It’s Love All the Way, Pentecost 20, Year A

I am beguiled by the writings of Cynthia Bourgeault on Wisdom and the Trinity. She uses the image of the Trinity as a water wheel that flows and spills over into each other: The Father, to Son, The Son to the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit out of this flow, creates a new thing.

Meister Eckhart says do you want to know what the Trinity is:” The Father laughs and creates the Son, the Son laughs and creates the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit laughs and creates us.” Out of the three a new and creative fourth comes into being.

To Love God, love neighbor and to love yourself are another triad. It is a perfect triad of compassion, love flowing and spilling over from one full heart to the other, in the beginning flowing from within the water wheel trinity from self to the neighbor to God and back again in various constellations.

So since this summary of the law is common to most religions, what has happened that we are in conflict with each other? From a threefold understanding of the whole foundation of the law it makes absolutely no sense that there should be hate and misunderstanding. Instead there should be a flow of conversation, listening, exploration into the present reality, a heart opening seeking of solutions to all that separates from each other, from ourselves and from God. The longest or the shortest journey to be travelled is the eighteen inches between the head and the heart. It seems to me the goal  is to shorten the trip.photo

At least for Jews, Christians and Muslims and I suspect for other Eastern religions, we are like the three or four blind men who try to describe an elephant by one touching the trunk, the other the tusk, the other the leg, another the tail. We alone, without connection to this trinity of compassion can’t see the whole picture. And the whole picture at root is love. From this love and really, I think, only from this love and compassion and mercy, can there ever be any solution to the divisions that haunt our days and dreams.

We don’t get it that God is love, not just for me, but for all of us, all living things and even the rocks cry out that there is life here, treasure to be discovered. Sometimes we take ourselves and our little minds much too seriously. As Richard Rohr remarks in his book The Naked Now, when “Jesus said, ‘I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’ (John 14:6). I think the intended effect of that often misused line is this: If Jesus is the Truth, then you probably aren’t.”

For now and maybe for always, I’m trying to let my being right give way to the flow of creative love and compassion. Don’t know why I’ve waited so long to live fully and non-defensively into this truth. Blessings to you all and to all beings.

 

 

 

 

Taxes and God, (for Pentecost 19, Year A)

(Friends, these meditations and stories are based on the readings for the Sundays of the Church Year. The reading this week is Matthew 22:15-22, You can find the readings under http://www.episcopalchurch/Lectionary,calendar.  You’ll want the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and you’ll find there also many wonders and inspirations that connect us with the communion of saints)

Taxes and God

There was a time when Episcopal Clergy were held hostage by parsimonious parishes. Men, in those days, who had spent most of their professional lives in marginal parishes, on retirement, were sometimes left as paupers. About thirty years ago the Clergy organized and offered a salary scale for clergy and later, administrative assistants and others who worked for the church, based on years of service. The parishes also were required to pay into the pension fund, the very model for our current Social Security system, and cover health insurance.

When I went to New Jersey to work with Urban Churches, a sizeable portion of the Diocesan Budget was set aside to support full time clergy and their families. The presence of the church in the inner cities such as Camden, Elizabeth, Trenton and Atlantic City was and remains a beacon of hope in houses of desperation. To keep enough of that money in the budget became my primary goal. A few years into the 8 years I worked as the Urban Coordinator for the Diocese, the Diocesan Council came with requests to cut our budgets by 15%. I refused. I gave in to a 5% cut but except for my salary and a secretary, the rest of the funding went straight to urban congregations. I was thrown into a fury of grant proposals to cities, the national church and foundations. In this way we were able to support the clergy and their families and to “plug the hole in the dike.” Indeed, some of the clergy and parishes from outside the city were our most ardent supporters. Each year, however, the request from the Diocesan Council to cut our budgets increased. By the end of the eight years the only place to cut was my salary. I was now looking for a new job at 50 years of age. If the work at the Diocesan House had not been stressful enough, the wait to find a new call was more intense. That call came two months before I was to leave my position. I was to become the interim rector at the Cathedral in Philadelphia. Here, a sigh of relief.

