Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Monday morning check in...

Day off, 8.30 on Monday morning, day off,  on a cold day with rain likely later. I just listened to J Alfred Prufrock and The Wasteland, courtesy of Youtube, and remembered what major poems they are and what a great poet Eliot is. I first read them in 1968, 42 years ago, and they were life-changers; incantatory openings to an awareness of the narrow way of doubt and faith together, not an easy piety or a master plan, but a living mystery that felt both threatening and welcoming.

That was the year after I was baptized and confirmed, discovering (the year after the summer of love in the Haight-Ashbury - which I missed entirely) something about sex, drugs, rock and roll (I still like the early Jefferson Airplane) and a horizon of possibilities that was bigger than anything I had known before. So I smoked grass, made love, and got lost in the bigness of things. I dropped out towards the end of the year and went back to my parents house, worked a bit around my uncle’s ranch, took a couple of classes at the local junior college and read, several time, cherishing each chapter as a kind of song sung to me, Walden’s Thoreau; another milestone that I still carry in my heart. Not a millstone, not at all.

This week I started reading a book about Americans writers in Paris in the 1920s. In my teens and later at University I specialized in that era: Pound and Eliot, Hemingway, Stein, Sherwood Anderson, especially F. Scott Fitzgerald were all considered: the poetics of exile and pilgrimage in an era that had lost its faith. The Wasteland came from that time as well: Eliot around Paris and London and Switzerland hammering the jazz rhythms of disbelief and hope with the old classics into a composition that would be a standard of the age.

Over 80 years since the poem was written, over 40 since I read it in a survey course at the University of Oregon, in a season with too much rain where flowers grew and fell over in saturated ground, and I was changed forever.

Early that year I told a guy in my dorms that I was going to be a priest; and it took over 40 years to get there. Is that when I started the path that brought me here; or was there ever another path? Who knows? Misquoting Peter Berger, “Reflection and projection may be part of the same motion.”

I will try to make this a Sabbath day. Rest, read, pray, write, cook and clean a bit too. (I might also work on the brochure for the Fair, maybe a second one for the Bishop’s Certificate? Maybe not)

On Saturday I sat in a Mazda RX8, very sexy seat and dashboard, it felt great to be that close to the ground, ‘though it was a little tough to climb out. Face it, I am besotted with sports cars! Lord won’t you buy me (though I wouldn’t say no to a Mercedes) an MX5?

I am also besotted with priesthood (and I am aware that this juxtaposition shows me as a fairly superficial creature - which may be true!) but both show up with a young energy, a boy’s delight. Yesterday celebrating the Eucharist in Wodonga was such a measured joy. My hands are starting to feel like they know what to do and where to go, I feeling like I can lean on the text and say the words and move through the service without getting unfocused or off-centre, I can follow the path and mediate it for others without getting in the way, for me or them. And I really love it!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pentecost 2010

It is good to be here on the Feast of Pentecost, a great day in the church, and in order to try to understand what led up to that outpouring of spirit that day in Jerusalem, how it came to be, and why we are called to share in the spirit of Jesus; I want to share something called Spiritual Directions; which started out as three ideas, moved into a design and  curriculum for quiet days and retreats as well as parish-based classes on building and remodeling your own spirituality, and is in the works as a diocesan resource in the coming year.

The first idea or image: picture a round table in the middle of your head; 12 people, more or less, sit there and try to run your life. They are probably not always the same people, and maybe you don’t even know who they all are. Speaking of my own table, my mother and father are often there, good friends, heroes and teachers and characters from books and stories I’ve heard, occasionally advertising slogans and songs and sometimes people show up who don’t like me very much. Everyone thinks it is a board of directors meetings and they are the ones in charge, so it gets noisy at times

I started inviting people to this table when I was a little boy: other people’s ideas of good or bad or right or wrong, popularity or principles, what was worth working for, who I could trust. They can be a very mixed bag.Where do they come from?

