“The Wilderness Will Lead you to your Heart…”

“The wilderness will lead you to your heart where I will speak.” Hosea: 3rd Advent

The first heavy snow of the season continues for the fifth day to lay its carpet on the trees and land here. Life slows as we older ones go toward the wood stove and its hot embers. Parts of the state have lost power and the shovel is under cover as we wait for the storm to pass. “The wilderness” of snow and ice, “will lead you to your heart where I will speak.” cropped-img_0908.jpg

“We are the wilderness generation,” said Herbert O’Driscoll to us thirty years ago. The task of the wilderness generation was to lose their gods and to find their God. The wilderness generation seems to be extended from one generation to the other. The task of the current wilderness generation is to find our way in the confusion of voices as they vie for our attention and trust: to lose their gods and to find their God.

Some of the old voices that are slipping away are those of racism, homophobia, sexism, ethnic hatred, and fundamentalism. The old order is rapidly dying and it has been dying for some time now. And in its death throws it amasses its voices of intolerance and fear. Each new ethnic group that arrived on these shores had to make some scapegoat worse off then they. The police who see some terrible violence done to others and in their ranks sometimes become a tool in this victimization.  We have had in place community policing for at least a generation. We know it works. Where it is used, where the police get to know the neighborhood, we see crime decline.

Now the military has sent its excess weaponry to local police districts. Even towns in Vermont have inherited Humvees, night vision goggles and heavy weapons. The old order is arming itself because it can sense it is blowing away as the society begins to understand that the boundaries that falsely seemed to keep us secure are falling away.

White people bridle at the idea that we are privileged. The evidence of how different whites are treated by the police as compared to minorities is conclusive. The numbers of Black men in our prison system in relation to the percentage of their numbers in our society is unquestionably disproportionate. Yet privileged we are.

Mary’s, Isaiah’s and John’s cry for justice for the poor and the hungry, the powerless poor as we used to call them, is focused for me by Hosea’s words: “The wilderness will lead you to your heart where I will speak.” Here in our wilderness generation we are becoming aware of the heart where the holy speaks to us. We may not call it that. It may be called intuition, a sixth sense, a lightness of being, enlightenment, or awakening and in that wilderness when the old order of the mind  slowly or suddenly flies away, we can see that those who are before us, all beings, are each one a child and creation of the divine. Each one is connected and entitled by their birth and their presence to be among the privileged children of earth, a beloved child of God. And so are we. How we care for and bless the creation by our presence is one of the tasks before us. The time when we can make all false distinctions are past and done. As Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying at the beginning of our revolution, “Either we will hang together or certainly we will hang separately.”

Change Your Mind.* Advent 2

Martin Buber in his short pamphlet, The Way of Man, related the story of the Hasidic Rabbi Zalman who died in 1813. The story resonates with John Baptist’s calls for preparedness and repentance: Repentance described here is to “Turn around” or to “Change your mind”. 

Rabbi Shmeur Zalman was the Rav (rabbi) of Northern White Russia. The rabbi was arrested and jailed by his enemies for his Hasidic teachings. He was deep in prayer in his cell, a peaceful countenance radiated from him, when the Chief of police came to his cell door and looked in. The chief was impressed by the Rabbi’s calm and holy demeanor.

The chief asked, whether it was to test him or simply out of curiosity, “How are we to understand the God, the all –knowing, said to Adam, ‘Where art thou?’”

“Do you believe,” answered the Rabbi, “that the scriptures are eternal and that every era, every generation and every (hu)man, is included in them?”

“I believe this” said the other.

“Well then,” said the Zaddik, “in every era, God calls to every man: ‘Where are you in your world?’ So many years allotted to you have passed and how far have you gotten in your world? God says something like this: ‘You have lived forty six years, how far along are you?’”

The chief heard his age mentioned, he pulled himself together, laid his hand on the rav’s shoulder and cried, “Bravo!” But his heart trembled.

John rails in the Wilderness of our present lives: Metanoia. Our English translations of the Greek translated Metanoia as Repent. It came to mean to us to feel bad about how bad we are and God’s gonna get us. Metanoia means to turn around and as Richard Rohr defines it: to change your mind.

The old Rabbi and John were on the same track. Adam’s response and often our own to God who asks us where we are is that: “I was hiding”. And what we are hiding from is the realization that as an old saw said, “God loves two things: change and a good joke.” Certainly change. Change from which we hide, especially the change of our mind. As the Rabbi asked the Chief of police, “Where are you in your world?” Somehow our resistance to change leads us nowhere. We get stuck. Our stubborn and unyielding “ego” hates change because it is involved in a protection racket. It is so involved with us versus them, right and wrong, that it resists union with our neighbor, much less tries to understand our enemy. And yet it is only with a fluidity in the midst of change that we can grow into communion, into a heart of love and into God.

