You have to run over to the Rev. Scott Gunn's post; it is just too funny!
Meanwhile I had to embed the video of the Flying Thurible in his post (I am thinking they should put Tamiflu in it...). I think if I got to be the thurifer in this video, I'd be up there in the rafters, trying to conk the parishioners on the head for extra points!
Luke 23: 36-40:
36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
Many of you already realize I have a bit of a "hand fetish" when it comes to trying to envision God. I basically see God as "hands." The above passage from Luke was part of our text this past Sunday. That business about "touch me and see" has really stuck to me all week. I know had I been the disciples, or, the week before, Thomas in particular, I would have had to touch Jesus too, to know his presence was real. Probably part of my struggle is that I AM limited to "figurative" forms of touching the Divine. I honestly would like to literally grab hold of God and poke and prod and touch and pat Him.
Sometimes I get in a bit of a bind because I have a tendency to always want to "grab things and take them apart." It's my nature to some degree. After all, my job is to take "pieces and parts" from clinics and operating rooms, take them apart to see "what's wrong with them," decide what parts I want to see under the microscope, and look at them. Some things can't be taken apart, or if they are, they are no longer what they are because they are not "whole."
But then there are the times that "Touch me and see" is the exact right thing.
Sometimes, when we are hurting, or scared, or anxious, I think what we crave the most as human beings is simply human touch. Not necessarily in a romantic or sexual way; just be touched affectionately and earnestly. I get tickled at one of my friends b/c her favorite thing to do is just pat my face at the junction of my chin and cheek. Another likes to ruffle my fuzzy head of hair. Some are huggers. I am a champion bear hugger--so much so, it can almost result in an osteopathic manipulation treatment! But I'm also a "shoulder patter" and "neck squeezer."
The few times I have been seriously sobbing in the presence of others, what always seems to be the greatest "I'm not alone" feeling is to just have someone put their hand square between my shoulder blades and leave it there. They don't even have to pat me or rub me. Just having it there feels like a million bucks.
I am always amazed how under my own fingertips, I can feel people's muscles loosen when I touch their shoulder, or feel their breathing change. There really IS something to the reality of "touch me and see."
Are our own human touches part of "the hand of God?" One has to wonder.
This is a sump pump.
Eventually, every building in NE Missouri that has a basement needs one of these, no matter how well the building is built, if it stands . That's because NE Missouri has clay that can hold moisture like you would not believe. Eventually all this water finds a way into basements.
I could write a sitcom about the various things that have gone wrong with our 92 year old church building since I have been Junior Warden. Now let me state for the record, she's a pretty sturdy old girl for a senior citizen. But like a lot of 92 year olds, she has problems with her water!
Also, like a lot of the issues with "seniors", the "collective parish memory" of how old things are in her is a little spotty. It's kind of like sitting with the relatives of a senior citizen getting them to remember when Mom's surgery was; you get a lot of different answers. I remember when the air conditioner went out two years ago; every one was concerned because "we just bought that a few years ago." I found the bills. We had bought it EIGHTEEN years ago.
Likewise, our sump pump. I have always been told the sump pump was about 15 years old. Well, it was always getting stuck, so T. and I decided to replace it. In looking down the hole at the rusted pump, I was pretty sure this was more like a 1970's sump pump! Oh well.
Anyway, a little planning and a little elbow grease, and we now have a new sump pump! At least I will remember when I changed it!
Just wanted to put my plug in for World Malaria Day today.
We talk about "genocide" in so many forms. Malaria is a "Genocide of Apathy." Over one MILLION people die worldwide from it and its sequelae every year. As much as we talk about HIV in Africa, malaria is still the #1 killer of children under age 5 in Africa.
Why the genocide of apathy shtick? Apathy because 90% of it could be prevented by widespread use of $5.00 insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets around bedding at night. Although there is talk about a vaccine, it is still some time away.
My personal experiences with this disease are sparse, and always odd. I have only had to look for it in peripheral blood smears in unexplained fevers in people here in Kirksville who have been to endemic areas. About 3 or 4 times a year someone comes in the ER with an unexplained fever and their travel history brings malaria to mind. One of my favorite "call stories" is the time I had to come in during a BLIZZARD to look at a blood smear for malaria in a college student who had been to Africa on a mission trip!
In the U.S., we hardly give this disease a thought (although 50 years ago, it was still endemic in SE Missouri.) Yet it is still a ravaging killer in the rest of the world. You can make a donation for mosquito netting in underserved areas here.
Oh, and the picture? It's what I am looking for, when I am asked to look at a blood smear for malarial organisms! (Photo courtesy of the CDC.)
At the end of the "Wedding of Cana" story in John 2, v. 11 says, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
This morning I lay there and thought about that phrase, “The first of his signs.” it got me to thinking. What would I call “the first of my signs?” What would be the first moment in my consciousness that I even suspected that there was a holy part of me, that I was a child of God? For that matter, can you remember what your first one was? What was that first moment that you could see that little spark in you that was bigger than yourself, and connected to it?
I lay there this morning and realized that it was probably a moment I mostly am very dismissive about. It is the story I use to get fundamentalists off my ass when they pester me with that “Are you saved?” crap. It dawned on me that because I am very dismissive about this story, because I use it as a “spacer” between me and their prying, I really have never acknowledged the power in the story itself. I have really never sat with my memories of it. I have never really connected it to the reality of where I am now in understanding God.
So this morning, for the first time, I sat with it, and sort of surprised myself in just how “not to be dismissed” this story was.
I must have been about eight or nine years old at the time. It was in the middle of one of my dad’s drunken tirades. You just never knew when these tirades could start. They might start the minute he got home. They might fester during supper and one “wrong move” on either my or my mom’s part could set it off. It might be the tone in one of our voices. It might be an instantaneous shift from a night we thought he was going to be “drunk and happy.” It might be something as simple as me wrinkling up my nose at something on my plate. It could end up anywhere from a shoutfest to a beating to watching the house be torn apart and wrecked before my very eyes. I am sure it is why my mom is now so hung up on the status of “having nice things.” There was no point to having nice things when my dad would destroy them on a whim, and the more you liked something, the more likely he was to hone in on it and make it the first target of his destruction. Anything you appeared to like more than him was his enemy, when he'd had too much to drink.
