A “Completion” Poem

Indivisble mediatrix living questions of theodicy among Great Dichotomies of head, heart, and womb

Holding conversations about young robins eaten alive by ravens, Kurds in the mud, crack babies, 50 inches of rain in Banglegesh, Ray, who has AIDS, the people and creatures of the rain forest, and my neighbors next door, the ones I don’t talk to

Yet, also some how paying attention to the Holy One, each time She comes into the circle of clay feet, wearing disguises and costumes, speaking with an unfamiliar accent to our very famiilar failures

Holding lightly the Sacred Onion, its roots coated with earth, thin skin covering the pungent, thick flesh containing food for new life, and bringing tears

Intimate with both the living and the dead, bound by felt memories, passions, dreams and questions

To follow those two roads, taking one to point, call, pray, cook, play, and write while she waits in the face of hopelessness, with hope for All to be well.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This poem was written in 1991 as part of a completion course at the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University, (then The Institute for Theological Studies) for a Master of Divinity.

I post it here from the perspective of celebrating the 50 Year Reunion for the Class of 1969 at Seattle Pacific University, my undergradute studies. While I have no such poem from my undergraduate days, this poem allows me to reflect on some of what has unfolded from my many years of study and life. Thanks be to God.

The poem is placed within a set of symbols, each intended to take on the challenges of the poem:

The Schema Israel, “Hear, O Israel, our God is one,..” in Hebrew

John’s 1:14 , And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld [God’s] glory…” in Greek.

A large red onion….that I have used for 25 yrs + when teaching scripture, to indicate something alive, organic, growing in dirt, providing food, and causing tears

One of the Baptismal Promises from the Book of Common Prayer: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every living human being? I will with God’s help.

The opening line of the hymn, “Come down O love, divine, seek thou this [soul of mine] ….”

And Romans 8:38 For neither death nor life, not angels, nor rulres, nor things present, not things to come, nor powers…will be able to searate us from the Love of God…[in Christ Jesus our Lord.]

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Let the mean people be terrible no more!

Get up God, don’t let the ungodly take over, let them hear of your outrage!

Put fear into them, and make it clear that they too are merely mortal!

Don’t stand off and hide in this time of trouble.

When the wicked’s only thought is that according to them, “There is NO God!” And if there were, God wouldn’t care what we do to each other!

NO! No! Rise up, O Holy One, lift up your hand, do NOT forget the afflicted; give justice to the orphan and oppressed, so that those who do not care may be terrible no MORE! Amen.

This is a very loose paraphrase of Ps. 9:19-20, 10:1, 4, 6, 10-12.

,,while the innocent are broken and humbled before them

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Why No Lunch?  

The Rev. Ray Aldred, Jan 4th 2018 Why No Lunch?

 

 

 

These comments are from the Musqueam web page.

MUSQUEAM TRADITIONAL TERRITORY

Musqueam ancestors have lived in the Fraser River estuary for thousands of years. Today, portions of Musqueam’s traditional territory are called Vancouver, North Vancouver, South Vancouver, Burrard Inlet, New Westminster, Burnaby, and Richmond.

2017 30 Yr. Agreement between Musqueam and YVR

“Some of the details of the Agreement include a path of education to employment with a number of scholarships and new jobs, one per cent of annual revenue from YVR, identification and protection of archeological resources and support for ongoing operations and long-term development at the airport.”  (June 21, 2017)

http://www.yvr.ca/en/media/news-releases/2017/musqueam-indian-band-and-vancouver-international-airport-sign-momentous-a http://www.musqueam.bc.ca/musqueam-traditional-territory-0  Accessed Jan 9, 2018

 

 

  1. Introduction

The North American Academy of Liturgy held our recent annual meeting in Vancouver, BC. Jan 4-7, 2018. This gathering of liturgical theologians and other related artists, musicians, scholars, and worship leaders, etc. has demonstrated over the recent past a concerted effort to expand the important work of the Academy to include a much wider range of cultures and ethnicities.  

To that end, a lunch time gathering with local BC First Nations leaders was offered as one of the optional events to those attending this NAAL meeting. Shortly before the date of the conference, those who had signed up for the lunch were sent an email saying that there would be no lunch. The planners had not been able to make the necessary arrangements.

[I was deeply thankful to see that invitation and had registered to go to the event. With many years of coming to Vancouver to take part in various First Nations gatherings (the Native Ministries Summer School and Winter Talk at VST) that invitation felt like an important effort to connect two communities who are important to me – First Nations people of the PNW / Salish Sea and NAAL. I know from my own experiences something of the rare gifts that come from being present among both of these groups… each in a very particular way offering an otherwise very hard-to-come-across-access to what matters, to the Holy. [And after this long, I know that neither group is perfect. Both are very human.]

