the very nature of all true joy and love). Our evangelism cannot be “You are wrong, and we are right” but, your “unknown God”, your Allah, your Yahweh, your Manitou, is also the generous Father whose Son sacrificially cancelled all ideas of divine wrath or judgment.

None of this “demotes” Jesus Christ in any way, nor dismisses him as merely-one-among-many, nor by-passes the Atonement. What it does is to recognize Christ’s infinite ubiquity, his universal mystical incidence, his unlimited enfolding presence, and our own weak inadequacy in comprehending the spiritually immeasurable vastness that is the true Jesus Christ.

And if this is true between religious traditions, it is thrice true within the Mystical Body that is Jesus Christ. Whatever words you may use, you, oh eye, simply cannot cancel me who am a foot. You may curse me or despise me or refuse me a place at table, but you cannot evade the fact that whether you like it or not, we are and will always be one – inside the mystical Christ. And since we are one, you simply cannot live the Christ life without me, no matter how much you may wish it. The Blood of Christ flows out copiously and floods and drowns and washes all of us, forgiving all our sins, enfolding all of us in divine grace. And we are already one, just as the Christ and the Father are one. And may whatever bogus falsehood gives the lie to that cosmic truth shrivel and die.

And so may we go out and allow the Christ in us to serve the Christ in every one of those others who differ from us, who suffer, and who stand in want.

John-Julian, OJN