Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Spirit is Blowing!

There are times for everything.  There's a time for plodding along, being faithful and trusting.  (Well, every time is a time for being faithful and trusting.)  There are times for pushing more actively.  And there are those times when it seems that everything is coming to me, and all I need to do is keep surfing the waves.  This is one of those times.

This has been the "year of rebooting," when Elizabeth and I went back to basics and asked God to send whoever and whatever we were to do next.  We've relaxed into accepting where we are, not itching to have others join, getting that all is well however it is.  And suddenly we are rebooting in a delightful way.  Other people are showing up, sharing their gifts and energy and moving us along.

A friend needed a place to stay while she is between houses and jobs.  She's spent the summer shuttling from place to place, and it's hard to build a life like that.  So we offered her our spare bedroom, and she accepted.  Now, just like when the two of us began the Companions, we don't know her very well.  It turns out that she is gifted in many areas, and eager to share them with us: from cooking to reconfiguring the flow of furniture to fundraising to healing arts.  She's a delightful addition, and she's giving us the gift of practicing living with a third person.

At the same time, one of our Covenant Group members asked to become a Covenant Companion, a more demanding and intimate relationship.  He too brings many gifts that he's looking to use, including creativity around organizations and seeking solutions, lots of small group experience, and his own unique history.   We are blessed to have him with us.

With all this energy flowing in, it can be easy for me to "fly off" in all directions.  It's more important than ever to keep praying, keep meditating, keep doing the things that ground me.  But just as important is the celebration that God is up to something.

For years we have said that CMA is not just Elizabeth and me, but people looking in could easily not see that.  With each day, it seems, it is becoming a reality that others will be able to see and share in.  And it's not up to me to make it happen.  I am tending the hearth, but I am not the fire.  The fire of the Spirit is doing what She does, and it is beautiful.  Thank you, God!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Our September Newsletter - and a Warning

Hi everyone,

The link to our latest newsletter is below.

We had a scare that may not be over.  Suddenly 2000 Russian trolls showed up in our newsletter list.  We had blocked it so each subscriber needs to be confirmed, and I deleted all these, but they will try again.  If you tried to subscribe and were denied, please write us directly.

Trolls work by inserting conflict and negativity into conversations, so people drift away or get misinformation.  If you find yourself on a Companions link where nasty stuff is being said, please let me know.  And ignore it, it isn't us!  We may be challenging at times, but our goal is to build up the Body of Christ, not tear it up.

Blessings to you all in this season of equinoxes (whichever hemisphere you find yourself in).


Thursday, September 13, 2018

How Great Thou Art

(Warning: This post could get somewhat obscure.)

This morning on my walk I was awed, as always, by the wonder of creation.  There's always something to see or hear or touch or smell (taste only with caution!).  Sunrise, clouds, bushes, trees, rabbits . . . the usual cast of wondrous creatures.  And I, in the midst of it, praise God.

And I think about the distinction between creation and creator.  I was taught that this distinction is essential to proper theology and worship.  "Worship the creator, not the creation/creature."  But if God is in the creation, as I believe and sense, this distinction is problematic.  Here are some of the problems that came to me:

What is gained by separating creator from creation, positing a creator "behind" the creation?  This seems to me a hangover from Platonism.  At the limit it curbs idolatry, so that I don't start worshipping particular creatures or artifacts, but I don't think I have to go all the way to a creator that is separate from the creation.  I need the distinction between them, but I don't need to separate them.

Who is the "I" that worships?  I too am part of this creation.  If God is not behind or separate from creation, neither am I.  My ego consciousness approaches the world as separate, but my deepest awareness is that we are all one.  The "I" that worships is a tiny ship bobbing on the sea of Self that is one with God and with creation.

And what is this "worship"?  I think worship is the I approaching the creation as Thou, as separate.  In the land where all is one, worship doesn't make sense to me: there is no I to worship, no Thou to be worshipped.  But in the land of I and Thou, of ego and object, worship is the closest I can get to union.

So I walk.  I see the sky and I say, "Thank you.  Thank you for letting me be part of this, and letting me be aware of it as a creature.  Thank you for letting me be the sort of creature who can be aware on this level."  I address the creator, because that's what my language allows and my ego consciousness needs.  But on another level, I say nothing.  There is nothing to say, no one to say it, no one to receive it.  It's said, it's done, it is.  And that feels to me like worship.