 I am a member of NAAL and have been active in various aspects of Native American ministry through the Episcopal Church since 1989.  Thus, when the lunch was cancelled, I knew that we had lost an important opportunity and I wanted to know why. I have learned so much of beauty and pain- some very difficult — from being with First Peoples, that I wanted others to have at last a small taste of that.]

 

Upon reading the email it occurred to me that if in fact we could not have that lunch, we might be able to have another one in which we explored the question as to why that proposed lunch was not held. Thus, I wrote to ask the Rev. Ray Aldred, the Director of the Native Ministries Consortium at Vancouver School of Theology if he would be willing to have a conversation with us. The purpose of the lunch was to gain a deeper understanding of what is necessary if dominant culture leaders hope to open up appropriate and mutual conversations with First Nations, and other cultural and ethnic communities.

In that it would have not been appropriate to take notes or to record the conversation, these reflections are taken from memory of a luncheon conversation held on Jan 4, 2018 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, in Vancouver, BC.

 A group of 9 NAAL participants and Ray Aldred came together with the hope of understanding why the proposed event did not take place and why such cross cultural encounters are so difficult to arrange.

 

What follows includes a summary to the best of my ability from memory of what happened during the lunch conversation, followed by my reflections on the significance and implications of that conversation.

 

 from LAKSHMI SINGH’s interview with Alexandra Fuller Talks New Novel: ‘Quiet Until The Thaw’ 7:12 July 9, 20175:31 PM ET Heard on All Things Considered, NPR

https://www.npr.org/2017/07/09/536328468/bestselling-author-alexandra-fuller-talks-new-novel-quiet-until-the-thaw

FULLER: Yeah. I think that’s – I mean, I think it’s an essential thing if you are a white settler and you’re taking on the stories of people, you know, who have been othered for so long. Also to remember, listen, it’s not as if the whites came and just took the land. They took the land, the water, the power but also the dominant narrative. And I’m deeply aware of that, I mean, deeply, deeply aware of that because of also have growing up in Zimbabwe and seeing how the dominant narrative throughout my childhood and for a lag time afterwards was always white, even though the dominant stories were coming out of the indigenous community.

So yes, I think this is a very important question. On balance, I had to weigh it up. What is worse here, my silence or my speaking out? If it further wounds and harms, you know, indigenous communities, then I’ve desperately failed. But really, the conversation I want to be having is with fellow white settlers, not with the indigenous community. They already know their own story.

(end of insert)

  1. What Happened at this Lunch?

 [This record of the conversation does not capture the full depth of what unfolded. It was even more substantial than I have been able to report.]

“Opening Rite”

We sat at a long table in the hotel dining room, with Ray in the middle; two to his left, three to his right, and five across. He began with informal social chat.  Various people at the tables sought to identify their past relationships with Native Peoples by mentioning Native Schools that they support, etc.

At a clear point the conversation turned when Ray asked…

“Why would First Nations people want to                                                                                                      with a bunch of academics?”

[Later on he acknowledges that he too is an academic, which was very well demonstrated by the breadth and depth of his comments, as well as the extensive list of sources referred to in his comments.]

After a clearly delineated “beginning”, Ray opened the formal aspect of our conversation through the use of this inclusio:

Inclusio-We are here in this hotel on the unceded land of the Musqueam                                     People. We are all visitors to this place.”

Our conversation began and ended with this formal acknowledgement and honoring of the specific land that we were on, and briefly declared our relationship to the people of that place. We all were there as strangers. In any other place, there would have been a different and particular conversation.

PROTOCOL –“You needed a broker.”

At some point, someone asked the person who had attempted to set up the proposed lunch with First Peoples how she had gone about it. Using the advice to contact certain band offices, leaders, she had called and inquired as to their interest in such an event.

In response Ray told a story about a friend who owns property of some kind in various tribal communities. That friend has a small notebook that he brings with him every time he visits one of those communities. In the book are notes about:  whom to greet upon first entering the band office, (whatever official positions they may or may not hold), what kind of gift to bring along for each community, and something about what happened last time he was there, etc. “You needed a broker”… to help arrange the lunch, someone who knows you and who also knows the specific First Peoples you are hoping to meet with. Ray then went on to say that even with such a list, and even being First Nations, no one can assume that he or she could walk into any tribal setting and expect to be welcomed, etc. without the connecting function of previous trustful, mutual relationships.

At one point in the conversation there were comments from Ray about the kind of personal qualities needed for such interactions. These qualities, forged from difficulty, tend to precede and possibly outweigh any words that follow. Thus, it is not about accessing or relying upon one’s brilliance or status as a scholar, educator, leader, etc., but rather more about simply being a straightforward, clear and open person who fully uses all of one’s capacities but does not seek “credit”, recognition, or authority because of those skills and capacities. Rather, one’s authority [ground for dealing with other people, earning respect and trust] comes more from “who knows you”, how you are “related” to others, and from the history of your mutually respectful and trusting relationships with others in the past.