Let’s go back to the myth of the Garden of Eden, God takes Adam for a walk in the garden and Adam names things: cow, sheep, light, dark, good, bad, and all the rest of it. My table is my participation in walking with God, my attempt to make the world makes sense, to hold together, safe for me; but it isn’t a lively enough, it falls into idolatry, because it is only a child’s exercise. We participate in the process that God goes through, turning nothing into something, chaos into order and cosmos. We arrange the world like God does, naming it like Adam does, and we make mistakes along the way.

So the table is one idea and here’s the second. In my early 30s I realized that the most essential gesture of being human is walking along and coming to place on the path with a corner, where the road takes a curve and you can’t see the way ahead, and you have to go on by faith. This pattern happens all the time: a child starting the first day of school, beginning a new job, falling in love, getting married or getting divorced, dealing with illness, the death of a loved one, facing our own death, any failure or success or surprise; life turns corners and we must travel blindly with whatever faith we can lay hold of in that minute.

That is where Jesus meets us on the Way, the most faithful pilgrim walking the curving road, sharing his life, his teaching, his hope, his questions, his death, and an understanding of God that is open hearted and open ended, with an invitation to come together on that long journey, so that we don’t get lost on the way.

We are reading John’s Gospel this season, where Jesus is speaks as a teacher and a master, that’s John’s focus. But in Matthew, Mark and Luke there is another subtler picture of a human being, full of the glory of God, walking along a path with everyone else and being surprised by chaos and community and gift and grace and life and death and all the rest: There God in Christ is on the human way, walking our unfinished journey, where the open-ended quandaries and questions take us in new directions, makes us new people in a new world. Jesus meets us on that incomplete journey, knows the contours of the road, as God’s good news and Lord and Savior and friend on that unfinished frontier brings us home at the last.

So that’s one and two: Table and Journey, and there’s always tension between them: the table argues from history and tradition, goes on what worked before, doesn’t want to upset things, then the journey calls to give up your life as a committee meeting and take it up as communion, as pilgrimage, over moment by moment, day by day, here and now. Just like Jesus; dying to those old laws so that we may rise up into this new love. And that’s why we need the spirit, that is why we come to Pentecost..

Between the table and the journey there is nothing except a breath of fresh air and that’s number three: the same spirit-breathing the words, “Let there be light!” at the start; the same breath calling “Repent” by the Prophets when Israel starts worshiping money or power, or religion for that matter; moving away from the God of the journey, who taught them to walk by faith, leading them to the promised land by the long way home; the same breath as the angel speaking to Mary and and the same breath in Mary’s, “Let it be to me according to your word:” the same breath in Jesus saying “Blessed are the poor”, the same breath saying, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”

Israel usually doesn’t know what to do with God’s breath and God’s word in the middle of daily life, and neither do we. We have to be saved by letting God’s breath breathe us day by day, here and now, with all our living and our dying, with all the gall and glory that Jesus found on the way, so that we all share in his resurrection. And the fact is that we can’t get there from here on our own.

So at Pentecost the gift that Jesus calls for in the Gospel of John comes forth, to the middle of the city, the middle of the table, to inspire us on an amazing journey, in the middle of all our curving ways, to turn our wandering into pilgrimage and our pilgrimage into homecoming by the gift of God’s Spirit in our lives.

This does not save us from uncertainty, but it assures us that God breathes us, God’s spirit inspires us, now and always, and there is no place where we can be separate from the love of God, the creativity of the father, the compassion of Christ, the indwelling of the spirit, whether we know it or not.

So three things: as God creates the world, we create a world at our table and usually get it wrong. Then Jesus joins us in our journey though the middle of the life to help us to see the crucial difference between being incomplete and unfinished, call us to take the pilgrim path, leaving the table to follow the way where nothing is certain and everything can be a gift from God, and where the spirit is willing to breathe new life into our old bodies at every instant on the way.

This may not make life simpler, likely won’t lead to easy certainties, but (according to the tradition and our biggest hope) it can enable us to find God’s glory and Christ’s call and compassion in every moment on the way. And finally, that spirit, that breath will send us back to feed the hungry table where we started with the bread of life and the cup of salvation. It will let that board meeting become a community called out of love, called into community, called to take the pilgrim way. It will lead us to make Eucharist in the middle of the world. And that is why we come to Pentecost.

