Monday, March 29, 2021

The Easter Promise: Love Wins

 Easter is all about surprises, isn't it?  I mean, the underlying story of resurrection is about the biggest surprise of them all:  someone returning from the dead.  Sure, we have all sorts of such tales in fiction.  Old, old stories, like the ancient myths of Greece, Rome and Egypt, and new stories, like the harry potter stories, and the return of "he whose name shall not be mentioned" (if you don't know who I'm talking about, ask one of your kids or grandkids!)

But Christians claim the story of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead isn't just a tall tale.  They claim it is true.  How they understand it varies, of course.  Ranging from those who understand it as literal, physical/bodily resurrection, to those who see it as a spiritual event.

In all cases, though, I think the truth of the resurrection boils down to the notion that love can't be defeated, that no matter what you throw at it, love wins.  You can't even kill it.  Love wins.  And for Christians, Jesus is love incarnate.  Love in the flesh.  As Martin Luther penned in the well-known hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,  "the body they may kill, God's truth abideth still."   And that truth, is love.  Love which undergirds every single facet of reality.  And that can't be destroyed.  I can't explain it.  I can only trust it to be true.

I hope your Easter is blessed by hope--and blessed as well by the knowledge that God's love endures forever. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Why Is Good Friday . . . Good?

This Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week.  Christians around the world will observe Palm Sunday, a day of celebration as it recounts the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem.  The gospels tell us that he rode in on the back of a donkey and that palm branches and cloaks were strewn on the road before him.  Shouts were lifted up by his followers.  "Hosanna!  Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!"  Of course, within hours it would all begin to sour, and by the end of the week he will have been arrested, tried, and crucified.  Crucified on the day ironically named Good Friday.

Over the years I have almost inevitably been asked, why do we call it good?  It was a horrible event.  Gruesome at best, totally undermining of his life and work at worst.  And that, of course, is true in one sense.  No doubt it was gruesome.  Horrible.  Humiliating even.  But maybe that's why we call it good.  Because Jesus refused to be humiliated.  He was humble, yes, the donkey was perfect earlier in the week.  But not humiliated.  Because despite all the horror of his final days, torture, ridicule, an exceptionally horrid death, Jesus continued to hold out love.  Love for the men he was crucified with, love for his captors and executioners.  Love for his disciples, despite the fact that most of them fled the scene.  These are not the acts of a man who is humiliated, these are the acts of a man who knows who he is.

Yes, he does cry out "Father, father why hast thou forsaken me," as he trunks his eyes heavenward (or  inward) but later he turns himself over to the same God he questions.  "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."

Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting Good Friday is a day to celebrate--but it is a day to observe
.  It is a day to hold up the example Jesus provides in his last hours.  It is good because if we pay attention, we can learn how to better be who we are created to be.  ons and daughters of God, come hell or hig water.  Loved and valued.  

Monday, March 15, 2021

One Year with the Poets, One Year with God

Over this past year, since March 15, 2020, shortly after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, I have been posting live on Facebook a brief devotional offering I've called "A Poem and a Prayer."  Three-hundred-sixty-five poems, by dozens and dozens of poets.  Some well known, like Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, William Butler Yeats, Emily Dickinson and Rumi.  Others known by far fewer, like my friends Maren Tirabassi, Jennifer McLean and Tanya Hochschild.  During February
I focused exclusively on Black poets, in honor of Black History Month, Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson and Amanda Gorman among others. I have discovered any number of poets that I didn't know before, like Jeanne Murray Walker, and was pleased to share some of my old favorites, like Shel Silverstein, Madeleine L'Engle and Maya Angelou.

And each day I have also offered a prayer, always making intercession for the sick, the grieving and those yearning for justice.  They have been reflective of themes raised up in the poetry.  Some days they ahve been short and to the point, other days there has been much to say, and much to pray.

I have decided to continue this practice.  To begin with, the pandemic which set it all in motion is far from over, despite the gradual improvement in things.  And the racial reconciliation, which hopefully was set in motion last summer, will take a real measure of time.  And poems and prayers can help us deal with both.