As Ray said, he too is an academic and scholar. [And, as Paula mentioned, he is a very good one. “How many scholars do you know who read, write, and speak Cree and Latin? His academic credentials are embodied within the conversation rather than mentioned.]

[After this point in the conversation the best that I am able to offer is the following five questions. They may not be in the order in which they were asked and discussed.]

Five Questions Addressed during the Conversation: 

1.) Building Mutually Trusting Relationships

 How do “white people” go about building constructive, mutually trusting relationships with First Peoples?

Ray’s response was, “You build trusting relationships out of your own suffering and vulnerability. You get in touch with the suffering within your own life, and then use that experience, awareness, and insight gained through your own vulnerability to come together with other people who are also suffering and vulnerable!”

[In other words, from this perspective one does not make connections primarily through one’s strengths, excellence, success or power, but the opposite.)

At some point in the conversation there was a comment from Ray about the importance of using “appreciative inquiry” when seeking to broker relations among diverse communities.

2.) Unawareness of Theological, Cultural Philosophical                                                                Incompatibility

 [I do not remember the precise context for this comment, and even though I do not understand it, nor have I been able to find anyone who does, it seems to be significant and worth noting.]

Ray said something to the effect that “Schleiermacher doesn’t work for Native people.”

At another point, Ray mentioned that many First Peoples see that Incarnation is inseparable from a strong sensibility of the Sacredness of the Earth. From this perspective there is no understanding of Incarnation that does not also at the same time experience the Earth as part of the Sacred Body and in mutual relationship with Creator, humans and creatures. So, a Christianity that doesn’t see the land as sacred won’t work for First Peoples.

3.)  How are First Nations’ sensibilities manifest in worship at the VST,                                                       Native Ministries Summer School worship?

Ray offered a brief summary of VST/ NMC Worship. [I have elaborated somewhat in that I have been there for this worship for many years, including the 2nd week of 2017.] On each of the five days of the two weeks of Summer School, a different Indigenous community, group, church or denomination plans and leads the worship, according to their ways of doing things. Thus, the shape, music, content of each of these liturgies varies considerably. In the summer of 2017, the second week worship was led by:

1 United Church of Christ, Hawaiians, with singing in Hawaiian, with music played  on ukulele, and Hawaiian guitar, (and some years with sacred dance, hula, and greetings in Hawaiian.)

2 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, USA with hymns in Dakota, etc.

3 Lutheran – Local Native lay person, + Canadian Lutheran pastor of Norwegian ancestry using the Lutheran Book of Worship

4 United Church of Canada + Anglican Haida singing, prayer, drums, preceded by smudging of  worshippers at the entrance to sacred space.

5 Gospel Based Discipleship (Indigenous Ministries of the Episcopal Church, USA)

 4.) How do Native Young People respond to various styles of                                                                     Christian Worship?

According to Ray, the young people he deals with are drawn to worship characterized by heart felt, strong emotions such as those found in charismatic worship, with great outpourings of praise, and deep petitions for forgiveness, healing etc.

There was also a comment (not sure where) in which Ray said something to the effect that whatever goes on in such “emotionally appealing worship” has to speak to both the incarnation of Jesus Christ and sacredness of Creation.

5.) Is there one [universal] system or method that can be used at                     institutional levels to “broker” a way through  these cultural differences?

[This part of the conversation took place more among the three women at our end of the table, and not as much with Ray.]

Near the end of the conversation a woman looked towards Ray and then asked me,             “What was that, what was he doing?” I replied “that this is all about relationship.”

It appeared that the style of discourse and conversation we had just been part of was sufficiently “different” for her, that she did not recognize it as fitting within her frames of reference.

A few of us had some exchange about how much various tribes and bands differ. For example, at VST/ NMC we have had the rare opportunity to see and hear a Coastal Salish woman’s war song, sung in their band’s language, and accompanied by women playing drums. This is contrasted with the practices among the Muskogee of

Oklahoma where women are not allowed to play a drum in a public gathering.  The practices, values, and sensibilities are not universal among First Peoples. As such, there is no one single organized method or structure that is going to systematize and manage such challenging relations as those between Native and non- Native peoples.

The conversation with the whole group concluded when Ray repeated the comment with which we had begun.

 Inclusio –We are here in this hotel on the unceded land of the Musqueam People.                                               We are all visitors to this place.”

Jesus with the Woman at the well… all land is holy, This land is holy.

21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.  John 4: 21-23   NRSV

III. Reflections-

What can we learn from this conversation?

