When Prelude Becomes the Symphony

Yesterday Kate was leading a brief meditation prior to a group of us visiting with residents at Episcopal Homes, a residence for seniors. She began with a centering exercise quite common and helpful for entering prayer. Kate invited us to settle comfortably into our chairs, quiet from the myriad of sounds, breathe in/breathe out, attend to the beating of our hearts.

In the past such “centering” has been a prelude to prayer, dispositional, setting the stage. Yesterday was perceptibly different.

The generic straight-back chair morphed into the myriad of people — the web of generations past as well as present companions — who hold and support our life and efforts.

Letting go of the cacophony of muted sounds in our urban environment, a feeling of reassurance arose. We could disengage for this time because the “buzz” was testimony to a web of activity providing for our well-being.

Breathing opened to something beyond a reflexive physical rhythm. The movement of air — in and out — carried the assurance of bounty that continuously flows to us, unmerited, gratuitous.

The beat of my heart spoke quietly of God’s own life which imperceptibly carries us — each of us, all of us, every bit of creation, holding all in being as a loving parent remains bonded with a child.

Yesterday was gift. It need not be analyzed, explained or idealized. It is meant to be simply received, our exhale whispering gratitude.

Faithful Citizens Have No Choice

As we catapult toward the end of a nasty and divisive election cycle there is much healing that needs to occur.  Will we be instruments of this healing or further division? Do citizens of good faith have an alternative?

I preached the following homily at our church on Sunday.  It was based on the story of the Pharisee and the tax-collector in Luke 18.  I offer it here as one contribution to the ministry of reconciliation to which we are called:

So, which one are you? The much maligned Pharisee? Or, the humble tax collector? With whom do you spontaneously connect? Such resonance is a good indicator for how God wants to engage us.

So, let’s dig a little deeper… Like us, the Pharisees were good, God-fearing people – generous, committed, devout. This particular Pharisee has reason to express gratitude — he’s got it good, better than the majority of other people. He knows it. He’s grateful. Like us, he lives his faith; he gives back – tithing time, talent, treasure.

What God is up to becomes more apparent when we dig as well into the character of the tax collector – the humble, honest, honorable tax collector. Do you catch the irony – Honest? Honorable? …Tax-collector? The oxymoron still packs a punch after 2000 years.

It’s said that Rabbi Simcha Bunem carried two slips of paper, one in each pocket. On one he wrote: “For my sake the world was created!” On the other: “I am but dust and ashes.” The Rabbi would take out either slip of paper as necessary, as a reminder for himself.

Yes, we are imagio dei, created in the image of God, created for relationship, capable of great things. Our faith also counsels, “Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” And if we need any reminder, we don’t need to look too far to see just how ungodly, fractured, and capable of incivility we can become.

So, “Which one are you, Pharisee or tax-collector?” — good to ask at times. However, this is NOT one of those times! With the devout rabbi we recognize we are not one or the other — we are BOTH! Perhaps the more relevant question is: “WHO are we?” And even more: “WHOSE are we?” TO WHOM DO WE BELONG?

Look around…! We’re a little depleted on MEA weekend. But to all who are visiting, Welcome! We’re really quite a friendly, likeable bunch. Whether you’ve been here for 50 years or this is your first visit, you’re at home here. You belong! We’re an odd mix of saint and sinner — so we pride ourselves in “open communion”. Knowing who we are, we recognize ALL are welcome at the table Christ sets. God wants all of us to be in communion.

Today, the pairing of the Pharisee and tax-collector challenges us to go deeper, to discover and embrace this radical communion to which we are called. Yes, open communion is great for making our Catholic or Methodist relatives feel welcome when they visit. It’s may even assure “seekers” and the “unaffiliated” they will find spiritual companions among us.

But what happens if we learn the person ahead of you will be cancelling out your vote? Are we open, inviting? Are we truly respectful of those who hold differing opinions …even about the NRA? …or Planned Parenthood? WHO are we then? Around WHOSE TABLE are we gathering then?

