Holy Week Is Not Ho-hum!

 

Raccoon hiding in tree

Raccoon hiding in tree

[I chose this photograph because, unlike this raccoon I scared, we Christians cannot hide in trees.]

Death is in the air these days. Two hundred and forty eight passengers and crew on a Malaysian Airline flight are missing and their relatives and friends grieve while they do not know the final outcome. Twenty people are stabbed in a horrendous attack at a high school in Murraysville, PA. That same day a motorist rams another car which crashes into a day care center leaving one four-year-old dead and injuring others. A FedEx truck in California crosses the media and hits a bus loaded with prospective college students and their chaperons. Ten were killed and many others injured. We mourn these untimely deaths. We grieve with those who grieve and ask, “Why?”

This week we ponder another death which probably would have gone unnoticed by the media, if there were any media at the time. We ask, “Why?”  Continue reading

Abiding in our Pain

IMG_8918_tonemapped

Merton’s Dawn Greeter awakening us to new life!

Wandering in the desert of life far away from the fleshpots of Egyptian slavery, the people grumble against God. You brought us out for this? Their faith and perseverance had worn thin. Like them, when we are confronted with adversity, when things do not go our way, we grumble against God. With Alfie, we ask, “What’s it all about.” “Why?” “Why me?” “Why us?” “Heal me NOW!” “Heal us NOW!” Then from the dark pits of frustration, the seraph serpents coil, strike and bite us. From the depths of the abyss, we cry out, “Save me, Lord.” “Deliver me from this!” We want immediate relief from what is making our life less than good. Richard Rohr reminds us not to seek immediate relief. Only if we abide in the darkness of the abyss, will we come to new life. Like Lazarus, Jesus is calling us forth to new life but Lazarus had to die before he could come to new life. Lazarus had to hold the darkness of the sealed tomb for three days. Rohr writes: Continue reading

Lazarus, Bill and Mary, come forth!

 

Sunrise over Indian River Lagoon, FL

Sunrise over Indian River Lagoon, FL

Today’s Gospel is about friendship and belief. The story, not to be taken literally, focuses on Lazarus. Here, in John, Lazarus is the brother of Martha and Mary of Bethany. Martha, Mary and Lazarus were friends of Jesus.

We probably first hear the story of Lazarus in Sunday school. One young student, hearing the story, asked the teacher, “Why does it not tell the names of the others people who were raised from the dead.” The teacher replied, “It was only Lazarus. Why do you think there were more?” The student replied, “It says Lazarus came forth.”

Bethany is close to Jerusalem, the final stage of Jesus’ earthly journey. To the east of Jerusalem is a hill commonly referred to as the Mount of Olives. There is a 3,000 year old olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus drew apart to pray on the night before his crucifixion. Continue reading

Ask the Beasts

 

The owlet has left the nest

The owlet has left the nest

IMG_7199_DxOElizabeth Johnson’s new book, Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love, is a beautifully written tome. The title is taken from the Book of Job-ask the beasts, they will tell you everything you need to know about God. Johnson examines Darwin’s Origin of the Species in detail. This gave me a whole new perspective on Darwin’s great contribution to the scientific world. I had some new learnings. Darwin’s theory has been and still is being misapplied as social Darwinism—some are less worthy than others. [Unfortunately, our current governmental budgetary practices reflect social Darwinsim in the raw!] Darwin’s theory goes far beyond survival of the fittest. Darwin brings out the communitarian, integrated aspect of natural selection. Darwin’s main focus was to show that creation was ongoing and plastic as opposed to a series of divine interventions from on high. Johnson summarizes the flux of evolving life as “extraordinary fecundity and perpetual perishing.” (212) Here I am reminded of Merton’s wonderful opening in his poem “Hagia Sophia”: Continue reading

Woman at the Well and Spiritual Thirst

Water, water, everywhere,

 
 And all the boards did shrink;  
 Water, water, everywhere,  
 Nor any drop to drink.

 

Seven Sisters Waterfall, Grenada

Seven Sisters Waterfall, Grenada

These may be the only lines I remember from high school literature. I was not into poetry then; however, today’s lessons are all about water. Cruising the Caribbean I understood why water is so important. In the midst of the Caribbean, there are desert islands. Water everywhere but not a drop to drink unless you desalinate it.

The ancient philosophers considered water to be one of the four basic elements of the cosmos—earth, air, fire and water. Water has real and symbolic properties. Water can quench your thirst and water can drown you. Water can bring life to crops and water can destroy crops. Continue reading

Choose Life

_1020509Today’s liturgical readings start on a positive challenge—we have choices. The choice is dramatic—choose life or death. God created the cosmos and us because God is love and God has to share love. Because God is love, God also gave us freedom—the capacity to respond to God or to not respond to God.