 > We all were there as strangers. In any other place, there would have been a different and particular conversation.

> In other words, from this perspective one does not make connections primarily through one’s strengths, excellence, success or power, but the opposite through one’s struggles, failures, vulnerability that actually leads to great wisdom, of a kind that is not easily if at all adequately conveyed with words.

> This reference to Appreciative Inquiry was certainly not the kind of AI that would in any way shut down lament over the past. Rather, it would instead seek to know the other with awareness, attention, and gratitude for what may, at first, appear to be strange, unrecognizable, or even frightening.

> See the proposed new Baptismal Vow #6. “Will you cherish the wondrous works of God and protect the beauty and integrity of all creation?” (This refers to a potential addition to the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer Baptismal Vows.)  But, does this new language mean that the Earth is Sacred?

> Our conversation began and ended with a formal acknowledgement and honoring of the specific land that we were on, and briefly declared our relationship to the peoples of that place. We all were there as strangers. In any other place, there would have been a different and particular conversation. The return to a mention of “this land of the Musqueam People” being holy land was the other end of the inlcusio and the indication that the conversation was over. There were a few side conversations after that point.

> She was seeking something “universal” about the conversation we had just had; something that would by-pass reaching out from one’s own particular struggles and vulnerabilities towards the (different) particularities of others. [I suggested that if it is a universal it is a universal built out of particulars.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 We do have members within NAAL, from BC and the Pacific Northwest, USA who could have helped those planning for the lunch with First Nations leaders meet those who may have been able to broker the proposed lunch. [As far as I know, they/ we were not contacted.] However, some of these local people are retired or not yet full members. Somehow, there was a gap in making connections with those in the area that do know and have long standing relationships with First Peoples. It is not clear to me if local people were not asked to help or were unwilling or unable to help. The approach that was used– phone calls to people we do not know and who do not know us– were highly unlikely to bring about the desired lunch.  It appears that in such cases it would be more appropriate to find those among us who already have long standing relationships to try to assist make the connections.

That type of connection across cultures and locations is more about “who knows you”, not so much in terms of power and influence, but rather in terms of relationship, respect, and trust. In the “white world”, many of us assume that we can walk into just about any place, and given some exchange of information and perhaps money, manage to walk out with whatever it is that we came in for. Such is not necessarily the case among First Peoples.  Although I have more than twenty five years of experience among various First Nations peoples, none of that allows me to assume that I am welcome any place in “Indian Country.”

It is my observation that some of “our” questions to Ray indicated a hesitancy to explore the question that had brought us together….“Why no lunch?” The questions asked seemed to be asked from afar, from a safe distance that would involve less risk of messy relationship or vulnerability. It was as though we did not actually want to know the answers to that question. We did not want to know the answer if it meant stepping out from behind/ underneath our positions of power and security that come with being “faculty”, professors, diocesan staff… etc.

It seems to me that our presence on “unseeded Musqueam land” was acknowledged in the opening liturgy of the meeting. Yet, although we knew enough to do that, we are still learning the a deeper understanding of what it means to say such a thing. For, in saying such a thing we are acknowledging the relationship declared by those words. Yet, when it came to actually planning the meeting, we did not know how to access that relationship, i.e. did not know how to behave in light of it. …because such relationships call for behavior that is not that typically associated with “the academy”.

Perhaps it is like when a small child uses words that she has heard adults use, even though she has no idea what they actually mean. She knows what to say, but not why she is saying it or what difference saying those words might make.

A Point of Reality  

One of the frequent hazards in initial attempts to build bridges between Native and Non-Native peoples is the unrealistic / exoticization of Native Peoples. That does not happen as easily when one listens and looks more deeply.

This “point of reality” did not take place in that conversation on Jan 4th, but it would be far from honest not to mention it. Everything that took place in that conversation was gracious, well meant and well received on the surface. Having said that, it is also imperative to say that dealings between Native and Non-Native peoples are overwhelmingly layered and fraught with hundreds of years of distrust and deeply embodied unhealed pain and wounding. That that conversation went as well as it did, does not mean that any future such conversations would be the same, or that the wounds are healed etc. or that each of the people at the table would not have to renegotiate his or her relationships with any future Native People he or she might deal with.

My place in that conversation as one who was able to invite Ray to be there is not a matter of great success, or power. I have been party to Native – Non- Native relationships, gatherings, almost entirely within the Episcopal/ Anglican Church) for more nearly 30 years both within the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia in WA St, and the National Indigenous Ministries of the Episcopal Church, including being one of the first non-native people to be invited to Winter Talk, held at VST, and something like 15 years in and out of the Native Ministries Consortium Summer School at VST as student, faculty member and tutor.