The residue of these episodes has left me with an incredible hyperacuity (even an over-acuity sometimes) to “smell disapproval”. I can be in a conversation with someone, and if I even get the tiniest whiff of disapproval of me, my heart rate goes up, and a very old decision tree pops up in my head...”Fight? Or hide?” I doubt that people know how much I have to push that decision tree aside in things that do not really matter much. I often catch myself saying, "This is not big enough to have to play the "Fight or hide" clip; let it go."
But as a child, I knew I was more often going to have to choose “Hide.” Oh, once in a while, I would fight. I suppose to fight at all when I was so small and powerless says something about my inner strength of heart. But most of the time, I hid. I’d hide in my dog Sam’s doghouse and pull Sam in front of me into the doghouse. But sometimes I was so afraid that my dad would see Sam as “The thing I liked more than him,” so I felt I could not risk Sam, even though some of the best comfort I got in those times was for him to curl up in the doghouse with me and be my pillow. So I would hide in the tall grass in the pasture, I would hide in the cemetery down the road, I would hide across the road at my grandparents’ house, and I would hide in the tool shed. Sometimes he would catch up to the fact that I was AWOL and would go looking for me, but luckily he was too drunk to really look well. I could hide in some very small cramped spaces. Sometimes I even fell asleep in my hiding places. When I reappeared, my dad was usually passed out by then, but then my mom would be upset that I had temporarily taken off and take that out on me later. Somehow I was “bad” that I had hidden, that she had to “put up with it” and I had not, and somehow that was wrong. I might get told it was ME that had “set him off.” “If you hadn’t made that face at the dinner table, this would have never have happened, and you left me to deal with it while you got off scot-free. Why can’t you just do what he says so we can be a happy family?” I suppose the other weird thing is you’d think parents would stop fighting to look for their AWOL child, but it seems that people just sort of got used to me disappearing and re-appearing, for lack of a better explanation. I was probably never gone for more than an hour.
One night, during a particularly destructive tirade, I had hidden in the tool shed. Literally sort of arranged the lawn mower and the tarp covering it and some plastic buckets in a way you could not see me if you had opened the tool shed and looked inside.
When I would hide, my heart would beat so fast, and my stomach would feel so sick inside, like I wanted to throw up but could not. I wanted to writhe but knew movement could give me away. I wanted to cry aloud but knew I had to be silent, so a lot of times I just sat or lay there, curled up in a ball, hot tears silently going down my face. Sometimes I would whisper to myself to calm myself down. But on that night, I remember whispering to myself, “Oh, God, I do not want to live like this. Please tell me I don’t have to live the rest of my life like this. I don’t want to grow up to have a house like this. If this is what happens when you grow up, maybe I don’t even want to grow up. Just don’t make me live like this.”
I don’t remember a lot about what happened; to say too much puts me at the risk of projecting who I am now on it. But what I remember is there was this calm over just saying those words to myself and to God. I can remember everything felt more silent than usual even though there was noise; I could hear the wind outside making the tool shed creak, and I could hear the crickets, and I could just sort of feel a comforting, enveloping quiet that seemed to not mind these background noises. It certainly wasn’t like my plea was answered directly, just that a very palpable stillness came over the tool shed, and what noise there was, seemed rhythmic. I remember listening carefully to it and listening to hear if there was still fighting going on. (In the pre-air conditioning days, we had the windows open all spring and summer, and you could gauge what was going on by hearing whether or not arguing was going on.) It had stopped, far as I could tell, and I eventually came out of my hiding place and went back into the house.
But what I realize now is that moment of being “answered with stillness” is not a bit different than the moments I feel sitting out by my fire, or the moments I look up at the stars when I’m taking the dogs out late at night, or the moments I lie awake early in the morning in my own bed and am “thinking prayerful thoughts.” Moments that are quiet yet punctuated with rhythmic noises that seem to add to the quiet rather than break them up. They are moments of peace, bred from a moment of terrible pain in a dark tool shed. It’s like they all sprang up from that one sentinel event. That moment in the tool shed was my first inkling of an awareness of a Presence.
To take that moment and use it as a dismissive barrier to a mindset I don’t like; to use it to put distance between me and the fundamentalists, cheapens its power. That has been a mistake on my part, albeit an honest and understandable one. That moment was not meant for me to put enmity between them and me, it was meant to connect me to who I sense I am now. It WAS a moment of salvation, just not in quite the way others might expect or demand. Not a “defining moment of salvation,” but one in a long string of many, a “first sign” as important to me as the wedding at Cana was to Jesus.
So I ask you, dear readers: What was your first sign?
...Sounds very Jerry Springer-esque, doesn't it?
Many of you who follow this blog know for a little over a year now, I've worked in certain books of the Bible for long periods of time. This was kind of something I had worked out between the vicar and me. I started with going through all the Psalms backwards, from 150 to 1. Then I did the "last 1/3 of Isaiah". Clear back when I was doing the Psalms I knew I was going to get steered into the Gospel of John. He made noises back then I needed to go there. I grunted. I'm no fool. It's his favorite Gospel. It's my least favorite Gospel. I hid from it for a little while by offering up the dodge of spending some time in Isaiah, which is one of his favorite books and one of mine. But then he threw out the line that doomed me to agree to do John next...
"Well...if you think you're not ready for it, and it's still too much to tackle for you at this point...well, you could do something else."
Arrrgh. He might as well have stood on the playground and yelled, "Chicken! Double-dog dare ya, you little Mama's titty baby!" The effect would have been the same.
I admit it. I cannot back down when the gauntlet has been thrown. Never could. So here I am, wallowing around in the Gospel of John.