In the name of Christ. Amen.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Prayer to God the Father on the Vigil of Pentecost by Thomas Merton

Today, Father, this blue sky lauds you. The delicate green and orange flowers of the tulip poplar tree praise you. The distant blue hills praise you together with the sweet-smelling air that is full of brilliant light. The bickering flycatchers praise you together with the lowing cattle and the quails that whistle over there. I too, Father, praise you, with all these my brothers, and they all give voice to my own heart and to my own silence. We are all one silence and a diversity of voices.
You have made us together, you have made us one and many, you have placed me here in the midst as witness, as awareness, and as joy. Here I am. In me the world is present and you are present. I am a link in the chain of light and of presence. You have made me a kind of centre, but a centre that is nowhere. And yet I am “here,” let us say I am “here” under these trees, not others.

For a long time I was in darkness and in sorrow, and I suppose my confusion was my own fault. No doubt my own will has been the root of my sorrow, and I regret it merciful father, but I do not regret it because this formula is acceptable as an official answer to all problems. I know I have sinned, but the sin is not to be found in any list. Perhaps I have looked to hard at all the lists to find out what my sin was and I did not know that it was precisely the sin of looking at all the lists when you were telling me that this was useless. My “sin” is not on the list, and is perhaps not even a sin. In any case I cannot know what it is, and doubtless there is nothing there anyway.

Whatever may have been my particular stupidity, the prayers of your friends and my own prayers have somehow been answered and I am here, in this solitude, before you, and I am glad because you see me here. For it here, I think, that you want to see me, and I am seen by you. My being here is a response you have asked of me, to something I have not clearly heard. But I have responded, and I am content: there is little to know about it at present.

Here you ask of me nothing else than to be content that I am your Child and your Friend. Which simply means to accept your friendship because it is your friendship and your Fatherhood because I am your son. This friendship is Son-ship and is Spirit. You have called me here to be repeatedly born in the Spirit as your son. Repeatedly born in light, in knowledge, in unknowing, in faith, in awareness, in gratitude, in poverty, in presence and in praise.

If I have any choice to make, it is to live here and perhaps die here. But in any case it is not the living or the dying that matter, but speaking your name with confidence in this light, in this unvisited place: to speak your name of “Father” just by being here as “son” in the Spirit and the Light which you have given , and which are no unearthly light but simply this plain June day, with its shining fields, its tulip trees, the pines, the woods, the clouds and the flowers everywhere.

To be here with the silence of Sonship in my heart is to be a centre in which all things converge upon you. That is surely enough for the time being.

Therefore Father, I beg you to keep me in this silence so that I may learn from it the word of your peace and the word of your mercy and the word of your gentleness to the world: and that through me perhaps your word of peace may make itself heard where it has not been possible for anyone to hear it for a long time.

To study truth here and learn here to suffer for truth.

The Light itself, and the contentment and the Spirit, these are enough.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Easter 7C

Something I really dislike is people who talk from a script. It happens mostly on the phone, customer service people, also in fast food places, but I’ve been in somewhat fancy restaurants and, when you ask what an item on the menu is, they describe the food with words that just have to be written by someone else from somewhere else, they also do it with wine and coffee, and I’ve been to a rather nice chocolate store on the Paris end of Collins Street where, when I asked about one kind on chocolate, they gave me a description that was so precise, even pretentious, and I almost turned against chocolate, though on consideration that seemed too drastic.

This week I read a David Lodge novel from the 1980s, where a man starts playing with a computer program named Eliza. This program is designed to ask the right questions, to lead you on to reflect and refine whatever you’re concerned with. It is a kind of computerised therapist, and the character in the book likes it, keeps coming back to use Eliza to work though the problems and concerns that are bothering him. And the computer responds to certain of his words or phrases with open ended questions:

Hello Rob, how are you?
Well, I am tired lately.
Tired, Rob?
Yes, I’ve been worried about my work.
Why are you worried about your work, Rob?

She seems nice, but it’s just a program, a script, not unlike those telemarketers who call at dinnertime, not unlike a lot of us I guess. Several years ago when I was Senior Chaplain at RMIT University I was working with a student who was dealing with depression. He was talking about what was wrong in his life and I was letting him feel their feelings, listening for key words, asking him to clarify thoughts that seemed unclear, helping him have room to see what options might be on their plate, while watching the clock and wondering about lunch; and then I remembered Eliza. I was getting pretty close to her!

