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How long does it take to know someone? A month? A year? A lifetime…or maybe even longer? When it comes to seeking God, I’m not sure there’s a limit. To look for God is to look forever. Because if there’s one thing I know, it’s that anyone who thinks he can get his arms around God, contain God, package God, speak for God — that person is a liar. God is too big for any of us. Even the statement “God is love” begs the follow-up: What, then, is love? The person who can sum that up in one word— or ten — is a better linguist than I.

I love the idea of getting to know someone over ages and ages of time. It’s like reading a great book that never ends. I suspect I am not alone in this.

I could anagram your name
if I knew it, but you keep coy,
flirt with vagaries like “I am
who am.” Riddles, tricks of the light,
something seized than instantly lost.
We try to limit you to the page,
but you keep writing, in each leaf that furls
from the tree, another sentence,
in an eon perhaps a paragraph.
We cannot turn the pages fast enough.
No matter, you say, and pass a pot
of tea, a blanket. Settle in. Take all the time
you need
. I will take you at your word,
read slowly, mouth each syllable
like a diamond on my tongue.

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When I saw this quite, it reminded me of one of the Bible lessons that made up part of our service yesterday. The Rich Man and Lazarus is in the sixteenth chapter of Luke.

The Rich Man and Lazarus (NIV)

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Pastor Sean explained to us that different theologians interpret this passage in different ways.  The one he prefers is that Lazarus, the only person named in a parable, is so low and miserable that even the dogs take pity and clean his wounds.  The rich?  They ignore him.

Every day, when the rich man exited through his gate, he would have seen Lazarus.  He could have gotten Lazarus a doctor.  He could have fed him. He could have reached out.

Our pastor encouraged us not to feel guilty about what we have. Why?  Because that will only drive us to also turn away.

I know that not everyone who reads this has wealth, but even if you are using a computer at your library, you can write a letter.  Encourage a policy maker to address poverty, health care issues or environmental change this is impacting the poor.  Thank someone who has inspired you.  Reach out to someone who simply needs to know they are seen.

Come on.  Don’t let the dogs be the only ones who get the message.

–SueBE

 

What if the universe — God included — is like a book: a really weighty one, like War and Peace? I’d like to think each of us is born with a scrap of this book in our soul, just a word or two, really, though the best of us (saints, for instance) probably get a whole paragraph. Our job in this lifetime, as I see it, is to seek out each other’s words and gather them together as best we can into some semblance of the Truth.

Nobody has all the answers. Not even the Bible, which is full of concepts and words that don’t translate neatly (or at all) into English. Ask two people to translate The Lord’s Prayer from its original Aramaic, and you will get two different prayers. It begins with the word “Abwoon,” which can be translated to mean “father” (though the root word is actually genderless) or “parent” or “divine breath” or “birther of all things.” Or any one of a dozen other things.

Nothing about God is simple. I am content to remain a seeker, a wanderer, picking up words wherever I can and trying to fit them into the puzzle that is God.

Nothing about You can be known.
You slip through our hands like sand,
just when we think that we can hold you.
Even your touchable Son, fully flesh,
escapes our grasp. We humans
like our shapes defined: This, then,
is a square; this is a sphere.
But what is the shape of God?
Avian? Flame? The man on the ceiling
of the Sistine Chapel, the one we
reach for but never touch?
Perhaps we ask too much.
We worry your lock with our
senses, with our brains.
If only we approached
with our hearts wide open,
the pins would tumble,
the lock would breach.
You appear, wide open,
when we least try to touch.

The Episcopal diocese of Washington DC moved this week to refer to God using inclusive language. Good for them. Yes, I know: God is referred to as male thousands of times in the bible. But Jesus himself says God is spirit (John 4:24), and spirit has no gender. Male pronouns have been standard usage for centuries, even when referring to groups with women in them. It’s a default, not a revelation.

Other pet peeves: Why was I never taught that Mary Magdalene is a composite of three different women and was amalgamated by one man — Pope Gregory the Great? And that there’s no biblical evidence that she ever earned a living as a prostitute? Why are Catholic children taught how important — how telling — it is that Jesus picked only male apostles, but the fact that he chose to reveal the Good News —and gave official sanction to spread that news — to women first, not men, is brushed past as though it doesn’t matter?

Why are we not told that all that “he-man, woman-hater” language in Paul’s epistles was likely inserted by monks inscribing them in the Middle Ages?

Why all the lies, both active and of omission? Why has my church kept my God from me?

God is not a rope to be tugged, a prize that falls to those who pull the hardest. God pours down on those in the margins. God comes to the poor, the disenfranchised, the weak. God stands with the powerless.

If you claim to represent God, but stand where God does not stand, what are you, really?

God our mother our father our life-giving hope,
Come to us, blind us with light that does not fail
to catch the corners, the alleys, the hidden places
your most needy children dwell. Burst boundaries.
Be bigger, loom larger, than words will warrant.
As you have before us, as you will long after.

Amen

A recent poll revealed that nearly 80% of Catholics could not explain transubstantiation of the Eucharist. This, the pollsters noted, was a terrible failure. I disagree.

Sue BE was right when she advocated embracing one’s own ignorance and seeking solutions. But not everything is cut and dried. Transubstantiation — the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ — is a mystery. Not every mystery can be diligently divined. Some things remain a mystery.

And that’s okay.

Sure, humans are programmed to want answers, to lean toward black-and-white clarity. But (as Sue also noted) we’re only human. We can’t understand everything. We can’t solve everything. If you can’t live with ambiguity, with shades of gray, with mystery, you’ve got a bumpy journey ahead of you.