The fact that it is so different from the synoptic Gospels is a constant irritant in my shoe. First of all, there are stories in it that are not in the others. It's a fair bit younger than the other Gospels, particularly my favorite Gospel, Mark. The prologue, when compared to the rest of the Gospels, raises some suspicion in my mind it might not have been written by the same person. It doesn't really have the typical pile of parables, it has discourses. Fairly long and complicated prophetic-sounding discourses. Finally, there's my major irritant with John...in John, Jesus is portrayed as "knowing all along he's someone special" to some degree. The other Gospels don't quite portray that level of self-awareness.
So here I am, mired in John. I knew that if I was going to reconcile myself to this, I needed to get some historical and "ancient world affairs" knowledge first. Well, here is what I figured out...
The main thing, I suppose, is to realize that the Gospel of John was basically written for the Greeks. It is unclear and somewhat controversial whether John actually wrote it or it was written by some of John's disciples, or a little of both, but its intended audience was the Greeks. (Now, for purposes of talking about the author, I'm going to say "John" just to have a personal pronoun for reference.) John, being Jewish, realized two things:
1. The Greeks do not understand the cultural historical precedent of Jesus; and
2. In order for Jesus to be understood, there have to be ways to hook him to things of Greek cultural historical reference.
The Greeks were more into "epic depictions" of the gods and godesses of their mythology. Hence, in the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks in discourses rather than little snippets of parables. That would make sense. He speaks more in a "Greek manner" in John than the other three Gospels. Also, when I got into Chapter 2, and was reading about the story of the wedding feast in Cana, I got to thinking..."Hey...didn't Dionysius also turn water into wine in Greek mythology? Come to think of it, there's that story where he turned a lot of things into something else for Midas." That would certainly be a way the Greeks would "get" what Jesus was all about.
At the same time, John has to figure out a way to connect the Greeks to the historical Jewish sacred literature. So in this Gospel, Jesus becomes more "prophetic" and is more frequently seen as fulfilling some prophetic elements of the Old Testament. So the tone becomes more of the tone of one who knows he is fulfiling prophecy.
So, in that sense, I can at least be okay with what this Gospel might have historically been "meant to do" even if I am not crazy about the differences between it and the other three Gospels. I probably have to remember there are plenty of other Gospels out there that were not part of the canon, and having not have read them, parts of this book are outside of my realm of experience in the books of the early church. Well, this will be an adventure, anyway!
I sooooo dig words. Last night, I learned something new about a word I have heard for years--Abracadabra. It is far more than just a nonsense stereotypical word used by magicians. It actually comes from Aramaic translated back into Hebrew as avra kedabra, with the literal meaning when one recites it of "I create as I speak." (Hmmm. Does this mean the first stage magicians were Jewish?)
It was considered a Kabalistic charm, and if written out in the fashion below...
...could be used as an amulet to ward off toothache, bloody flux, fever, and all manner of aches, pains, and maladies. It was considered a "magic word" in the mystical world of Hebrew numerology because it contained Hebrew letters ascribed to the monotheistic God, the meshiach, and Ruach, the divine wind. (Hmmm. Not too far from early Christianity's notion of the Trinity.) But somehow over the years, it morphed into a silly nonsense word used by the stereotypical stage magician. What once was "magic" became "trite." What once was powerful became nonsensical.
This is one of my problems with Biblical literalists. I believe in the Bible as the inspired word of God, but not the literal word of God. I really don't think anyone was taking dictation. History tells me many of the stories in the Bible were oral accounts for millenia before anyone bothered to write them. My understanding of ancient Hebrew culture is that the context and message in their history was more important than the literal facts. It just simply does not work to hold ancient Hebrew works to the same standard as modern Ph.D. theses. Yet to buy the beliefs forced upon us by the literalists, to take these stories absolutely literally, at best reduces them to trite feats of stage magic, and at worst becomes a form of biblio-idolatry. It takes a powerful message like "I create as I speak" and reduces it to a word some dude in a top hat utters while performing a parlor trick, accompanied by a lady in a sequined swimsuit and feathers sticking out of a tiara on her head.
What a powerful turn of phrase that is..."I create as I speak." It speaks to God's miracles of old. It speaks to the years Christ walked on this earth. It speaks to the conversions, big and small, of our own hearts. It speaks of the power of our own prayers. We create as we speak. Wow. We create energy. We create a road to the divine. Our speech, when we pray aloud, is an act of creation, no less miraculous than God creating the world, and we all know that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."
It makes me wonder if we should start our prayers this Easter season with an "Abracadabra" and end them with an "Alleluia!"
Although I got to thinking about Pascal's Wager as a result of a couple hilarious interchanges where "Paschal" got spelled "Pascal", it was a good reminder of the concept and a good time to think about the famous mathematician/scientist Blaise Pascal and his own conversion.
For those of you not familiar with Pascal's Wager, it basically goes like this:
Even though the existence of God cannot be determined by reason, one should wager on the side that God exists, because living in such a way has everything to gain and nothing to lose.
Blaise Pascal is a good link for me to remind me that, yes, I can still have a logical and scientific mind, believe what science tells me, and still remain a person deeply rooted in faith.
Pascal suffered from a variety of weird neurological and gastrointestinal complaints. (One now wonders if in his research, studying barometric pressure, he might have suffered from mercury poisoning. Other findings at his autopsy suggested that at least by the time of his death, he might have had stomach cancer or gastrointestinal tuberculosis.) Additionally, he experienced a religious conversion when the horses pulling a carriage he was riding in spooked and leaped over the side of a bridge and the carriage almost went in the river after them. (Luckily, the traces broke and only the horses plunged to their death, leaving the carriage half-over the bridge.) As a result, he experienced a vision.
This created a bit of a problem for him, being a man of science and reason, and he wrote extensively in an attempt to reconcile himself to the fact that faith is not something that can be proved by the scientific method. (He was one of the first proponents of the scientific method.) He describes his wager in this way:
If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is....