Before we go any further, I need to lay some ground work regarding our concept of God who is beyond all concepts. Our Jewish forbears in the faith couched their faith in their beliefs about the world. To them the earth and seas were covered by a vaulted doom which held back the waters. The stars and moon and sun were affixed to the dome. God who is above all dwelled above the dome and occasionally came down to rescue people. Continue reading

Justice–Fundamental Fairness

_MG_6636sBefore we discuss today’s scriptures, I want to relate a brief story which illustrates why we should not always take things literally. A women member of our church returned home late Saturday night and encountered a man burglarizing her home. As he reached for his gun, she shouted, “Stop! Acts 2:38.” As the man continued to reach, she again shouted, “Stop! Acts 2:38.” The man dropped the gun and the police, responding to the alarm, handcuffed him. The policeman asked the burglar, “Why did you drop your gun? She was only quoting a scripture verse?” “Oh, I thought she was saying she had an ax and two 38s! In reading and reflecting on scripture, we often have to go beyond the literal and look for the meaning. Continue reading

The Our Father–Jesus and Buddha

Seated Buddha at White

Seated Buddha at White Sands Buddhist Center

As I pray the Our Father daily in my morning devotional, I struggle with the up-there-out-there cosmology, the place theology of heaven and earth. Modern cosmology and evolution in particular cause us to wonder whether God is not always above creation but also immersed (I think the theological word is incarnate) in the unfolding cosmos. The original oxygen, hydrogen and carbon—the stardust—is of the Godhead. God is with us and in us. God dwells in our hearts, a code word for the deep, dark depths of our being which is in the very image of the Godhead. We are created in the image and likeness of God. The incarnate Christ affirmed this in the second creation—Jesus’ birth. Paul got it, “I live. Now no longer I but Christ lives within me.” Buddhists speak of bodi nature—another code word for the divine arising within the human. Christians have saints; Buddhists have bodhisattvas.

The Christ became human so that we might become divine. Is this not a call to higher consciousness? Mystics of all ages call us to awake. Recently, Pope Francis told a group of men’s religious superiors that their function and indeed the function of church is to call the world to awake. We are to awake to higher consciousness. In the story of Samuel, we find out that the Israelites (and indeed many Christians today) did not get it. They wanted a king so they could be like every other nation. God relented. Knowing that a king would enslave them to the values of this world, the people still wanted a king. Their progeny rejected a king who would have the stand apart from the things of the world—“My kin-dom is not of this world.” Our kin-dom is not of this world. We are to awake and as we awake we will realize that power, riches and security are not kin-dom stuff.

The rest of the Our Father I have constructed is self explanatory. A word about precepts. I would say that the precepts of Jesus are in the Sermon on the Mount and through the Gospels, especially in the lessons from the parables.

Sometimes these get too familiar and it serves us well to look at what is true and good in other belief systems. In my recent weekend retreat at White Sands Buddhist Center, I came to a knowledge of basic Buddhist beliefs. Buddhists take refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, and the sanga. Buddha is again self explanatory. Dharma represents the teachings of the Buddha and sanga refers to the community. They speak of the Buddha nature within us while we Christians speaks of the Christ within us. Many Christian practitioners (Johnston of Japan, Bede Griffiths of India, and Thomas Merton of America) have found that Buddhist practices enhance Christian daily living.

Karl Rahner once perceived as a stoic German theologian who wrote in long undiscernible Ciceronian sentences was indeed a mystic. He dwelled on the mysticism of everyday, routine living. We find the divine in the very ordinary (incarnation to the max). Buddha taught that suffering is the cause of all our problems. Suffering comes from craving. Once we eliminate the cravings, we find true happiness. One Buddhist described happiness as a deep sense of peace and well-being. This is the very definition of the Hebrew word shalom. We get rid of suffering by taking refuge and agreeing to following the five precepts—which in the Rahnerian sense are prescriptive for our daily practice.

The five precepts for Buddhist laypersons are:

Observance of the five precepts constitutes the minimum moral obligation of a practicing lay Buddhist. These five precepts enjoin against killing living beings, taking what is not given (or stealing), sexual misconduct, false speech, and use of intoxicating drink or drugs.

The practice of Buddhist moral precepts deeply affects one’s personal and social life. The fact that they represent a course of training which one willingly undertakes rather than a set of commandments willfully imposed by a God or supreme being is likely to have a positive bearing upon one’s conscience and awareness. On the personal level, the precepts help one to lead a moral life and to advance further on the spiritual path. Moreover, popular Buddhism believes that the practice of morality contributes to the accumulation of merits that both support one in the present life and ensure happiness and prosperity in the next. On the social level, observing the five precepts helps to promote peaceful coexistence, mutual trust, a cooperative spirit, and general peace and harmony in society. It also helps to maintain an atmosphere which is conducive to social progress and development, as we can see from the practical implications of each precept.

