Create In Me a Pure Heart

 

 

Mister Sears sang in the choir of our small church in Dedham, Mass. I noticed that oil and grease and dirt had found almost every pour and crevice of his hands. He owned a crowded lawn mower and small engine repair shop near the church. As a youth and football player I had worked hard to clean hands and nails for the early service. But the hands of Mister Sears and my Dad who was a printer were almost impossible to clean. The shape and color of work was oil and grease and printer’s ink.

And yet they were kind hands, powerful, like spades that dug deep into the earth. How I loved those hands.

What matters is a pure heart, not whether or not your hands are clean. To sing with a heart full of the love of God, to pray with an open mind and heart. To do the work we can do for the love of fixing a machine, or inking a printer’s plate.

I have too little time to spend in judgement of the ones who come with dirty hands. Instead, I pray to “make in me a pure heart, O God”, at the dawn of the day. And try to remember what it means to live in wonder and astonishment of all that is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facing Race after Michael Curry’s election as Presiding Bishop

An excellent article and a profound insight in the reality in which we live in the USA and the church

The Episcopal Herald

When President Obama was elected eight years ago as the first African American president, many in this country rushed to declare that America’s racial problems had been officially resolved. We had entered the post-racial society, they said. But then those same voices disparaged his office and his person. They created voter ID laws to discourage minorities from voting. They decried black leaders for not keeping their communities quiet in the face of violence and discrimination. Those same voices that would have us believe they could not see race showed us just how deep the racial prejudices and injustices of this land run.

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Obama’s presidency did not absolve us of a racist past, but it did prove a catalyst for uncovering our racist present so that we might together begin the work of addressing it. God bless our president for his patience, self-differentiation, and wisdom in this painful process.

We celebrate…

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Trinity Sunday:

The Trinity as

The Trinity as “The Dance Around” as movement, flow, divine relationship.. la dansa, by Matisse

New Jersey is known as the garden state. At one time its farms supplied among other products, millions of tomatoes to Campbell’s Soup Company in Camden. Still in South Jersey acres of blueberries and other vegetables grow in the sandy soil. Large parts of the state are beautiful. The long sand beaches of the Jersey shore, the Pine Barrens in the east and South under which lies hidden one of the most pristine aquafers in the US. Along stretches of the Delaware River Northeast to the Delaware Water gap, Red Hawks soar from the cliffs that overhang the river.

Because of its farming legacy, sited around the state are old grist mills. A grist mill relied on water to propel a massive water-wheel to power the mill stones that ground wheat, corn and other grains to flour.

Allentown, NJ has such a mill wheel. It has not been used for probably a century, but the old structure had survived up until 2000. Twenty –five or more feet in diameter, the machinery of wood and iron took water from a sluice which spilled it into wooden iron-bound buckets that moved the gigantic wheel into motion.

Some have seen the Trinity like a mill wheel. The flow of the waterfall, spilling into one another: The love and laughter of the Father, spilling with roaring joy into the Son, and the complete self-emptying of the Son spilling into the Holy Spirit. Finally returning over and over into a delight in the ongoing process of birth, dying in to self and re-invention. In its movement and joy the Spirit, the inner genius and generosity of the heart, spills over into creation and thus, into us: Love spilling over into love, grace into grace, peace into peace, hope into hope, joy into joy, and wonder into wonder.

Cynthia Bourgeautlt, in The Wisdom Jesus writes:

“The Trinity, understood in a wisdom sense, is really an icon of self-emptying love. The three persons go round and round like buckets on a watermill, constantly over spilling into one another. As they do so, the mill turns and the energy of love becomes manifest and accessible.” From early times in the life of the Christian community, the Trinity was called the “dance around” or perichoresis. This “wonderful and profound insight is that God reveals God’s innermost nature through a continuous round dance of self-emptying. On the great watermill of the Trinity, the statement, “God is love” brings itself into reality.” *

That’s why I value the Trinity is a song to be sung rather than a doctrine by which we become dangerously rigid and closed. We still sometimes sing the creed, placing chords under the single note that we start with.

“Do you want to know what the Trinity

is? Asks Meister Eckhart:

 

 ”The Father laughs and begets the Son, The Son laughs and begets the Spirit, the Spirit laughs and begets us.” And in our creative and loving action we laugh and continue the great mill wheel of God’s self-emptying love.