..."God is, or He is not." But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.
Do not, then, reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know nothing about it. "No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all."
Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is."That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much." Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and happiness. And this being so, if there were an infinity of chances, of which one only would be for you, you would still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act stupidly, being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite.
It was during the time he was writing his Pensees that he came up with the famous "Pascal's Wager."
I think about Pascal's Wager now and then, mostly in my moments of doubt. Like Pascal, it is a comfort to me that to believe his wager means that even if I turned out to be wrong about all this spirituality stuff of mine, that I have tried to live in a way that betters others and the world. It's certainly a better wager than my twice-weekly Powerball ticket!
Ok, here it is, in all its glory, the gag gift I told you about...the ACME Sermon-writing kit...the perfect gift for your friends of the "collared ilk."
So...what all is in the kit?
1. Homilax--for when those unexpected moments of sermon constipation occur.
2. Homilettes--for when a full blown sermon is just too filling.
3. Homilube--for when you need to really drive those sticky theological points up the correct orifice.
4. Sermonagra--for stronger, more powerful sermons. It really "uplifts the fallen."
5. Sermo-Plast bandages--for when you need to patch a couple of old sermons together.
6. "Sermon words" refrigerator magnets--when you're brainstorming about that perfect phrase. (These can be customized. Just take any of the recipient's sermons, enlarge the type font, print on magnetic sheets, get out the scissors, and start cutting!)
7. The "Hear O Israel" parishioner ear-cleaning kit--designed to turn deaf congregational ears in a Godward direction. The kit comes with liturgically correct cleaning devices in Advent blue, Lenten purple, Easter white, and Ordinary Time green.
I woke up this morning with a very strange but very Holy Saturday kind of thought. I awoke to imagining smelling the inside of the tomb. I could smell the damp, dank, interior, the smell of the spices that must have impregnated the burial shroud over the undertone of putrefaction, and what I can best describe as "body fluid smells."
Those of you who have spent time in the healthcare field or in emergency medical services will know exactly what I am talking about. It's the "rusty" smell of old sticky blood. It's the "protein" smell of pulmonary edema or peritoneal ascites fluid, or the serous fluid inside of blisters. It's dried urine. It's the smell of a hot appendix removed in the OR. It's the smell of amniotic fluid all over the delivery room drapes. It is a smell that accompanies birth and death. It's a smell that comes with healing and disease.
In that half asleep, half awake moment, I knew I was literally "in the tomb with Jesus." I don't care for total darkness. But I did not feel afraid, because the body fluid smells were so familiar, and in an odd way, comforting. I imagine I smell those smells all the time in the cytology fluids brought to my lab, traversing the halls, and the leftovers of them mixed with formalin in surgical pathology specimens...so much so, I scarcely notice them most days. But I certainly noticed them in my half asleep state, and they felt, well...calming.
But there seemed to be, in my dream state, a synergy about all these smells. Something about them was more than just "cave smell," "Body fluid smell", and "perfumed putrefaction smell."
Then it hit me...is this the smell of the Resurrection?
When I take my dogs out at night, I remain continually entertained by their sense of smell. Smells are so vivid to them that I cannot smell at all. I know I must seem like a horribly inferior being to them. I will tease little Eddie, "Whachoo smell, Ed-wud?" and he will look at me as if to say, "You STOOPID or sumtin? Day are smells all over dis place! You not smell 'em?" as he vigorously works at marking all the smells.
But it got me to thinking. Is there an innate and holy part of us that "smells Resurrection?" Do our noses become filled with it when we get "in synch" with Holy Week, but our brains are just too feeble to process it?
I am taking the morning for myself today as a "silent Saturday morning." I needed it. This week has been non-stop at work. I want to slap people silly when they tritely tell me I need to "stop and smell the roses." But I do know one thing. I needed this morning to stop and smell the Resurrection, even if I have no clue what it smells like. I am just going to trust that my heart knows the smell, even if my brain doesn't.
This morning, for my personal Good Friday activity, I spent a little quiet time with the Stations of the Cross that Larry had posted on his Emmanuel Cyber Chapel blog:
Larry put up the limestone relief carvings from the Ludwigskirche in Darmstadt, Germany along with some reflections on each station written by Harry Langdon in 2001. I was thinking about a lot of things as I sat a little bit with each station. I got up a half hour early to do the stations. I particularly thought about Simon of Cyrene and Veronica. Then when I went back to the first half of the first chapter of John this morning, and reflected how the Word is manifest in people.
I thought about how these humble people--Simon and Veronica--were able to provide moments of grace for Jesus in his darkest hours—Simon of Cyrene by just carrying the cross, and Veronica by wiping Jesus’ face. Both of them were pious Jews, and you know they were probably “just hangin’ out” like everyone else, watching the hubbub in the streets. But something moved them to reach out to comfort the condemned Jesus in some way.
It’s an interesting story of how Veronica makes the renditions of the Stations, I think, and the story itself is a story of grace. She’s not mentioned in the Bible but what is interesting is the story springs from a relic. The legend comes from a relic, the “vera icon”--an ancient cloth that sort of had the image of Jesus’ face on it, and the name Veronica came from “vera icon” and the story arose that a woman wiped Jesus’ bloody, sweaty, messed up face, and his image appeared on it. Although there is a saint attributed to her, she's kind of like a lot of the earlier saints, with blurred boundaries between "real person" and "legendary figure." One has to remember that in the Hebrew and Aramaic traditions, "history" was more conceptual than factual, and a lot of little funny details get mixed together.
In that sense, Veronica intrigues me as an iconic figure, and it doesn’t really matter if she is real or not, because she represents, in a sense, all of us in those moments when moments of grace flow through us unwittingly or unawares. By making Veronica a “real person” in the Stations, she represents ALL the unnamed people who provided small acts of kindness and grace as Jesus made his way to Golgotha. It doesn’t matter if the relic is real or not; it doesn’t matter if Veronica is a “real person” or not; what matters is through her image in the rendition of the stations, she represents all the acts of grace that are unseen and unnoticed.