Archbishop William Temple of Canterbury said during his tenure, something akin to this: “The church is the only institution whose purpose is to give its life away for others.”  So we clergy are caught in a paradox: to insist on protection for our families and to live our lives totally into the divine. To live in this place is the beginning of wisdom. It is in the tension between money and taxes and the sacred that true faith is lived in action. I wish I knew that when hot disputes arose during budget discussions. Often crumbling infrastructure drained resources from our mission. And yet the buildings, in some neighborhoods, were the sacramental signs of the presence of the church amidst the ruins. Now as I look back, I see that the more we lived into God, the more we gave to the holy, honored the sacred; blessings were showered on our families and communities. As we struggle with church budgets year after year, maybe it was a blessing to be surrounded with cares and disputes that compromised our mission. At least we had a mission; I had taken the words from evening prayer as a kind of slogan for the urban department: “So that the hope of the poor will not be taken away.” At least we had and have the reminder to “render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.” To live into the paradox of living in the world and still being attuned to the sounds of the holy is what my priest, Max, used to quote when I was a young teen: “To be in the world and not of the world.”

And so each year around this time we live into the paradox. It is the churches eternal reminder to be still, alert and creative in the work of budgets and lest we forget our purpose and lose our edge, to trust God. The calling we have been given, that has been laid on us, is about the discovery of the holy in the midst of contentious and ordinary times. Don’t, dear ones, let your faith be worn down. Keep your eye on the heart of God. And perhaps when you look back some day, you will find the blessings and teachings that were given to you.

 

 

“The General Dance”

La_danse_(I)_by_MatisseThomas Merton wrote in “Seeds of Contemplation” that God created humans so there would be a partner in the dance, one to participate in the ongoing act of creation, imagination, a movement around and under and through, a spilling over in a constant flow of energy. Okay, a lot of this is my own interpretation and it probably applies to the story in Matthew 22: 1-14 of the Wedding Feast.

We are the ones invited to the dance. Too busy and pre-occupied we refuse the first invitation.

A second invitation is sent (this time by the prophets) and in our refusal and anger at the reminder, we kill the messengers, or ridicule or imprison or drive them out. We don’t want to be reminded about who we are:  dancers engaged with the creation in a sacred movement.

Finally the invitation is sent to everyone else: the people are gathered from the street, from the highway underpass, from humble plywood shelters built on the side of the hills outside the city. And they come. All the little ones are invited to the dance. And they come. The marriage feast must have taken place, the king’s son is married and there is joy and dancing, light and music, food enough for all. I like that ending. I want to be a part of that group that accepted the invitation to the dance.

Then who is this miserable last one without a wedding garment. What part of you and me still holds back, still does not want to be dressed in beauty before the divine energy? What part of us is still sitting on the sidelines?

Yet God isn’t the king in the story. God still has the last word. And yet aren’t there parts of us that are still holding back. God says, “D’ya wanna Dance?” Don’t worry if you know the steps, you can make them up. Your whole beautiful and painful life is a divine movement. “Come dance with me. We can jump and swirl…

or we can slow dance the night away.”

 

Looking for a Place to Call Home: Our son’s journey to Heartbeet

Originally posted on Stories from a Priestly Life:

“Here”, Tess said, “put your hand here.” As we lay on the grass and listened to Mozart during a summer concert, she took my hand and placed it on her swelling abdomen. In her womb the child moved to the music. We wondered if the child would be a dancer or a musician or a football player.

The child was born early a few weeks later, a healthy baby boy all rosy. A caul, part of the placenta, completely encased him. Legend says that a child born in a caul will never drown and have good luck. I helped slow the birth by placing my hand on his head as it crowned to help prevent tearing. But when a nurse rushed into the room and pushed me aside, the baby jumped out, eager, complete with all ten fingers and toes.

When the doctor arrived and hour later, he said, “I…

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Looking for a Place to Call Home: Our son’s journey to Heartbeet

“Here”, Tess said, “put your hand here.” As we lay on the grass and listened to Mozart during a summer concert, she took my hand and placed it on her swelling abdomen. In her womb the child moved to the music. We wondered if the child would be a dancer or a musician or a football player.

The child was born early a few weeks later, a healthy baby boy all rosy. A caul, part of the placenta, completely encased him. Legend says that a child born in a caul will never drown and have good luck. I helped slow the birth by placing my hand on his head as it crowned to help prevent tearing. But when a nurse rushed into the room and pushed me aside, the baby jumped out, eager, complete with all ten fingers and toes.