The first precept admonishes against the destruction of life. This is based on the principle of goodwill and respect for the right to life of all living beings. By observing this precept one learns to cultivate loving kindness and compassion. One sees others’ suffering as one’s own and endeavors to do what one can to help alleviate their problems. Personally, one cultivates love and compassion; socially, one develops an altruistic spirit for the welfare of others.

The second precept, not to take things which are not given, signifies respect for others’ rights to possess wealth and property. Observing the second precept, one refrains from earning one’s livelihood through wrongful means, such as by stealing or cheating. This precept also implies the cultivation of generosity, which on a personal level helps to free one from attachment and selfishness, and on a social level contributes to friendly cooperation in the community.

The third precept, not to indulge in sexual misconduct, includes rape, adultery, sexual promiscuity, paraphilia, and all forms of sexual aberration. This precept teaches one to respect one’s own spouse as well as those of others, and encourages the practice of self-restraint, which is of utmost importance in spiritual training. It is also interpreted by some scholars to mean the abstention from misuse of senses and includes, by extension, non-transgression on things that are dear to others, or abstention from intentionally hurting other’s feelings. For example, a young boy may practice this particular precept by refraining from intentionally damaging his sister’s dolls. If he does, he may be said to have committed a breach of morality. This precept is intended to instill in us a degree of self-restraint and a sense of social propriety, with particular emphasis on sexuality and sexual behavior.

The fourth precept, not to tell lies or resort to falsehood, is an important factor in social life and dealings. It concerns respect for truth. A respect for truth is a strong deterrent to inclinations or temptation to commit wrongful actions, while disregard for the same will only serve to encourage evil deeds. The Buddha has said: “There are few evil deeds that a liar is incapable of committing.” The practice of the fourth precept, therefore, helps to preserve one’s credibility, trustworthiness, and honor.

The last of the five Buddhist moral precepts enjoins against the use of intoxicants. On the personal level, abstention from intoxicants helps to maintain sobriety and a sense of responsibility. Socially, it helps to prevent accidents, such as car accidents, that can easily take place under the influence of intoxicating drink or drugs. Many crimes in society are committed under the influence of these harmful substances. The negative effects they have on spiritual practice are too obvious to require any explanation. (http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma2/5precepts.html) [Follow this link for a more detailed explanation]

Together with the precepts of Jesus, these Buddhist precepts help us to AWAKE! Christian centering prayer and Buddhist breathing and/or walking meditation daily help us to awake.

Thus we pray:

Our Creator and Sustainer who dwells in the dark depths of our being, your name is holy, your kin-dom is in our hearts where your will is being done in the deeds being done because you are ever calling us to higher consciousness. Give us the bread we need for this day. Forgive us as we forgive others. Do not let selfish wants distract us. Deliver us from all impediments to greater union with you by teaching us to follow the precepts which give life. For yours is the kin-dom, the power and the glory of resurrected life now and in the future. AMEN.

 

 

 

 

Dasani, Poverty and Other Messes

Rachel weeping for her children is a grim reminder of the Feast of the Holy Innocents who were children slaughtered by a mad king in a futile effort to preserve the established structures. As I was preparing to read the scriptures for the day, I visited the New York Times site and a series on homeless children caught my attention and made me want to weep for Dasani and all the homeless children victimized by our unjust social structures. Andrea Elliott’s poignant series on Dasani and homeless children sleeping with seven others in a one room shelter infested by mice and littered with mold and torn, soiled mattresses while a bucket serves as a toilet is enough to make one weep (http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/invisible-child/#/?chapt=1). Continue reading

Christmas Prayer

When the Light of the World shines in the darkness—

I will realize my own total emptiness

And make room for the Christ in the inn of my heart.

I will realize my utter nothingness

And make room for the Christ in the inn of my heart.

I will grasp my dire poverty

And make room for the Christ in the inn of my heart.

I will tumble into the deep dark abyss

And make room for the Christ in the inn of my heart.

I will realize finally that I am really not I

And make room for the Christ in the inn of my heart.

I will comprehend my absolute alienation from God

And make room for the Christ in the inn of my heart.

I will come to grips with my inner angst

And make room for the Christ in the inn of my heart.

I will know that consumerism does not fulfill

And make room for the Christ in the inn of my heart.

I will acknowledge that it is about giving and not getting

And make room for the Christ in the inn of my heart.

I will surrender to the call of infinite Love

And make room for the Christ in the inn of my heart.

Come, O come, Emmanuel,

Grace me with your indwelling Light.

Have a blessed Christmas!