I am always open to suggestions, recommendations, for specific poems and specific poets.  And I also welcome prayer requests.  My hope is that all this will be helpful for for those who listen in.  I know it has been helpful for me!


Monday, March 8, 2021

I Was Gone Long Before I Left: A Review

What would it be like to live in a monastery?  And how would it change ones life to leave such a sheltered setting after twenty-five years?  These are the questions addressed in Peter Wilcox's book I Was Gone Long Before I Left.  Written in memoir style some thirty-eight years after he actually parted ways with the monastic life, Wilcox's account benefits from his having had almost four decades to reflect on this crucial part of his life.  While he certainly speaks of the great challenges and difficulties that he faced (emotionally and spiritually) it is usually without the rancor that some such volumes often exhibit.  Indeed, he is not an ex-Catholic, simply a former priest and monk.

It is intriguing to note that the book is essentially divided into two major sections.  The first, recounting his life story, the second, reflecting on its significance and meaning, seems written in two different styles.  The first is much more colloquial, and far less polished, the second, more formal.  An example of the former can be found in a passage where he reflects on a day in his childhood spent collecting leaves for a biology project in a local park.  He writes:  "It was such a fun day and among our group was the girl that I liked a whole lot which made the day even more interesting and enjoyable."  (23)  An example of the latter reads:  "Letting go of something in life isn't one step but many.  It's a winding, spiraling process that happens on deep levels and then, only gradually."  (170) 

The book is carefully organized, in fact a bit too carefully for my taste.  It is literally ordered following an outline, and is divided into many, many lettered and numbered subsections for each chapter.  Perhaps the structuring grows out of the many years of living a highly scheduled life.  Whatever,
the format hinders the flow of the book and would have been better left out altogether.

That said, the book taken as a whole, provides a fascinating account of a life rich with a variety of experiences.  Certainly if Socrates was right about the importance of living a life that has been well-examined, Wilcox has met that criterion.  He is a careful observer of his own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of others.  This is not a book of heroes and villains, nor an account of someone who sees himself as a victim.  Rather it is the story of a man struggling with his faith and his identity. 

Near the end of the book Wilcox talks about his own work as a psychotherapist.  "When you listen generously to people, they can hear the truth in themselves, often for the first time.  And in the silence of listening, you bring healing to the other person." (191)  One can only assume that in recounting his life story Wilcox has listened generously to himself.  And in doing so has heard the truth within himself.  In sharing his story, he has also allowed for others to listen in.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Back to the Future

We are returning to our sanctuary this Sunday.  Or maybe I should say our congregants are.  We've been livestreaming from our sacred space ever since the pandemic began last March, and now, almost a year after we left, we are coming back.

We are taking all manner of precautions.  We're limiting numbers to 25% of our capacity.  We are marking off pews, and will practice social distancing.  This morning two of our deacons cleared out all the hymnals, Bibles, and papers from the pew racks.  We are opening up all the doors (one whole side of the sanctuary is sliding glass doors open to the elements) and all the windows.  We will be sanitizing before and after each service.  Our Parish Nurse will be standing at the entrance, checking everybody in and asking health questions. And perhaps most importantly, masks will be required.  It is a big step.

I hope folks realize things will look different, and be different.  I mean yes, we've shared all these protocols with the congregation--more than once!  But still, things won't be the same as the last time folks were in the pews.  They aren't coming back to the past, they are coming back to the future.  Atr least the near-term future.

I never would have guessed we'd be out of the space for so long when all this began.  And, of course, we aren't out of the woods yet and we will need to keep many of these precautions in place for weeks, perhaps months.  For those still uncomfortable with being indoors, we are continuing to offer an outdoor service (with the same protocols) every Sunday.  And we will also continue livestreaming one of our services.  That, in fact, will be a permanent addition to our Sunday schedule.  Something of a silver-lining in all of this.

But while our members and friends will just be returning this week, God has always been present.  Present with the few worship leaders and technicians who have led online services from the space for the past year, and present with our congregation even though they have been scattered and not gathered.  I suppose that is a considered by some to be a rather trite observation, yet it is a reality that has kept me and so many others afloat this year.