Now I go inside, to our chapel.  I will say Morning Prayer, with its psalms and readings and hymns and prayers.  I will address God as the one who creates, and the one who receives us when we return to dust.  I will do my best, with my feeble "I," to remember my essential unity with this immanent, omnipresent God - including the faces of those I will serve today.

May you worship today, in whatever way brings you closest to the God who is closer than your own breath.  May you know the wonder that is bigger than any words, any worship.  God be with you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Effing the Ineffable

Last weekend we led a retreat on Christ Sophia, the feminine face of God.  The participants were challenged and stimulated, and so were we.  We kept noting that God is in fact beyond categories, beyond masculine and feminine, encompassing all.  We are the ones who assign markers and boundaries and shapes to God.  It's important to see images of God beyond patriarchal ones, and to hear language of God in her wisdom, but it's a way station to the real mystery of God.

As we prepared for the retreat, I was deeply challenged to encounter this God beyond images and words.  I've always had an icon on my prayer desk.  Usually it's been Jesus, but sometimes Mary Mother or Mary Magdalene has been there.  But there's always been an image, a person for me to address.  But lately I just can't do it.  Or, I won't.  I don't know who I'm addressing in my prayer, and I don't want to pre-form the encounter by imposing my images.  I thought of getting an icon of one of the wonderful Christ Sophia images available now, but I don't want that either.  I need to let God be.

Elizabeth felt the same way.  Perhaps it's from spending the summer outside, encountering the powerful forces of nature.  Perhaps it's simply the reading and prayer that come with retreat preparation.  Anyway, we agreed.  So, in time for creation season, we each cleared out the icons.  Our chapel is centered on rocks and sea creatures we found this summer, and on the world outside our windows.  This doesn't substitute the rocks for the icons as images of God (I hope!), but gives us a focal point that can't be turned into a person.

We did  keep the tabernacle.  We talked about this: who are we to keep God in a box?  Did God tell us to build Her a house?  But we agreed that we, embodied humans, need that reminder of God's presence.  The fact that it is closed confirms that it is not for us to see casually, that the contents of the box exceed our comprehension.  But we need the sign of the presence, even as we know the presence cannot be contained in one location.

So, we are walking this strange land, wondering who we will be if our God images change.  Maybe you've wondered the same thing.  I don't know the answer.  I'm uneasy with the quest, one I've not sought exactly but which I find myself on.  I like to think that others are on that road with me.   I like to think that you are.  God be with you, wherever you are.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Quotes and Jottings

I'm finishing Metz' book A Passion for God, and I was reviewing the places where I put markers.  As I did, I knew I wanted to share them with you.   Herewith is my selective introduction to his work.

"If . . . the community is the locus for a guilt that has been recognized and acknowledged, then it must also prove itself to be the locus for taking on an undivided historical responsibility, a locus for the interest in universal justice and liberation." (p. 39)

"It is dangerous to be close to Jesus, it threatens to set us afire, to consume us.  And only in the face of this danger does the vision of the  Kingdom of God that has come near in him light up.  Danger is clearly a fundamental category for understanding his life and message, and for defining Christian identity."  (p. 48)

"Whoever hears the message of the resurrection of Christ in such a way that the cry of the crucified has become inaudible in it, hears not the Gospel but rather a myth.  Whoever hears the message of the resurrection in such [a] way that in it nothing more need be awaited, but only something confirmed, hears falsely." (p. 56)

"Could it be that there is too much singing and not enough crying out in our Christianity?" (p. 125)

"The traditions to which theology is accountable know a universal responsibility both of the memory of suffering. . . it always takes into account the suffering of others, the suffering of strangers.  Furthermore, this memoir . . . considers even the suffering of enemies and does not forget about their suffering in assessing its own history of suffering. . . . Respecting the suffering of strangers is a precondition for every culture; articulating others' suffering is the presupposition of all claims to truth.  Even those made by theology." (p. 134)

"What is really at stake is a fundamental theme of Christianity: a passion for God that encompasses the suffering and passion of those who will not let themselves be dissuaded from God, even when the rest of the world already believes that religion does not need God anymore."  (p. 151)

"One could almost say that Israel's election, its capacity for God, showed itself in a particular kind of incapacity: the incapacity to let itself be consoled by myths or ideas that are remote from history.  This is precisely what I would call Israel's poverty before God, or poverty of spirit, that Jesus blessed."  (p. 158)

Want more?  I'd start with his little early book, Poverty of Spirit.  It's all there.   If anything, his message is more timely now than ever; like climate change, we might have listened 50 years ago but chose to stop our ears. Unlike climate change, we can turn now without government action (or action by churches, for that matter).