There are a thousand Ferguson’s in our minds where we are the white police officer and the chief of police, afraid and with a gun. And yet we are also the parents of the Michael Brown’s and Trayvon Martin’s. These young men are indeed our own sons. If we can’t put down our guns when we are talking to our own beloved children, how are we ever able to move beyond our own security to a love of the other? Certainly the white policeman who takes the life of another is never going to be happy with shooting an unarmed human being whatever the situation. He will agonize over his actions for much of his life or he will shut down into a secure and invulnerable ego.

We understand the white policeman because he is a part of us. And don’t we want to find a way of letting the ones with the guns refuse to use them; to refuse to think of the Black youth as the enemy and to embrace him as our own son, for he is. We have formed him through four hundred years into his anger and his rejection of us. I have seen it in the eyes of black children as they rode the yellow busses into South Boston to the jeers and racial epithets of white mothers, lips pulled back over their teeth. I watched as fear turned from day to day into anger, either that or the destruction to their spirit. Anger was a survival tool.

For all of us we are asked, “Where are you in your life?” And where do you want to go? Are you willing to move toward the kind of heart rending communion that is needed for the health of the mind and body and the spirit, or are you going to close down, harden yourself, and become stuck? Are you willing to embrace change, or will you, Adam, continue to hide from the God who loves you as a parent loves ones own child?

Blessings on all beings:

  • I recommend Richard Rohr’s chapter “Change you mind” in the Naked Now as you prepare for Sunday. Hope you can find a copy.









“I am waiting for a Rebirth of Wonder.”*

On Wednesdayphoto (34) I sit in the Hospice in Vermont. “Wait and watch,” I read from Mark’s Gospel for the First Sunday in Advent.” I’m doing that,” I think to myself.   Within are friends who are near death. I wait and watch.

On Thursday: I am with our granddaughter. She is seven months and full of wonder. Her excitement expressed with squeals of joy. “Wait and Watch” I read.  I watch and wait for her to show me the new unveiling that has come to her. She chatters on, tries sounds. She speaks a magical language as she brings form and connection to the sounds that may, no will, I trust, become words. I throw a few Spanish. Italian, Russian, German, Czech words into the mix. She entices my sense of mischief and adventure. I watch and wait for the new creation who has come to grace our lives, a new and glorious re- Incarnation as one of the beat poets reminded me years ago . In fact as with Ferlinghetti,  “I am waiting for a rebirth of wonder.” She is our teacher on the way to a second and even better childhood. We can appreciate it now, maybe we can wait and watch for the signs when she may become so full of knowledge that she will need a reminder to keep wonder, to live in awe of the creation as much as possible, to bless each day and each moment for the wisdom it brings.

On Wednesday I watch and wait as my friends die: My friends are both healers: One is a peacemaker and has worked throughout the world to bring her skills into some of the worlds most stubborn conflicts. She is dearly loved by many. A newcomer to her circle, she still in the weeks or months left, invites me in. I inwardly bow before her. She has met and talked with the Dalai Lama. Born a Jew she is now a Buddhist, and yet she has room for this Christian who prays for her in the words and through the image of Jesus. I feel deeply honored and humbled to be in such a presence.  She waits eager and weary for the divine. She is held already in the arms of God, friends come and pray in the words of Buddhism, Judaism and my silent Christian prayers, a psalm: “Where can I go from the hand of God?”

My other friend, a healer who has devoted his life to the study and nurture of remedies based in plants, lives with both gratitude and resentment that his life is being cut too short. He struggles with any faith that requires an almost total loss of control. And yet he has given so much to the world, he is surrounded by the accumulation of thousands of souls and bodies he has freed from suffering. Richard Rohr’s simple definition of suffering is not being in control.  Somehow his wait and watch works its way through the cancer that takes claim of his body, he will suffer much and my prayer is that he will fall into the arms of the holy. I suspect his Holy One is the good earth he has tended with such brilliant care these many years. We will all fall into the sweet arms of the ground.

Where can I go from the love of God? The question to me is nowhere and everywhere. It depends on my availability. I sit and read the lessons for this Sunday to come. I am at once far away and near. My own brain still pulls at me, makes argument, wrestles with suffering and with my paltry ball-point pen as it tries to make sense of my friend’s sense of betrayal and loss of his functions. I have no answer. Together we walk the wait and watch without simple answers, all we have are the prayers I say under my breath so as not to annoy him with anything that sounds too religious or sentimental. I reach out and take his hand. “ Thank you dear man for giving your life to the art of healing.” It is enough, I think, to give yourself totally to what you love. Your life is a blessing to the earth.

On Thursday: The child leads me to marvel:  sight and sound become for her and through her to me a new creation. She invites me to see again with new eyes, a new heart. She sees without words or constructs or ideas for the first time. I catch myself when I am too quick to name everything she touches and sees and tastes and hears and feels as if words can ever replace the first touch of a leaf, the first taste of milk from her mother, the first sight of a creature in flight, the texture of my beard, the wind in her ears, the sun in her eyes, the blessings of sleep and rest.