It was an honor to be part of that conversation, and to be there at NAAL, perhaps for the last time. I am so deeply appreciative for many years of learning, and inspiration that I have encountered at these gatherings. What we might learn from the First Peoples of BC could only expand and intensify what is already abundant in these gatherings of faithful, worshipping academics.

Conclusion: Four Insights Based on the Lunch:

1.) On Building Mutually Trusting Relationships across lines of diversity

We need brokers and trail guides in order to enter new lands.  It doesn’t work to        enter as unaccompanied strangers in a land that is strange to us.

2.) Unawareness of [Theological and Philosophical, Cultural] Incompatibility

Knowing that we do not know a great deal about other lands/ people,  in terms of both worldviews, intellectual/ spiritual modes and practices  ,– we   would be wise to seek encounters on the terms of the other, (i.e. lunch might not  have been the appropriate encounter.) We’d need to listen a lot, and perhaps  ask, gently.

3.) Inquiries into the worship practices of others

Why we ask questions or seek to learn about the worship practices of others             matters. What do we intend to do with what we hear? Unless and until there is a rather deep level of mutual trust in place, within which our inquiries are actually made with a daring openness to what we do not understand or even recognize,  our inquiries may be inappropriate. And, they will be received as such.

4.) On the search for a method that can be used at institutional levels to “broker” a way  through cultural differences

As people who teach, learn and live within large institutions it is understandable that we seek approaches that can be used in more than one community at a time. However, when the power and sacredness of any one particular people and place is subsumed with a broad brush under that of other peoples and lands, we all are harmed.  Each sacred encounter among diverse peoples calls for this grasp of the sacred by which all peoples and all lands are Holy.

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“Our manifold sins and wickedness…”

…Our manifold sins and wickedness                                                                                          which we from time to time                                                                                                    most grievously have committed                                                                                          through thought, word and deed,                                                                                    against thy divine majesty,                                                                                                        provoking most justly                                                                                                                    thy wrath and indignation against us…

Today the students are protesting, crying out in prophetic voices that “we”,  the adults of this nation, have left undone what we could have done to protect the children we seemingly disingenuously claim to treasure. Given current practices, it appears that a bizarre reading of the Second amendment, places those rights to own personal weapons of war trump (pun intended) the lives of 2,000+ murdered children since Sandyhook.

That quote above comes from the Book of Common Prayer, and is part of the prayers said just before the blessing and eating of bread and wine. They are words intended to help make right what is wrong, to clean out what should not be within us, to bring back together again, what has come apart.

Perhaps there was as a time when it was easier to place this set of sins and wickedness out of reach into some separate category of private, individual sins, which, for the most part, pertained to people other than ourselves. Whatever our sins might be, surely they were not yet bad enough to belong in the category of “wickedness”.

I am trying to figure out if this has changed or if in fact we have simply, finally begun to appreciate how deeply and insidiously our personal failings, aka “sins” contribute to overt wickedness. Now, in this mess, this language that in the past was to me, a gross, unnecessary, and inappropriate exaggeration, fits very well. What we are living through now, in terms of children, Creation, and those on the edges, falls solidly into the category of “sins and wickedness.”

These children who march, and speak out with great conviction, daring, and LIFE, are children who must be heard. As bad as things look some days on the front page of the NYT, these children give me such great hope. And no, I am not going to join the chorus of “we too were like that then, but now we have grown up and live in the real world”, the one that is such a mess.

I’m going back to those very old words of “our manifold sins and wickedness” and continue chewing on them. I don’t yet know the details of where they lead in this situation.  Yes, for me, the do lead to that blessing and eating of bread and wine as I try to figure out what to do about my own sins and wickedness and the part they play in the wider unfolding against children, Creation and those on the edge.

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“An Immaculate Reconception of the Second Coming”

An Advent Sermon 2017   This is the season of Advent, a time for hope, expectation, waiting and planning.What are we waiting for?

A small group gathered last Sunday after the 10:30 coffee hour to talk about Advent, about why we like it, why it means so much to us, what we remember about it from the past, what it offers us now, and what we wait for this year.

So, what are we waiting for?

 Yes, we are waiting for Christmas, for this feast of humble power, celebrating God with us and Peace on Earth for All. We are waiting for that, and so very much more.

It was a poignant conversation… there was rich silence, even a few tears. Each of us is waiting heavily… with intense longings, hopes, and expectations.

We began our time together by walking along the Advent Wall…and pondering what is there. Then each person explained what it is that he or she remembers and loves about Advent. [The Advent – Christmas Wall is a rotating, seasonal installation put together by various individuals and groups in the parish, St. Augustine’s in the Woods, Freeland, WA, throughout the year.]

There were many different responses. We are not all the same. Those differences were part of the beauty and power of the experience. It’s not that we all wanted one thing.