The road never did go straight.
Sands shift. Time expands and contracts.
And there you are, in fog, flailing, falling.
Still. Love is sure, and never fails; faith
supplants compasses. Head into the strange
knowing: what cannot be known now
will come, swimming into view, duck
where once was bunny. You will
recognize all things by their contours.
You will stumble into light. But for now,
be at peace. Mystery is a gift. You will
open it at leisure, realizing
it has been in your pocket
all the time.

 

 

Today marks the Feast of the Assumption, the day when Jesus’ mother Mary was lifted body and soul into heaven. The “body” part is a big deal, apparently; once dead, the rest of us won’t see our bodies again until the Second Coming. But why would we need a body in heaven? Are we really that attached to these lumbering “bags of mostly water” (to quote an alien on “Star Trek: The Next Generation”)?

We are, I suppose, tactile creatures. Our bodies give us something to hang on to. Something to physically claim as our own. But we are not just our bodies. Whatever it is that gives a bunch of cells and chemicals sentience, it is certainly more than skin deep.

You may put all manner
of disparate matter into a bowl,
it will not stand or speak or dance.
How then, does the stuff of stars
transmute into mortal form?
And why do we hold so hard
to them, to familiar flesh—
an old coat gone out of style,
a pair of boots too snug?
Sentiment? Memory?
We walk a lifetime in skin,
our soul’s home, for a moment.
Will we shed them like a shell?
Or carry them into the kingdom,
into doughy glorification?
Only the maker knows
how lowly flesh becomes
capable of the infinite.

“Equal rights for others do not mean fewer rights for you.  It’s not pie.”

This is one of those sayings that I dearly love even if it does beg the question.  So what is like pie?

We’ve been taught to think that universities are limited in the numbers of young learners they can accept. We are told that affirmative action is why there aren’t enough seats for other students. Yet, class after class is canceled when not enough students enroll.  Credit courses and continuing education classes alike suffer this fate.

Jobs? Common knowledge is that if we let those people in and give them jobs, then there won’t be enough jobs for the rest of us.  Of course, we are also supposed to believe that employment is up.  And, when employment is up, people spend more money on homes, cars, food and clothing.  That would mean more jobs, maybe not making these items but selling and maintaining and keeping them clean.

Whenever I hear someone talking about how generosity to “those people” is what has cost us, I think about the loaves and fishes.  For those of you who don’t remember the specifics, here is the story of Christ feeding the multitude as it is written in the Book of John.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”  He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there).  Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.”  So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

Even if the boy was worried, John doesn’t say anything about him complaining to Jesus.  “Wait minute! If I give this to you, I won’t have enough.  But if the boy did complain, I imagine Christ telling him.  “Don’t worry.  It isn’t pie.  There will be enough for everyone.

–SueBE

We designed this blog as a sunny, positive place to reflect and pray. That does not mean that we turn a blind eye to the darker things of this world. Take the situation at the border: Children are being torn from their parents’ arms, placed in overcrowded “shelters,” sleeping on concrete, not being provided with even the most basic care. They are getting sick. They are dying. Have no doubt — we will be judged on our response to this crisis. And that judgment will come sooner than we think.

Be warned:
We are writing on the most fragile of pages
in ink that breaches the veins, burning
blood, leaching poison. They will remember us
as the stuff of childhood nightmares,
as the monsters their mamas swore
did not exist. (Sometimes parents are wrong,
and monsters wear a human mask.)
We are imprinting a world on their skins,
a world of screaming terror, filth and misery.
We may forget, but they will not. Not ever.
The dark thing we’ve unleashed will come
to roost in our own pretty homes,
soon, soon. It will swoop and smother.
No nation can stand with a millstone
round its neck. Judgment is coming.
Do not look away.

What does it mean to be the body of Christ? Maybe it means that the goal of our spiritual journey is to become part of Christ, to do His work and will as one body. A body requires all of its parts to function harmoniously. It is not enough for the “stars of the show,” like the eyes, hands and feet, to operate. They cannot do so independently. Every part is needed — the toenails protect the toes, which enable the feet to balance the body, etc., etc.

There is no appendix in the body of Christ, no unnecessary wisdom teeth. We are all indispensable and important. Never sell yourself short. Never diminish your role in the salvation of the universe. It takes us all. It takes a body.

No part more precious than another,
a democracy of bones and sinew,
hallowed by purpose, divine by design.
The body of Christ stands, walks,
wields the world, shaping, smoothing
with an artist’s hands. The fate of us
resounds, ringing from the stapes
of the ear to the fifth metatarsal of toe,
reminding us: no hand, no heart
can stand alone. We breathe into being,
make possible in real blood, by prayer
and deed, God on this earth.

Pentecost is nearly upon us; what better time to talk about the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit? For those unfamiliar with these, they are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Most of these are easy to grasp. But fear of the Lord? That one was a mystery to me until it was explained that the word “fear” relates to loss of God’s love and mercy — fear of being without God, of being alone. That I can understand at a cellular level. It’s a bit like the feeling you get on a roller coaster, just as you begin to plummet down that first big drop.

To leave one’s stomach — and heart —
on some bucolic grassy berm
and fall further, surely, than Alice ever fell,
into void and absence, of light, of sound,
to spin loose like a kite: hand, neck, knee,
head; bones loosed, body unbolted…
To live here always is to live without You,
a land as foreign as the face of the sun,
but cold, dead, devoid of compass points,
street signs, bent twigs or bread crumbs.
Blinder than a worm. No. I will not go.
Take me in your arms and promise me:
though I kick the air, you will not let me fall.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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