Today, if you would hear God's voice, harden not your heart!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

What's on My Mind

Phew!  We're back from vacation, back from the slowness of summer.  It was a fruitful time, full of reading and reflecting, and it is bearing fruit for how we work and serve this year.  I know for me that part of that will be a return to more regular writing here, as I miss this chance to reflect and share.

What's been up for me this summer is dis-ease.  I've been reading Johannes Baptist Metz' collection, A Passion for God.  Metz was a founder of "political theology," indebted to the Frankfurt School of social theorists and to Karl Rahner.  He continually calls the Church to face the hard questions about God and justice and suffering.  He sees the danger to the Gospel and the Church in a facile happiness, and the subtle ways we abandon eschatology for a focus on our present satisfaction and personal afterlife.

Reading him makes me ask, What do I mean by proclaiming resurrection?  I don't mean to avoid the hard places and the pain, but do I end up doing that?  Am I just purveying my own "good news" instead of the Gospel's call to seek God in the midst of the monumental injustice and destruction of our time?  Where have I substituted my personal "salvation" for the health and wholeness of the world?  Where have I in fact abandoned hope in favor of optimism?

Metz' general challenge takes on specificity when I read it with Jennifer Harvey's book, Dear White Christians.  The Companions are reading it for our September group reading, and it's painful.  Harvey makes the case that no racial reconciliation is possible until white Americans face their own racial specificity and privilege, and work actively for reparations to overcome the legacy of slavery and colonialism.  She documents the failures of the American churches to respond to this challenge.  It is painful reading.

Now, let me say that I used to teach political theory, including the Frankfurt School.  I used to teach women studies, and lgbt studies, and I wrote about white women's need to face their whiteness and privilege.  That makes me more horrified to realize that I have just dropped the ball for 18 years (if I had the ball before!).  Since I entered religious life I entered an all-white world full of "nice" people bringing comfort to those who are weary.  The churches I've served have been shaped by the optimistic, happiness theology that Metz decries, even as their leaders worked to intervene in injustice.  I've insulated myself from the pain of the world, even as I pray daily for those in pain.

So what will I do?  I don't know, honestly.  I know I can start by just naming this, by writing.  I can start by asking questions and noticing where I'm settling for easy answers.  I can start by facing the painful truth that alone I can't do much.  I can at least stop letting it be OK.

I know this is a long post.  If you're still reading, please join me in praying to know what to do, from where we each are.  Pray that the Companions will begin a conversation that invites our transformation and really opens us to serve God in others.  And pray for our world as it groans under the weight of growing tyranny and oppression.  God, make speed to save us!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Prayer and Community

This morning I was thinking about this coming Saturday, when Elizabeth and I will miss evening prayer to attend a movie (shocking!  scandalous!).  I need to let people know, since we stream our prayers via Zoom to our covenant group members and covenant companions.  And that made me think about the importance of community in prayer.

Before I entered religious life, I joined the Guild of St. Benedict.  The central practice was a four-fold daily office.  We never met in person, but I knew that people around the globe were praying - some when I was, others at other times.  It was a powerful mystical bond.

Later, when I lived in a convent, I got used to having people to pray with every day.  But there were times - rarely, but occasionally - when only 3 or 4 of us were there.  Once it was only me.  And those were powerful times too: I knew that I was praying not only for myself, but for my sisters who were called away.  I was doing my part to keep the community praying.  That not only strengthened my connection to God; it strengthened my awareness and connection to my sisters.

Now the people who join us online may think that we are praying, and they are praying with us.  But if we aren't there, if there's no computer, they may think they can't pray.  Au contraire, mes amies!  You have your turn to uphold the Companions in prayer.  And Elizabeth and I do pray when we're gone: if we're in the car we sing the Phos Hilaron and the Magnificat, say the Lord's Prayer, and close.  There is no wrong way to pray.

So I say, not only to our immediate community but to all of you: when you pray, you join the great stream of prayer flowing out of God and back to God.  You join sisters and brothers in joy and pain.  When you take your turn in prayer, you receive back the gift of connection to God and others.

Let us pray.  Amen.