Our longing is great! Some of us feel overwhelmed; lost in a cycle of discouragement, confusion, anger, and fear.  All of us are living in times that sorely need Wisdom, Law, Living Branches and Light that shines through the Darkness. The details vary, but the deep needs are still sadly very much the same.

One of the purposes of the Wall is to make clear the implications of Advent for our lives today. As you will see from reading some of the poetry and songs on the wall, the issues and problems that we think of as “ours today” are hardly new. We share many of those same issues and problems with those who first sang those words in monastic communities of the 9th C. or those who first sang it as the Hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” in the 18th C, or those… to whom John the Baptist cried out ”proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

So, what does Advent have to do with us now?    What are we waiting for?

Before we left last week, each of us answered that question.

mutual renewal inside and outside

some COMMON understanding of Truth

a restoration of civility

a returning of Light

Compassion

a healing of brokenness of many kinds

a respectful coming together of people across differences

How does Advent help us wait in joy with hope and expectation?

This is a season of hopeful waiting, joyful anticipation, longing and preparation; preparation for a coming again, for another round of the Holy One, for more of God to be among us, for more of us to be with God    (To be restored to God and each other) grafted onto that holy Branch that bears new fruit of freedom, justice, well-being, and peace for all of Creation, worthy of Christ.

As lovely as blue and purple are, as comforting as candle light and ancient hymns, Advent is not a season of escape. Advent is a sacred time and space for both comfort and challenge.

In this season we use some very strong language… about repentance and forgiveness of sins, freedom from Satan’s tyranny, victory over death, closing the path to misery, ceasing of human divisions.

One place you can see something of how Advent works to both comfort and challenge by weaving together the past, present and the future, is on the panel for the O Antiphon O Key of David. Eileen Jackson has included a number of powerful images and texts about unlocking God’s Reign of Peace.

Especially poignant is Langston Hughes’ poem from 1936 “Let America Be America Again”. In between his painful description of what was not going well in 1936, he inserts in brackets this phrase

(“America never was America to me”)

He who was Black, gay and brilliant had the wisdom to see what America could be, but was not yet, (then) while at the same time speaking hopefully with faith and vision to describe an America of Peace and Justice for everyone. That kind of prophetic wisdom and vision is very much what Advent is about.

How does Advent offer this wisdom and vision?

As Karl Rahner says it…

Ask not, doubt not. You have, my heart, already chosen the joy of Advent. As a force against your own uncertainty, bravely tell yourself. “It is the Advent of the great God.”

Say this with faith and love, and then both the past of your life, which has become holy, and your life’s eternal boundless future will draw together in the now of this world. For then into the heart comes the one who is Advent, …

This kind of waiting,,, with space in-between allows us to do the kind of reflection that simply does not happen in a hurry; we see so much more when we are not rushed and having to work with only small bits. When we reflect in a hurry we do come up with insights, but they are those from the top rather than those that come from deeper down within the depths of the season.

This past year has been very challenging in many ways. The intensity and complexity of that challenge had led me to think that over-all it was not a “good year”.

And, yet,…when there was the time to look back at the many marvelous experiences that showed up on my FB this past week, I realized what I had not realized before.

That while it was in some ways a difficult year, it was also a VERY good year. One of the best of my life. But I did not see that when I thought quickly from the surface.  I needed to go deeper.  I needed Advent.

Advent offers us a distinct Frame through which to look, think, feel, pray about, and live through the month of Dec. BOTH Comfort & Challenges. Both!

Tools – images, ideas, songs, colors… that serve both to comfort and to challenge.

A simple and inexpensive Christian liturgical Calendar” is one of the most powerful tools. This practice of living according to more than one calendar allows Christians and others whose lives are shaped by calendars of faith, to simultaneously hold multiple worldviews and self-understandings which provide strong strategies for dealing with the considerable challenges of post-modern life.

By using that “App” of the Liturgical Calendar we “in-load”, take into our hearts, heads, minds, bodies…. a distinct set of colors, images, words, icons, sounds…. which, working together, allow us to see something going here, that we cannot find or buy at the mall!

And we can do this while also still being part of that other secular calendar of “Global Christmas culture,” as long as it is the qualities of the Advent Season that contribute most to what goes on inside of us.

That “Advent App” brings us powerful forces to cut into and loosen some of that overwhelmingness, lostness, discouragement, confusion, anger…fears.” Powers to  shake up… shed light on, loosen… re-frame, cause a 2nd 3rd look at the events of our lives.

Comfort AND Challenge: From the prophet Isaiah we hear Comfort, comfort, and from the JB we hear challenge.  There is a gentle spaciousness about Advent that does not rush us into either comfort or challenge. We are invited by these texts, images and stories to take our time as we prepare for the One who is Advent.  