God so loved the world that he gave his Son that all humans and all creation would know the gracious outpouring of God’s love, the son came to save us from our predisposition to cynicism and despair. The son came to show us how we can become adopted children of the One who created the Son. The son came to show us this very unique way to become One with the Holy Spirit, by a constant giving away of compassion, presence, love and commitment to the well-being of all.

And so the Prophet is set on fire with the Word of God. Paul finds these absolutely brilliant sentences in his letter to Rome, that we hope for what is not immediately seen. To us the hidden sanctity of the creation is revealed, and out of that knowing of the love of the divine for the world, we give it back, return what has been given so lavishly to us, to the water-wheel of God’s love and it keeps going.

Each act of kindness contributing to the flow of love and energy, just like Jesus. And the river runs and the wheel turns and we, well we, either stand by and watch the river of life go by or we step or jump into the flow.

*The Wisdom Jesus, Cynthia Bourgeault, Shambhala 2008.

“Where There is No Love, Put Love and You Will Find Love”

Easter 6, John 15:

“Where There is No Love, Put Love and You Will Find Love”

Herbert O’Driscoll described John’s Gospel as a “remembering” of what the life of the Christ was to John and his community. His attempt to describe the meaning of The Christ as self-emptying love is, I think hugely successful. This spiritual master was on the downward path, mixing with the forgotten and the lost. Christ descends before he ascends.  St Francis de Sales poignantly wrote about this spiritual path of descent in the title of this reflection, ”Where there is no love, put love and you will find love”. There is no place that the Christ and by extension the Mercy and love of God will not reach, where God’s yearning for union with us is absent.

Perhaps one of the most telling parts of the creed that some of us say each Sunday is: “He descended into hell.” Even in hell, one finds the presence and mercy of God. And as one survivor of one of Hitler’s Death camps reported, “I’ve already been to hell.” It is the Hebrew God of Moses who sees the affliction of the people Israel. Israel means “to wrestle with God”, and God seeing these wrestlers in the hell of slavery, calls Moses to lead them to their liberation. For Christians, the Christ is a personification of that loving descent of God into the hell of our lives, those moments when there is only the sense of extreme separation. Even there God comes.

Evelyn Underhill transcribes the story of a holy man who when asked if he could be present to Christ in hell, remarked, “I’d rather be with Christ in hell than in heaven without Him.”

The point that John makes is that there is a constant outpouring of love: from the Divine, love overflows into the Christ and through the Christ into the Spirit and from the Spirit into us. And as the divine love and mercy flows back to the divine the endless exchange of love continues to overflow into the creation.

John faces the breakdown of the overflow of the divine love sixty or seventy years after the death of Jesus. His community is broken, the people have returned to the easier gods of the empire, there is already persecution of the new Christians as well as the Jews. It was not only the Temple that was destroyed within the memory of John, but the systematic extermination of the Jews in Jerusalem and parts of North Africa. By extension the new Christian communities still identified with the Jews also fell victim to the Roman extermination campaign.

If John chose to distance himself from the Jews it was perhaps his fear in the face of this systematic persecution. Ever since it seems only the greatest saints have stood with the Jews when they faced subsequent persecutions. History testifies that many Christians ended up as their executioners or remained silent at their oppression.

If we are to love one another, how are we to do it in a way that keeps us open to the flow of God’s love as it moves and flows through people and time and nature? It is through descent, modeled in the self-emptying love of the Christ for the poor, the forgotten and for the suffering. It is there, in the hells of Auschwitz, in the hell of being targeted in a racist society, in the suffering from earthquake, famine, oppression, that love, when it is put, love can be found.

In spite of his fear, John described the process as a continual motion of flow and exchange where love’s power and energy is sustained and grows. It is that energy that Albert Einstein’s daughter recently shared in a letter from her father. In it he said that the real spiritual energy of the universe is not E= MC 2. Her father’s final letter to humanity is E=LOVE. And so it flows, spilling over into the universe, a force that builds, that renews, and re-envisions what it means to be human. John recognized the power of the energy of love a while ago now, I only wish we hadn’t used it as an instrument of oppression.

Easter 4: The Good Shepherd

The stained glass window of the Good Shepherd towered over the altar at the church of my youth. The shepherd reached down to untangle a shorn and forlorn lamb from a thicket of thorns and brambles.