And so we sing to her, her grandmother and I, lullabies, the one I once sang to children in Philadelphia who were born with AIDS. “If I could give you three things I would give you these: songs and laugher and a wooden home on the shining seas. When you see old Isle La Haut arising in the dawn, you will play in yellow fields in the morning sun…”**Gordon Bok

And there is a sweet sadness to the wait and watch. I delight in the child who awakens me to wonder, and brings me to imagine what the next step will be for my friends and me as we make the journey from this life to the next. For now it is best to be here and alive and be a witness to the presence of  wonder as she arrives each new day, fresh, awake and new born.

From A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Goat Cheese And Starfish: For November 23,2014

These are two stories; the first is an old tale that is radically edited from Leo Tolstoy. Absolution requested. The second is some reflections of another nature on Matthew 25, the final judgment. If you read to the end you’ll find out what I intend by “goat cheese and starfish”.

Martin The Cobbler

There was a cobbler who lived alone in his shop with one window that looked out on the street. His wife and children had all died and he asked God, “Holy One why have you so long delayed your coming? I have almost given up hope in seeing you. Please come to my humble shop this day and show me your face.”

Outside on the street the cold winter brought snow. Through his window he saw a beggar who shivered in the cold. He invited the beggar into the shop to warm him and offer a meager meal from his shrinking larder. The beggar thanked him and left.

As the day passed, a few customers came with repairs they needed for their shoes and harnesses. A young boy sought shelter from the cold and snow. The child’s feet were wrapped in old dirty rags and stuffed with paper. Into the shop he invited the boy. After making him some warm milk and a sandwich from the little food he had he went to his closet and found a pair of shoes that belonged to his son. He fit the shoes to the boy. Grateful, the boy left with a promise to return to visit him.

It was approaching dusk and the cobbler despaired of a visit from the Lord. A woman with her young babe appeared in front of the window. She was dressed in a thin piece of cloth and she looked as if she might freeze to death. The cobbler invited her into his shop. Wary of the old man, she hesitated at the door, but feeling the warmth within she stepped across the threshold. The cobbler made her some tea and went to his closet to find a heavy woolen cloak that belonged to his wife. Giving her the cloak the woman thanked him and after he shared the rest of his larder with her, she left with the child.

The sun descended and left the cobbler bereft. “Why didn’t you come and visit me today,” the cobbler asked? There was a voice that spoke to him in his humble shop: “But I did come to you. When you invited in the beggar, the boy, and the mother and her child, I was there with you. In each of their faces you looked into my eyes.”  Martin then remembered the scripture: “When did you see me hungry and feed me, alone and naked and clothe me and thirsty and you gave me a drink.” The visitors who had come to his shop that day had been his master. In their faces he had looked into the eyes of God.

That night the cobbler slept happy and at peace for the first time in many months.


Now for Goat Cheese and Starfish

Goats are independently minded and unruly and make the most luscious cheese. Sheep are great too, but they tend to be docile and easily herded. Their cheese is good too, but I like goat cheese better.

There has always been an attraction to Matthew’s vision of the final judgment: As William McNamara, the Discalced Carmelite told us: “We know what our final judgment will be.” All we have to do is read Matthew 25. And yet there is something paradoxical to the image. Aren’t they a little too absolute? From foolish virgins and the poor slave who buried his talent and now the goats, isn’t it too simple? We are both sheep and goats. We are sometimes wise and sometimes foolish. We sometimes visit the sick and feed the hungry and love the poor and visit the prisoner and the dying. Some of us even are paid to do this. Sometimes we throw up our hands and fret at the enormity of the problem and do nothing except send a check to help with the Ebola crisis in Liberia.

My friend the Rabbi says we are given freedom to live and do what we can to create life and shepherd the creation and it comes with conditions. You have to follow the covenant: which is summarized in the Hebrew Bible, by the way, to “love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.” We like our freedom and are troubled by her conditions. And yet it’s the very conditions that magnify the freedom. Our true freedom depends on welcoming the poor, the prisoner, the naked, and the sick into the circle of our compassion. And that includes our own goat and sheep selves.

Those who give themselves whole and free to these ministries are the saints. And yet not one of them, including Jesus and the Buddha lived without doubt or under any illusion that all the compassion in the world could solve the problems of injustice, greed, or apathy. Yet they threw themselves fully into life so that we could find a way. It is a paradox.

St Augustine it is told was walking along the beach one day and saw Starfish, thousands on thousands of them, washed ashore. A little girl was running to and fro on the sand and throwing the Starfish back into the water. “Why are you doing that,” Augustine asked the girl? “There are too many to save, it won’t make a difference.” “It will make a difference to this one,” the girl said as she threw another Starfish into the sea.

So we go on loving our goat and our sheep selves and do what we can out of the love of God to transform our freedom into hearts of compassion, and try to make a difference one Starfish or goat at a time.

The sheep already have it made.