The Comfort….comes from even the smallest notion that in this extremely busy time of year, we can carve out some sacred space and time… (Even a bit) to take a step back from the beauty and pain of our lives to consider how all of that fits into the bigger picture of God’s world.

This kind of waiting allows us (even for a little while) to enter into that sacred space and time of Advent…where in the calm and beauty we can listen and see what is going on. The comfort, for me, comes in the colors, the songs, the candles. Advent has a distinct flavor to it… we can hear that in the hymns:

Rejoice, rejoice Believer, Lo, he Comes with Clouds Ascending, O Come, O Come Emmanuel,Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding, Creator of the Stars of night, Sleepers, Wake! A voice astounds us, Prepare the way O Zion, Come thou long expected Jesus, Comfort, comfort ye my people, The King shall come when morning dawns, On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s cry, People, Look East!

At this time of year when it is dark, and cold and we’d probably rather take a nap, we are challenged and comforted by these commands and powerful images.  – Lo, Hark, Wake UP, Come, Look, Prepare, Comfort,…in spite of the weather and events around us. This is no time to fall asleep. This is time to prepare… for a coming again of God who is with us, but who now comes to us again for another round of Holy Light, Life, Healing, Wisdom, Justice, Reconciliation, and Peace.

The images are intense: Advent is an exciting liturgical season; it is powerful.

a wild man who wears unconventional clothes and eats a diet foraged in the dessert, is preparing the way for God!

time is not linear; “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years,  and a thousand years are like one day. “

The past, present and the future are being used interchangeably as though they all connect now!

Jesus, the One who has come, is coming and will come again, is depicted in many ways: as Wisdom, Law Giver, Strong Light, Living Branch, Key, and Desire of Nations… something for Everybody.

And all shrouded in Myst ery…as Thomas Merton describes it:

Advent is the beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ.”

The Advent Wall … is a mixture of the Comfort and the Challenge. In an effort to see how these ancient O Antiphons fit into our context. I hope that you will take the time to ponder some of what is there and see how it might help you to prepare for the Coming.

Of the many comforts and challenges on that wall…it is Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem from 1958 “Christ Climbed Down” that most deeply challenges me. I want to do what he mentions in the conclusion of this poem:

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candy canes and breakable stars…

Christ climbed down /from His bare Tree / this year / and softly stole away into /                   some anonymous Mary’s womb again / here in the darkest night / of everybody’s anonymous soul / He awaits again/ an unimaginable and impossibly/                      Immaculate Reconception / the very craziest of / Second Comings

The Challenge…   John he Baptist calls those who go out to the dessert to “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. So what is that for us now? We may think that we are NOT waiting for God to come in that way, that we don’t want more of that extreme preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. But we very much need it.

It is one thing to deal with one’s own sin; Forgiveness of sins is about our own sins. Yes, it is.

Advent is different from Lent. It is about repentance, repentance within this spacious, gentle beauty…calling us towards this Holy Coming again. I am very certain there are a number of things for which I need to repent. I am also certain that my unawareness of the unintended consequences of much about my life insures that I am often unaware of where I need to turn around.  Advent offers me a time and place to ponder that, gently. That measure, mentioned in the collect for today,…is the way that I live “worthy of Christ?”

Forgiveness of sins is also about “Our sins”….all of us. The forgiveness of sins matters now more than ever.  For we live in a world, that for the most part, has no effective means for bringing back together again what has come apart, through some kind of process of Truth and Reconciliation.  The big picture of “repentance and forgiveness of sins” is more about the all of us and not only isolated individuals apart from each other.

The deeper purpose of communal repentance and the forgiveness of sins is the ultimate bringing back together again of what has come apart. The forgiveness of sins has a lot to do with the list from that group last Sunday:

Renewal                                                                                                                                                      Truth                                                                                                                                                          Civility                                                                                                                                                        Returning of Light                                                                                                                                    Compassion                                                                                                                                                Healing of brokenness of many kinds                                                                                                  Respectful coming together of people across differences

How do Advent and Christmas connect?

As bizarre as it is to hear Christmas carols in October at the store…once in a while…even there some of the marvel that we await comes through. This glorious Feast of the Incarnation is part of what we long for. It holds out Light, Wisdom, Peace, and Love.

 We need this “Immaculate Reconception of the Second Coming, as well as practices of repentance and the forgiveness of sins that serve to reconcile, rather than banish.  And that is what we are offered in the larger picture of the Birth, life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

Conclusion:

Last weekend at the concert on Sat. night…PNW Musicworks and the Whidbey Island Music Festival,  Feliz – Baroque – Navidad…. I heard a description of what it is that I am hoping  Advent leads me to this year: in one of the songs, sung in Spanish.