Max, Fr.Max, had assigned me at age fourteen to schedule the acolytes. Few wanted to take the 8 AM service, so I’d show up without breakfast to serve on the altar. Kneeling on the hard steps, my back and knees would send me back on my heels. One morning, I nearly passed out, a cold sweat poured off me. I looked up at that poor lamb with the Good Shepherd reaching down to her and felt as if that little bedraggled lamb was me. After that, Max told me to eat breakfast.

Fr Max was my good shepherd. He always had time for me when I’d show up at the rectory door. We could talk about anything.

It was 1955 and I asked him, “What do you think about homosexuality?” He answered, “I know a couple who live together as husband and wife. They care about each other. I don’t see what good there is to deny anyone someone to love.”

When I was fourteen, I told Max that I wanted to be a priest but I didn’t feel I was worthy. Max said, “None of us are worthy, we are made worthy by the grace of God.”

Amazing, crazy, holy grace: is what came to John Newton when he turned from his profession as a slave trader into an abolitionist. “Amazing grace …I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.” Even with blood on his hands, grace may come, unmerited, certainly, Even a grace that his captives were unable to give to him, the Good Shepherd kept searching for him, found him, reached out to him while he was tangled in the web of the sin of slavery, and lifted him up so he could become a singer for justice.

The Good Shepherd was and is for many of us the perfect icon of Jesus: the Christ. In his extravagant compassion and grace, he reaches out to us with arms of love.

I’ve always been a slow and late learner and I suspect that that’s why I’ve been given such a long life. So I could learn what Max and Jesus and John Newton were talking about when they talked about grace.

The most amazing grace happened to me when my son Chris was born with Down Syndrome. It was fully twenty years after my conversation with Fr. Max. I still had such old ideas about God. I called a priest friend and his wife. They had adopted a son who had severe developmental needs. I figured Mark and Elizabeth might be able to help my wife and me sort through some of the confusion I faced.

Mark, I said “Why would God cause a child to be born with such a disability? Mark answered, “I don’t believe in a God like that. I don’t believe in a God who causes children to be born with disabilities; I believe in a God who stands above us and reaches out to us with arms of love.”

When Mark said that it was if the heavens opened. It’s absolutely crazy and holy grace that can switch your mind and heart with so few words. To see God as the good shepherd who is standing above us reaching out to us with arms of love transformed what was seen as a punishment into a blessing. And I have been learning all kinds of amazing graceful things from this boy and now young man ever since.

It would have been a mistake to see the life of this child as only a challenge and not as an opportunity to grow in love. My son’s birth “could have closed doors in me once and for all against the possibility of ever giving entrance to such love and thereby to such pain again. Instead it opened up some door in me to the pain of others. It opened hands to help and eyes to see that there is pain in every life, even the luckiest, that buried griefs and hurtful memories are part of us all.

And there is so much else to begin to see.” (Frederick Buechner)  The child who becomes a blessing, the priest who becomes a shepherd, and a stained glass window that can be a constant memory of the love of God reaching out when you get lost and in trouble.

The day after our son was born the social worker came to visit. She seemed stressed. She said to my wife and me, “You know you don’t have to keep this child. There are places for children like him.”

My wife said, “He is our son and we will love him no matter what.”

Such fierce love is the very love and heart of God, don’t you think?

Each life is created and loved, no matter what, by the fierce and protective love of God.

We had to find a way for that love to open and flow into our lives, to let the river flow and not block the love of God from showing up in our lives.

As the theologian Ramon Pannikar beautifully expresses it, “ am one with the source insofar as I act as a source by making everything I have received flow again–`just like Jesus.”

Throwing our love away, just like Jesus, we become the self-emptying vessels for the love of God that perpetually overflow, watering the desert of the world.

In such a way the Good Shepherd becomes the perfect model for the life of the disciple and the church. We are the only institution said a revered Archbishop, “That does not exist for itself.”

And with bills to pay and buildings to keep up, and children’s mouths to feed and to protect, we are still caught in the thicket like that forlorn lamb in the window of my childhood church.

And yet we have a Shepherd who in His fierce love for us reaches out and extends his hand. And as always and as always will be, we can turn away or we can take the hand and be lifted up and learn to be like him.

http://Good Shepherd