So scripts aren’t always bad. A little later we’ll move through words that have guided people through what just may be the greatest meal on earth, but there’s a difference. This script, this gathering, this shared meal comes to make us more ourselves as well as more connected with one another and with God. And the words we use here link us up with the deepest law and life and love in the universe, line us up too with a community of caring over time and space; the confession and absolution, praise and prayers, creed and canon, moving over the world every Sunday, every day, every moment, like a ronde that rounds us up together in praise to our God, to the great creativity, the deep redemptive action, the intimate breath of inspiring spirit that animates and orders and makes our lives sing. And that’s good!

But there are other sounds out there, and we can get caught in other people’s scripts; trying to sound like what’s popular or what sells or what  is on television that week. I worry about kids nowadays because the world is so noisy with other people’s scripts. I remember another student at RMIT, also dealing with depression and desperation, telling me, “I don’t see anything at the Mall or the Web that looks like me, and I don’t know what’s wrong with me” That’s getting caught, that’s suffocating, on the wrong script

And I think about that woman with a gift of divination, the fortune teller in the Acts of the Apostles; I am not sure what the spirit was, but I think her gift of falsehood, of telling them what they want to hear, was not too far away from Eliza and the telemarketers: you say what sells, for you or the people who own you. But that woman happens on an inconvenient truth: she sees the brand new, moving into a neighbourhood near you, very early church, the people of the way of Jesus come her way, and her selling and her servitude suddenly has to break through to witness a deeper wisdom, a more holy community. And she speaks out: “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” You don’t see that on web or the mall, at least not in the flesh, and she keeps saying this.

This annoys Good Saint Paul, which is not a difficult thing to do, and he pulls the spirit of soothsaying, the spirit of saying less than the truth out of her, and her world will be different from now on. If the worse thing that happens to her is that she loses her job, she’ll be lucky: it could be a lot tougher for her than that. But it could be a lot better too.

Jesus asks the Father that we all may be one. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me...that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

If you see a message like that going by it gives you pause, makes you wonder about what’s been going out of your mouth, how you connect with your family, friend, neighbour you love, the neighbour you might love less, because if we are one, if God calls us to be one, if God calls us to be words of God’s creative neighbourly love, then maybe we need to give up the smooth words, the smooth tongue, the easy sell, and start looking at what a word of God, a word of God’s desire for connection and compassion in the middle of the world looks like; because if we are called to be one with God, it might look just like us. Or it might look a lot like them.

We’re here to get the words right, as well as to get food for the journey, to keep ourselves in shape for the long haul, to take the chance that God is calling us and the whole neighbourhood together to make something new out of the old place. Simply put, in making the world one God is ready to make love in places where there was only propaganda and salesmanship so far, God is asking us to to come along, be agents of change, take the chance that new words for hope, and wholeness, compassion and connection, might come to pass. That we might be those words as we move to that one love.

That’s why we’re here today, because we’re on the other side of the resurrection and moving to Pentecost as soon as possible; because God wants the world to come together in Love, and we are just the people to do it. To consent as best we can to be in the place where the spirit can come, to be willing to speak words of truth and love and justice, to begin acts of power and compassion, as best we can; to become a place where the spirit of God will rest and - quoting Gerard Manley Hopkins here - “brood new beginnings.”

And we need to start small. Just the prayers and the peace, just the bread and wine, just the journey shared, just the neighbour met, the stranger encountered, the faint and timid encouraged; just meeting the world we live in with forgiveness and patience and “a shy hope of the heart” that God will continue our small beginnings with that deeper love, that greater peace, that call to home, that hope of glory, that we will know that deepest truth, that in fact, by love, we are one.

That’s our script, we revise and move it around to fit our face and place and the people that we meet in the street and all that, but that’s our script as friends, as the beloved, of the Most High God, and that, on the week before the Feast of Pentecost, is where we start.

And now we continue, in the name of Christ. Amen