Remember the pairing of Pharisee and tax-collector . Remember the rabbi’s wisdom. Gospel truth, the truth of our lives — mature faith — is never a matter of either/or; right or wrong, yes or no! In Christ, it is always BOTH/AND; always bigger, always more inclusive then we could ever muster on our own.

Look around …who do you see? Who are we? We’re more homogenous than many of us would prefer. Yes, we’re mostly like-minded, but we are hardly clones. We must never become a cozy enclave – comfortable and complacent has nothing to do with the One around whose Table we gather.

Look around! Who do you see? We are Episcopalians – not to the exclusion of others but with and amid others. As Episcopalians we come with distinguishing gifts, a certain identity – not better, but needed; not to the exclusion of others, but for the benefit of others. Within Christ uniformity stifles, differences enhance! All are welcome; everyone has something essential to share.

Never in my recollection, rarely in our nation’s history, have we been so fractured as a people. As Episcopalians we are not set above or apart from any of this. But we do come with certain DNA that distinguishes us from others within the Body of Christ.

At times it’s stressful, painful. Maybe even excruciating. But it’s not in our DNA to build walls – we prefer bridges! We don’t shut out tough conversations – we initiate them. That’s who we are! We’re wired to see Both/And rather than Either/Or! Pharisee and tax-collector are polarities within which we live.

Are these not the precise gifts our nation desperately needs? – the gift of holding the tension, living in the gap, walking into chaos, embracing differences, taking on our collective brokenness? This is the gift of our communion in Christ.

When we come to this table, we come with our particularities and our peculiarities, our giftedness and our poverty. In breaking bread together, in sharing one cup, we are changed, healed, reconciled, restored as one human family.

Like proud Pharisees we thank God for our good fortune. Like the awe-struck tax collector, we pray: “Lord, have mercy!”

Our church has served this nation well. The gifts we have been given are needed now as much as ever – provided we are faithful to WHO we are, WHOSE we are, and who we BECOME when we come here!

AMEN!

Really Hearing What’s Being Said

My friend Susan Stabile shared this story.  I’m eager to share it with you:

Pope Francis departed from his prepared text to share an anecdote during his general audience on Wednesday.  He told this story of an elderly woman who helped an immigrant…

As the lady came across this young man, who was without shoes, they began to speak and she asked him, “What are you searching for?”

“Saint Peter’s to go through the Holy Door,” he responded to her question.

Moved with sympathy, she thought to herself: “But how can he walk? .. He doesn’t even have shoes. She insisted on offering a taxi to bring him. When the taxi driver stopped however, he was hesitant to accept the passenger, as he smelled very badly.

However, the driver agreed, as the immigrant and the lady got in and chatted on the way to the Vatican. They spoke about his history, what he has lived through, the trials, the war, etc.

By the end of the ride, the lady went to pay, and the driver, who hesitated to accept them, said: “No, Signora. It is I who must pay for you, because you made me listen to a story that changed my heart.”

Susan poses the perfect question: How open is my heart to being changed by the stories I hear?

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You may read this story and follow Susan on her blog, Creo en Dios [here].  

Aspiration, Promise, Destiny

Nothing original today, only aspirational…

As a human, I’m just a tiny moment of consciousness, a small part of creation, a particle that reflects only a fragment of God’s glory. And yet that’s enough. In the words of St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022):

What I have seen is the totality recapitulated as One,
Received not in essence but by participation.
It is just as if you lit a flame from a live flame:
It is the entire flame you receive. 

It’s really that simple. If we have not experienced that connection, knowing that we are indeed a fragment of the Great Flame, we will most certainly need to accumulate more and more outer things as substitutes for self-worth. This, of course, is the great spiritual illusion. We needn’t acquire what we already have. Our value comes from our inherent participation in God.

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From: Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation for October 19 which is adapted from Richard Rohr, Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003), 168-169, 172-173.