Likewise, Simon of Cyrene’s story is a representation of a moment of conversion in our own hearts. I like to imagine Simon was just one of the many who had come to Jerusalem for Passover all the way from Cyrene of North Africa, and he was out in the street b/c everyone else was in the street--”Hey, did you hear? They’re crucifying a dude today, they said he thinks he’s King of the Jews!” I like to imagine that Simon was no different that anyone at a public hanging in the Old West. Simon got yanked out of the crowd by a Roman soldier when Jesus fell in front of him and was forced to carry Jesus’ cross.
I think about how those Roman soldiers were scanning the crowd. I can imagine all their eyes down, looking at the ground, like little children hoping the teacher won’t call on them. I can fast forward to imagining the concentration camp occupants of Buchenwald, their eyes down, hoping they are passed by when the guards are sending people to be “deloused.” It is a universal feeling, “Oh, please, DON’T pick me.” But something made a soldier pick Simon. Was it his brightly colored yarmulke? Was it the brief moment when his eyes looked up? Who knows. I think how Simon must have been thinking, “I’m tired. I came all this way. PLEASE, not me. That guy’s all bloody and dirty and covered with spit.”
But he gets picked. He had to be incredibly pissed and afraid of this. Maybe if he didn’t do a good job, someone would kill him too. But something happened to him during this unwilling moment. Simon must have somehow felt the weight of what this man Jesus was carrying...and in that moment, he developed true compassion. Jesus’ crucifixion was no longer free entertainment for the crowds. It was much more real and personal for Simon.
So, for me, Simon of Cyrene represents all those times I did not want to do something, maybe even did it with a cold, dark heart, but at the end of it, I sensed my heart had changed. In retrospect, I had compassion for those I had helped. I had a sense of “I did the right thing.” He represents the moments of conversion in my own heart, when it opens up and breaks open in a way I did not expect.
These are both important renditions of how grace does what it does, whether we want it to or not, or whether we knew what we were doing at the time we did it. How many times when we are the recipients of grace, did it involve someone who was either UNWILLING or UNWITTING? In that sense, grace is not just about “us” even when we are the recipient. Grace is a multi-tasking thing. It works God’s will both through its agents AND its recipients. We do not know on any given day if we will be chosen as an agent OR a recipient. Wow. That is an incredibly holy mystery, isn’t it?
In my quest to figure out ways to become more "quiet" in my personal prayer time, last night I stumbled upon what seems to be a great idea for me. I found it on this site. It's called Imaginatio Divina. The basic technique is here.
No doubt, I am out of my league with "art." One of my friends, who fancies herself as a "real artist" teases me about being an "art zero," and joshingly razzes me that I consider dogs playing poker and black velvet paintings of Elvis as "art." (Ok, well, I'm not quite THAT bad. But I do consider Ducks Unlimited prints of hunting dogs as art. I confess to being enamored with the difficulties of painting a black Laborador Retriever, how you use all these colors to paint a black dog!)
But I will also say, no doubt my two strongest senses are visual and tactile. What little I've seen of the Holy Spirit, to me, She's visual and felt.
I also know that to some degree I am a "short bus rider" when it comes to apophatic prayer. My mind just does not go to "blank." The best I can do is get the thoughts zipping around in my head to go in a uniform direction, but as I once told my priest, "In my quiet place in my head, there's always SOMETHING moving." I am afraid Thomas Keating and I share relatively few DNA base pairs except the general "human" ones. I think the closest in recent memory I ever had to being even remotely close to "blank" was when I suffered a head injury. That is the closest my mind ever felt to being "emptied."
But on my retreat, one of the monks and I were chatting about cataphatic prayer. Although historically, cataphatic prayer was used through spoken Psalms or other Bible phrases or prayers, but it also uses icons and holy images. In other words, it was the power of prayer through a created image that intrigued me. What if I created an image in my MIND rather than a "pre-fabricated" holy image?
It was suggested to me to think of things like "imagine you and Jesus walking on the beach." Well, me and Jesus walking on the beach didn't work, because he looked like Truck Stop Black Velvet Painting Jesus, and I found that distracting. Actually, I had to remove people entirely from my imagery. But I did find that I could imagine a dense oak-hickory forest, like we have here, with sunlight streaming from the sky in rivets, the heat from the rivets of sunlight being individual connections to God. Hey, I could do THAT and be quiet!
But sometimes, I'm tired, and my imagination is a little dull. Sometimes, I think, I need a picture that will give me a jump start. But typical "holy pictures" don't do it for me, because they have PEOPLE in them, and people distract me, and when I'm being quiet with God, honestly, I don't want anything to do with people.
After reading this last night, it struck me, "Hey...Google Images can drag all kinds of art up to me." So I tried it, using the picture above that was right on the page that discussed this technique--it's the picture above. (Ok, so I was lazy.) I became halfway excited with that, "Hey! I can do this!" feeling. I could feel myself lounging back in this boat, the waves rocking it ever so gently, moving from gentle calm to sort of stormy stuff not dissimilar to how the Disciples must have felt in the boat in the storm. It was the gathering storm of Holy Week, in my mind, as we head into Maundy Thursday. It made me feel the real power of that storm, that dark, that would come before the light.
It sounds silly, but I felt good just that I could do this. I'll be honest. I am crap when it comes to praying. I cannot spontaneously pray worth a hoot. (It's the one thing I am jealous about the Baptists. Good spontaneous pray-ers seem to come from there more than my world, but then again, you've got to wade through a LOT of bad spontaneous praying to get to the good stuff.) I can feel things in the prayers I write myself. I can find zones of prayer within the liturgy and its collects...now and then. But I can't pray out loud worth a damn without my frustration showing through, and I can't make my mind a blank in the "classic contemplative/centering prayer" way.