When the doctor arrived and hour later, he said, “I knew something was wrong, a little Mongolism maybe.” Mongolism is a disused term for the disability now called Down Syndrome. The doctor’s words pierced like a knife. What would we do? A host of questions arose. “How could it happen? We did everything right. What trick of God would cause a child to be born with a disability?”

I called a priest friend and his wife. Mark and Elizabeth had adopted a child whom they later discovered to be profoundly disabled. I thought they might provide some guidance. I told him my thoughts. He said, “I don’t believe in a God who causes children to be born with disabilities. I believe in a God who reaches out to us with arms of love.”

It still amazes how Mark’s simple insight changed me. I had known the truth of what Mark said to me as if it were in my bones. Yet the residual theology of my Puritan ancestors of sin and punishment remained in the water I drank. Even the notion of Karma intruded into my thoughts. Clearly, my expectations and theologies would have to change and the child would be for his mother and me an exploration into the heart of love.

The day after our child’s birth a harried social worker arrived. We sensed her discomfort there in the hospital room with the baby’s mother and me. “You don’t have to keep this child you know,” she told us. “There are places for children like him.” I was stunned. Tess, my wife said, “He is our son and we will love him no matter what!”

My admiration and love for her fierce protectiveness of the child swelled. A lioness woman, she spent the next 20 years as an advocate with schools and government for our two children with special needs. The elder, dyslexic and brilliant, was able to fool us and her teachers through the second grade by memorizing words on a page even when she couldn’t read the text.

We named our newborn, Christopher, partly in solidarity with the recently de-canonized Saint Christopher, and partly because the name’s derivation from Greek or Italian, “Christ-bearer.” We gave him the middle name Mark, after the priest who visited us in the hospital.

One summer day at the beach on the Jersey shore, when Christopher was six or seven, I suddenly realized that I had lost track of him. I scanned the beach. I didn’t see him. Frantic, I looked to the left and found him dog paddling in deep water off a part of the beach with a steep drop-off. There he was, calmly treading water in the salty brine, just as if that is what one does when one finds himself over his head in the ocean. Thank goodness of that caul.

Chris began to swim with Special Olympics and later with his High School Swim team. He can beat me easily now in a 20 yard race as if it were no effort, his lean body cutting through the lake.

Christopher grew more slowly than other children. We had to learn his pace, to remind him often of simple tasks, and to find ways to help him achieve his goals. We kept an almost constant watch on myriad agencies now involved in providing support. He showed me that we all learn differently and at different paces and stages.

I learned that life isn’t about how smart you are. Chris will never be a college graduate, but he writes poetry. One of his poems begins:

The rambling man

Like the preachers son

Is looking for a place

To call home.

Annie and Chris at Heartbeet

Annie and Chris at Heartbeet

When he wrote those lines two or three years ago he had just moved to Heartbeet, a Camphill style community in the mythic “Town That Food Saved,” Hardwick, Vermont. He’s in love with Annie, his committed friend and soul-mate, who also lives at Heartbeet. In May the couple was engaged in a ceremony on the lawn at Heartbeet. With an engagement ring in his hand, he knelt on one knee and proposed to Annie. With her ecstatic”Yes!” he placed the ring on her finger. She held her ring finger up and jumped for joy. The facets of the stone refracted the light from the afternoon sun.

Five years earlier the couple had declared their desire to live in a committed relationship. With the help of the professional staff at Heartbeet, the two worked on personal goals and relationship skills. Chris needed to learn to speak up for himself, for example, and Annie needed to stop speaking for Chris. The two are talking about a commitment ceremony.

Perhaps this is the greatest hope and joy for any parent, to know that one’s child has found a person to love and who loves him in return.

Christopher has lived up to his name. So do all children. They are our great teachers, the ones who inform the inner life of the heart. They show us to move to their different rhythms, their pace and style of life. And we long for them to find a place to call home.

“The rambling man

Like the preacher’s son

Is looking for a place to call home.”

So wrote Chris, and aren’t we all? Now after a 36 year search, he works the land, writes poetry, harvests the rich abundance of the earth, has a community at Heartbeet that cares about him and his growth, and has found the great love of his life. As much as we wanderers ever do, I believe he’s found his place: with friends, with his love, close to the land and at peace with himself. I think he’d tell you that he’s arrived at home.

When I see him next, I’ll ask him. By then he may have another poem.

Heartbeet can be found at : Heartbeet.org.