!Tu mi Dios entre pajas!  Esteban Salas, Cuban (1725- 1803) Trans. Henry Lebedinsky 

 The cradle in which / The Sun of your divinity is [humbled], / Is the world in which / The fire of your love shines. /Jesus! Jesus what a flame! /  What an ardent radiance! / In it the soul is embraced, / And the heart is kindled.

As we wait together this Advent “…in the darkest night of everybody’s anonymous soul”, May we notice and join in this “… unimaginable and impossibly Immaculate Reconception the very craziest of Second Comings.”

I am waiting for the One who is Advent.                                                                                            I am waiting for my heart to be kindled again.                                                                                 I am waiting for that very craziest of Second Comings

 What are you waiting for?

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Post No. 8 – Home Again

Post No. 8 Coming Home – Fairmont, Montana to Coles Road, Whidbey Island

Perhaps we leave home because of home, not so much to escape home, but more to intensify our view of home, to help us see so much more clearly why home is home?

These are far from complete reflections; they are beginning excavations into a rich and complex experience that is only just a little bit understood.

Something happens out there on all of that land, those 1,000’s of miles and acres. Something happens there that does not happen here. (Or if it happens here, I don’t notice it as much.) I’m still chewing on a suggested distinction between how First Nations Peoples and Euro-Americans relate to land, to a specific land. Part of what I can see from this point is that I relate to the land “there” in another mode from the one I use here at home. It may be about a degree of attention, of being more able to see what is there without the immunity or blindness that comes from extreme familiarity. But, incomplete as the relationship to that land may be, it still makes a huge mark upon me, on who I am, on my “identity.” For one thing, that land stops me and causes/ allows me to see that this land isn’t the only land, that my world is not the center of the Universe, and that however grossly “different” that land may be from this land, we – all of us – are still bonded together in spite of / through the distinctions.

I am home again, here in this land that is stunningly beautiful, AND I am also still struck by the other kinds of beauty (and pain) that I saw in Eastern, WA, Idaho, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, and Montana.

I used to think that it was only air travel that has this time-delayed-adjustment-factor as a side effect. Now, even though I’ve been home for two days from a “road trip”, some part of me is still back there in Idaho, Montana, North and South Dakota, and Wyoming. I’m not at all sure when those parts will catch up to these parts here in this land. And I’m also still trying to figure out what those other parts are. At the very least, those parts open up   new spaces, desires, and connections within me.

I am profoundly thankful for those new spaces, desires and connections.

And next week we go to New York City, and take on yet another distinction.

Posted in God in Creation, God in Relationships, Journey | Leave a comment

Post No. 6 As Far as the Eye Can See

Post No. 6 As Far as the Eye Can See, (September 1, 2017), Bismarck, ND)

 http://www.lewis-clark.org/article/2925

 

I suppose that anyone who has traveled here knows all of this, but since it is new to me, I write about seeing as far as the eye can see. When I say “as far as the eye can see” I’m not using the strict scientific definition of clear human vision. (There is some dispute, but eyes cannot see all that far clearly with or without flat land.) This is something less than clear, yet clear enough that something is seen. And with that kind of vision it cannot help but change the seer on the inside. At least, it is changing me.

After this many days on the road, good days on the road, I have lost track of any clear separation among the many striking things that we have seen. One of the phrases that keeps coming back again and again is that one about “as far as the eye can see.”

There is so much out here to treasure and to remember and to learn from. And that desire, to learn from it, was at least part of why I was writing these posts. But now that we are about to turn around and head toward the other direction, I’m wondering about what I can remember and learn from this experience.  There is so much here that I don’t know what to do with it.

As a person who was born and lived most of my life on the West Coast, in Seattle, Shoreline and now Whidbey Island, it is becoming even clearer how much that land and those vistas are deeply built into who I am. I’m not at home here in ND. As beautiful as it is, and it is a strong beauty of its own, it’s not home.

Here, as far as the eye can see, the eye sees land, and sky and more land and more sky as though there were no end to either the land or the sky, as though there were no limits to how the land and the sky are used, abused, misused. I can “see” why someone here might not feel any urgency about protecting the land. There is so much land here; we wouldn’t miss a bit of it, if it were to be turned into an oil field – a coal mine – a highly chemicalized field of soy beans – a shopping mall – another track of houses…

Seeing all of this sparks a glimmer an of idea as to why people in a town of 91 people or maybe 486 people would be sure that if someone were to have an unwanted baby, someone else in town wants and needs a baby and the town REALLY needs people. Badly.

Life does not look the same out here as it does “back there.”

And, yet life is life, wherever we live it. Isn’t it?

Thanks be for this powerful land, For

all of the people who live here,

now and in the past.

For all of the creatures,

plants,

rivers and streams.

May we honor it.

 

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