I know, however, I do have to cut myself a little slack. Jane Redmont's book helped me there. It affirmed something I sort of knew intuitively, that a lot of the things I do really ARE "prayer" it's just sort of, um...non-standard prayer by conventional prayer definitions.
But I have to confess this Imaginatio Divina business has some real potential for me in terms of feeling like I CAN have silent prayer time and help me feel like I'm not a "2nd class prayer citizen." If you have some of the same issues I do, you might give it a try.
THE END! It’s in sight!
So here is the concluding prayer....
We humbly beseech thee, O Father, mercifully to look upon
our infirmities; and, for the glory of your Name, turn from us
all those evils that we most justly have deserved; and grant
that in all our troubles we may put our whole trust and
confidence in thy mercy, and evermore serve thee in holiness
and pureness of living, to thy honor and glory; through our
only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Some of this is pretty old school theology, honestly. I’m not doin’ “evils we most justly have deserved.” That’s too much LCMS flashback for me! And I’m not real crazy about that “only mediator and advocate” part. That’s not even congruent with the “company of saints” in Eucharistic Prayer A. Yeah, Jesus is my mediator and advocate, but I sort doubt he is my ONLY one.
But I can do the “grant that in all our troubles we may put our whole trust and confidence in thy mercy, and evermore serve thee in holiness and pureness of living, to thy honor and glory” part easy.
Really, it’s the message of Lent. As we move full-bore into Holy Week, what have we been doing, really, in all our Lenten disciplines, our sacrifices of vices and treats and our addition of study, projects, retreats, and whatnot? We’re training our hearts to hear what God has to tell us and take what we are given from him in gratitude. We are learning to serve God in holiness and purity. We’re trusting that we are capable of using what we have (no matter how insignificant we feel it is on some days) in His service.
Every year in Lent, I push myself harder to be disciplined. I know in my case, habits become willing acts. It’s the OCD in me. I can take something that can be a bit of a hindrance (my compulsions) and train “good compulsions” into me. Some will fall by the wayside when my disciplined time is over. But some won’t. I really can’t predict which are which. But I know the more I do, the more that will stick.
May something “stick” with each of you in your own Lenten disciplines this year.
I wish I knew the name of the artist of this print, but it is one that sums up the entirety of Holy Week for me. I can so totally identify with it, because it connects me to all the moments that the hero or heroine has to set his or her face before the moment of truth in every Western movie, and the moments I had to set my own face when I had to walk into my own valleys of the shadow of death. It's that moment before Gary Cooper walks into the street at noon. It's that moment when the occupants of the Alamo see the Mexican army approaching. It's that moment the occupants of United Airline Flight 93 must have felt as the plane descended. It's that moment the passengers of the Titanic know the ship wil sink.
However, what sets Jesus apart from this is we all have a habit of "going down swinging." Jesus knew, that what he had to do, "going down swinging" was not an option. He knew that even those closest to him could not possibly understand.
He knows that the same mob that will laud him and wave palms with him, in just a few days will spit and curse him. Fame is fleeting.
He knows his disciples will want to fight it out. I always can SO identify with Peter in the story. I can see me in a similar Peter-oid role had I been there. "Jesus, I will NOT let them take you. They'll take me down first." I would have done more than cut someone's ear off. Likewise, I identify with Peter's later fear. I've lived that one, and it still haunts me.
But in this rendition of the moments before Palm Sunday, I can feel Jesus' agony of being totally alone, and knowing it will be ugly. It's just him and the donkey, and I wonder if in that moment, he felt that even God was not there...just as later, at the crucifixion, even he, the Son of God, feels betrayed and forsaken by God the Father.
A lot of people I've known over the years question why we always do the Passion Gospel on Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday was a joyful day...why do we "spoil" it with the Passion Gospel?
Honestly, I think its to remind all of us we have our own "High noons," and we must face them, knowing we may be defeated in one way or another. We have our own crosses to bear, and they can be painful. We may lose our life, either physically or emotionally. We may be taunted and jeered. We may find ourselves utterly alone, and the crowd saying we are wrong, we are fools, we are bad people.
We ride down off the mountain like Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti Western to face judgement, our faces set, our lives ultimately not our control. The only control we have is our resolve.
This is the Passion--that moment before the chain of events that will unfold. Not the story, not the outcome. The Passion that lives in all of is is most alive in that moment where we decide we must do something, and take what comes.
This week, as Holy Week unfolds, the only moments that matter are this moment, and the Resurrection. The rest is all commentary.
Well, we’re coming down the home stretch...the last set of versicles before the concluding collect...
V. Favorably with mercy hear our prayers;
R. O Son of David, have mercy upon us.
V. Both now and ever vouchsafe to hear us, O Christ;
R. Graciously hear us, O Christ; graciously hear us, O Lord
It’s four lines of a very simple request: Christ, hear us.
What is it we want most when something great just happened to us, or something awful just happened to us, or we have an earnest hope, or a terrible fear? We just want someone to listen. We don’t necessarily want someone to “do” something, or respond a certain way. We just want to be heard.
Sometimes I don’t have anything in particular to take to God, but just want to be heard. As much press as Jesus got for “healing”, sometimes I don’t need to be healed, I’d just like some company—just like sometimes I itch for human company. You know, just a pleasant conversation. The problem, of course, is you don’t just get to chat Christ up. It feels a little one-sided, if you are expecting a conversation with words.
But awareness can take us into at least one form of “conversation”. Sometimes things sort of “unfold around you” after prayer. But if you’re not aware, you might miss it. Sort of like talking to someone in a foreign language.
I don’t think there’s a magic answer to this. But I think it’s like the Powerball ads—You can’t win if you don’t play.
Well, here's some good news from the late Bo's house. Bo's mom and dad brought home a new housemate for Miss Zera Ruth, Mr. Griff. That's Griff on the pet cot and Zera on the floor, so it's obvious Griff has chosen the choicer spots in the house.
Griff is a well-traveled dog. He originally came from a breeder in Columbia, MO, who took him to the local humane society there because he could not sell him. He was only a couple of days from being euthanized and a rescue group in Quincy, IL picked him up. He has been hanging out at a foster home in Quincy.
Zera was missing her friend Bo, so her hoomans found out about Griff and the three of them went to check him out. He and Zera got along very well, so what started out as a trip with three turned out to be a return trip with four.
I am going over to Zera and Griff's house tomorrow to meet Mr. Griff for the first time. I probably won't bring Mr. Boomer and Little Eddie this trip, but they will come for a visit sometime soon.
Anyway, thought you might like to meet Miss Zera Ruth's new pal!
V. From our enemies defend us, O Christ;
R. Graciously behold our afflictions.
V. With pity behold the sorrows of our hearts;
R. Mercifully forgive the sins of thy people.
It’s the “beholds” that caught my attention.
These versicles ask God to behold our afflictions and the sorrows of our hearts. Not our good qualities. Not our love and affection or sense of good or our good works. Instead, we are bringing our doubts, our uncertainties, our woundedness, our brokenness to his altar to be held up in glory? Whoa.
To hold up the things that wound us to God, as if it is a gift, is a very difficult concept. It is something we tend to hide rather than ask God to behold. But I have the feeling the shame is ours, not God’s. It is another of those things that remind me of the story of one of my medical students who “came out of the closet.” I had a medical student once who came to my office. I think he was sort of getting ready to tell his parents he was gay, so he was sort of trying out the “coming out process” on other people in whom he had far less invested emotionally.
So he starts talking about all this, and he announces to me that he wanted me to know he was gay. I looked at him and said, “Uh, so? I hate to tell you this, but I sort of could tell that anyway.” He got this shocked look on his face. His so carefully hidden secret, KNOWN?
“Did anyone tell you?”
“How did you know?”
“It’s hard to explain without going into stereotypes, but let’s put it this way. If you told me you WEREN’T gay, I’d have been more surprised.”
Well, that is probably the way it is with our afflictions and sorrows. We think we are hiding them so well. But I have a feeling if we beheld them to God, God goes, “Well, DUH...I knew that already. But I’m glad YOU know this and have brought them to me.”
Well, I honestly feel we have put our blogfriend Lee to rest now, in style.
Lee's "real" funeral was this afternoon at his home church in Bristol, VA. But this evening, several of us attended his cyber-funeral on Facebook, presided by Deacon Larry of Renz in the Woods. Larry did a fantastic job.
Prior to the service, Larry messaged us that if we wanted to fully participate in the Eucharist, it was BYOE (Bring your own elements), and that Lee's home church priest, Fr. Mark Frazier, was going to consecrate all our elements via the Internet. (It works for me. I figure that is something God can handle easily).
I had decided to crank up a fire in my chiminea and attend from "my sacred spot in the yard." Lee and I had spent many Facebook hours in that spot, with me and my laptop, as had many of the other cyber-attendees. It was fitting.
As the service started, a lovely yellow sunset was gracing my pasture. I could hear my donkeys munching on their hay. A few birds were chirping. As the service went on, the dark silence of a quiet Friday night in the country settled in insidiously.
Larry's planning on this service was brilliant. He used the standard Rite II Book of Common Prayer burial. We were able to type in the responses in the "comments" section of Larry's status reports. I thought about all those "and also with you's", and "Amens" and "Thanks be to Gods" that were coming in from all over the country. I did many parts of the service aloud, such as the Apostle's Creed. Our service music, readings, and the actual homily by Fr. Mark from earlier today were on the Emmanuel Cyber Chapel site, and we were instructed as to when to click on the pre-recorded material. (BTW...the New Testament reading? That's me, in all my 5th generation rural NE Missouri accent, just a tad cleaned up b/c it's my "reading aloud voice". I am a regular lector here at Trinity in Kirksville and I guess I can say this has been my biggest lector gig.)
There I was, in the dark, by my fire, standing and reciting the Apostle’s creed with tears leaking out of the corners of my eyes and my voice cracking b/c the sheer beauty of what was happening was just grabbing me. I was NOT alone in the dark. I was standing in God’s firmament, with several other people slung all over the country, at that moment who were all in their "sacred spaces for the evening", reciting the Creed.
The next moment of utter "Oh, wow-ness" was at the exchanging of the peace. I had my Facebook Chat activated, and my Facebook friends were all exchanging the peace, LIVE, with me, just as if we were right there in church together! I felt like we were all standing around at Trinity here in Kirksville, doing this.
We used Eucharistic Prayer A, and I realized that even without the Book of Common Prayer with me, these words are burned in my heart, as are my responses. Before I knew it, I was kneeling in the yard, feeling the knees of my jeans getting damp, the chilly night breeze, the warmth of my chiminea fire and the TOTAL sacredness of my sacred space in the yard.
Larry typed in that our elements had been consecrated by Fr. Mark and then he typed in “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven,” and “The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation,” and I tell you what...that Triscuit and little slug of wine I had brought out in the yard—was electric. Absolutely electric. It was one of the most real Sacraments I have ever felt. I kid you not.
As we went through the post-Communion prayer, and the commendation, I was itching for the release of "Thanks be to God." Not only did I type it, I announced it to the dogs and the donkeys and the mule and the neighbor's cows, and every rabbit, possum, and critter within earshot. It was release. Pure release.
I have been sitting with this experience this evening. I have said many times how I prefer the liturgical funeral to the non-liturgical funeral for a very simple reason. The standard funeral home funeral is becoming "too full of eulogizing." Like so many things in our American culture, it is becoming a "me-fest." Me, me the dead person. Look at me one last time. Me, me, the eulogizers. We all want our few minutes, our audience to foist our memories upon you to prove our love for the deceased. But the liturgical funeral is the antithesis to that.
What I like about liturgical funerals is that the deceased is not the object but the catalyst for the gathering. A liturgical funeral is about none of us and all of us. It is about the promise of glory and the hope of the Resurrection for each of us. It is about participating in our grief, sharing it, sharing the peace and hope of eternal life among each other. We are forced to respond with our cracking voices and the tears squirting out of our eyes and the movements of our bodies. We can share a common meal and a common cup. I wonder how many Triscuits and Ritz crackers and Wheat Thins all became the body of Christ tonight, one body, stretched across the U.S. and possibly beyond. I wonder how many bottles of wine ranging from the "wine we saved for a special occasion" all the way to a half empty bottle of Two Buck Chuck were shared as Christ's blood. (Me? A bottle of $3.99 Winking Owl Merlot from Aldi's. Believe it or not, Wine Spectator gave it good press.)
Sometimes I sit in my yard and wonder if God will even bother to show up. Tonight? Well...there was no doubt.
Well, we are now at the supplication:
O Lord, arise, help us;
And deliver us for thy Name's sake.
O God, we have heard with our ears, and our fathers have
declared unto us, the noble works that thou didst in their
days, and in the old time before them.
O Lord, arise, help us;
and deliver us for thy Name's sake.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy
Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.
O Lord, arise, help us;
and deliver us for thy Name's sake.
Here’s another “simple is good” moment in The Great Litany. The repeated phrase is basically Psalm 44:26. Again, what strikes me about this litany is the collection of small, one line, powerful phrases.
“O Lord, arise, help us; and deliver us for thy Name’s sake,” are twelve words that can trump some of the most long winded, comprehensive prayers that I’ve heard or seen.
Rise up, Lord. Come out of the darkness and show yourself to me.
Help me, Lord. I’m not asking for specifics, I’m not putting an order in, I’m not punching the button of the Cosmic Coke Machine. Just help me as you see fit.
Deliver me, Lord. Take me to the place you will show me. Take me to the place you want me to go. I know I’d prefer a map, but I’m starting to understand you don’t tend to work with maps.
Do this for your sake, Lord. Not mine. Don’t work off of my agenda. Work off of yours. As much as I like to think I know what I’m doing, I have a feeling you know better.
That is a ton of power in twelve little words of one, two, and three syllables.
Ok, we start the versicles and a collect as we move towards the supplication....
V. O Lord, let thy mercy be showed upon us;
R. As we do put our trust in thee.
Let us pray.
Almighty God, who hast promised to hear the petitions of
those who ask in thy Son's Name: We beseech thee mercifully
to incline thine ear to us who have now made our prayers
and supplications unto thee; and grant that those things
which we have asked faithfully according to thy will, may be
obtained effectually, to the relief of our necessity, and to the
setting forth of thy glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
I got to thinking about that “be obtained effectually, to the relief of our necessity, and to the setting forth of thy glory,” part.
I have a feeling God cares more about “necessity” than “frills and fringe benefits,” when it comes to our petitions. I never could get into that “prosperity Gospel” mindset where you ask for cars and to win Powerball. He provides for us, and it’s pretty clear to me his provisions are not necessarily “exactly what we ordered.” God gives us what we truly need, and I think most of these things are more related to awareness than it is actual things.
So many times, the “relief of our necessity” is not so much a physical thing, but a realization that “something’s changing for the better.” it’s sometimes just the feeling of letting go when our cares are overburdening us. Or perhaps just a feeling of peace.
These things, if we are aware, can have an outward effect. They can move us closer to God if we earnestly follow them.
The “relief of our necessity” can be found in joy, in pain, in light, in darkness. But it, like a lot of spiritual things, can also be elusive, fleeting, something we are yearning for and not finding. Looking seems to make them more elusive.
So we ask and wait. Our answer is not always the answer we asked for. It might not even look like an attractive answer at the time, but over time, it can grow into something better than what we asked for.
Well...no April Fool here. Now we launch into another piece of the familiar, the Lord’s Prayer (minus the doxology)...
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.
It always intrigued me why Roman Catholics never say the doxology of the Lord’s Prayer (“for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever”), other liturgical denominations do sometimes (like at the Eucharist) but not in some other rites, and the rest of the Protestants pretty much say the doxology in all instances.
Well, I found a bit of history on that. It appears the doxology was a transcriber’s footnote. So much for the biblical literalists....
Here’s what I found out. Of course, there is the Matthew version and the Luke version. The Matthew version has the doxology but the Luke version does not. Apparently, a copyist. was copying Matthew's gospel, and he put a note in the margin at 6:13. A later copyist mistakenly transcribed the margin note into the text after vs. 13. The folks transcribing for what is now the King James version used a copy of the New Testament that contained these added words.
There’s no doubt, next to the 23rd Psalm, it may be the most well known bit of Christianity known to the human race. People who don’t know squat about the Bible usually at least know the Lord’s prayer. It’s emblazoned on more kitsch than one can imagine. If anything, it has become incredibly trite. I remember some time back dissecting it to find reality amidst the “trite.”
What’s probably of more interest is WHY this prayer appears in the Bible. Well, if you really look at this chapter of Matthew, it comes out in the context of Jesus rebuking the folks who pray out in front of everyone just for the sake of been seen out praying in front of everyone...as in the Pharisees. Chapter 6 of Matthew starts out, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
When he gets to the text of this prayer, he says “Pray in this way:...” (verse 9.) He was wanting people to pray in this MANNER, not “pray this prayer right here, word for word verbatim.”
Ok, so what are the minimum daily requirements for praying “in this way?”
Acknowledge God is God;
Ask for God’s will to be done;
Thank God for not just food, but the things that come to us daily as a matter of course that sustain us
Ask for forgiveness of our sins;
Ask for forgiveness for those who have harmed us in any way;
Ask to walk upright in our lives as children of God and have mercy on us when we do not.
This doesn’t require us to say the Lord’s Prayer verbatim, but to simply acknowledge God and try to do his will.
Hey, if only it were THAT easy!