Friday, December 14, 2018

Wailing and Dancing

In today’s Eucharistic reading Matthew tells us of Jesus comparing those who resist his message to “children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another, “We played the flute for and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn”  (Matthew 11:16-19).  John came in his austerity and they said he had a demon.  Jesus comes in a more relaxed mode, and they call him a glutton and drunkard.  One way or another, they are determined to miss the point.

I don’t know about you, but I have often been determined to miss the message brought by another.  I’m not usually conscious of that at the time, though I might experience some unease.  Usually I’m just moving so fast I miss the feeling, and the message.  I don’t get it until something slows me down - some sort of mishap or disaster, or a more direct confrontation with another person.  Until then, I miss the point as long as I can.

When I do slow down and let the wisdom in, I can start to heal old wounds.  But first, there’s usually a painful reckoning, a soul surgery - or at least a biopsy! - that’s needed.  And of course, that’s what I’m resisting.   Healing means changing, turning, repenting.  It’s risky, letting God make me into something new - or something original, made new again.  It’s too risky.

But truly, wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.  I can cut myself out of the stream of life and love, I can refuse to join the party, but I can’t change the basic order of God’s world.  My choices do not change God; they only affect where I will be in relation to God.  Jesus is vindicated by his deeds.  Wisdom comes to the marketplace and calls (Proverbs 8:1-4).  Her offer is life and abundance.  Jesus calls us to life and abundance.

What is the message you’ve been resisting?  Will today be the the day you listen?

Friday, December 7, 2018

What Are You Waiting For?

As we move into Advent, the daily Eucharistic readings lead me to this question.  Yesterday we read Matthew 7:21-27, where Jesus disavows those who come in his name, working signs and wonders, but don’t live his words.  Today we read of Jesus healing two blind men (Matthew 9:27-31), in fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise that the blind will see (Isaiah 29:17-24).  But the healing is not the full promise, nor is it the point.  The point is that “they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.  And those who err in spirit will come to understanding, and those who grumble will accept instruction.”

The miracles are not the point.  The miracles are signs of God’s presence.  They are meant to wake us up, to teach us, to call us to holy living.  If we cast out demons but don’t do justice, we have built our houses on sand.  If we are eloquent and call people to worship but we ourselves judge and abuse one another, we have not yet seen the promise.  If we feed the poor in order to look good, we miss out.  We remain in the dark, even if others find their way through the good works we do.

So today I’m praying for the deeper healing, the real promise.  I’m waiting for the appearance of Christ: I’m praying for the grace to discern the Christ that is already surrounding me and dwelling within me.  I’m praying to accept instruction, to come to understanding, to let God build my house a little more firmly.

What are you waiting for?

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Scrawny Carrots

So, another post inspired by Clement.  The Eucharistic readings for his day include Colossians 1:11-20, one of my favorite pieces of Scripture.  It is the epitome of "high Christology," the cosmic Christ who was and is and is to come.  "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation . . . He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come have first place in everything.  For in him all. the fullness of God was pleased to dwell."

Wow.  That's a lot.  I might stumble over the masculine gendering of Christ, but I see the glory.  I know the glory is bigger than any one gender can handle, bigger than my mind or my language can take in.  These words, though, bring me into the forecourt of the Holy.

But here's where the carrots come in.  This immortal, infinite Word shows up as a Palestinian peasant who is crucified.  Not exactly how we might expect the "image of the invisible God" to show up.

I recently read about a woman who wanted to give her children the sweetest, nicest carrots, so when she went to the store she searched for the small and tender ones.  Years later her son told her of his resentment when he saw her choosing the "scrawny carrots."  He thought the big ones were the good ones, the ones that would show her love.  He didn't know that they were tough and tasteless; he thought they looked good.

So it is with gifts from God.  God gives us Herself, dwells with us, and all we see is scrawny carrots.  God is always giving me gifts: lessons I need to learn, people who help me along by challenging me as well as comforting or agreeing, other challenges that help me grow.  And I?  So often I see scrawny carrots.

So back to Clement's collect.  Give me, give us grace to discern your Word wherever truth is found.  Give me the grace to trust that you are picking out carrots that answer my need, however they look to me.  Give me the grace to see you in the poor, in the left out and rejected, in the arrogant and unpleasant.  Open my eyes to your love and your fullness, dwelling among us.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Discerning the Word

Today we remember Clement of Alexandria, who died in 213 (we think).  As I read a brief bio by James Kiefer, I was thrilled by how Clement's story blended with what we as Companions of Mary the Apostle are trying to do.  Kiefer writes that Clement's "speculative theology, his scholarly defense of the faith and his willingness to meet non-Christian scholars on their own grounds, helped to establish the good reputation of Christianity in the world of learning."  Now, we're not doing a lot of scholarly work around here, but we are seeking to meet non-Christians where they are and to bring the good news of Christ in a language that can be heard today.  Our particular propositions and metaphors may differ from Clement's, but the project of teaching and proclaiming links us.

The collect from the Episcopal Church asks God "grant to your church the same grace to discern your Word wherever truth is found."  For me that doesn't mean always making others see Jesus where they might see another face of God.  It's for me to recognize Christ incognito, as Raimon Pannikar and others describe the encounter with other faiths.  It's for me to see that truth is broader than any one dogma or catechism, and it's for me to listen and discern when others are bringing an important facet of the Word.  I discern that Word primarily through "Jesus Christ our unfailing light," but I don't honor that Word by refusing to see it shining in other vessels.

In these days when Christianity has a less-than-good reputation with scholars and with so many others, it's incumbent on us to translate the good news.  Our Covenant Companions told us yesterday that that is a key to their part in the larger mission of the Companions.  They live and work in a variety of settings, including academia and the church, and in both places they encounter a lack of belief.  Through our companionship we offer a base from which to go out, and a community to discuss what we find.  They are continuing the work of Clement, and of apologists through the centuries, who speak to the priceless gift awaiting us if we open our minds and hearts.  May we all receive this grace today.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Blessed Advent!

Welcome to Advent!

I'm following the Eucharistic readings assigned by the Episcopal Church, and today we begin with the promise of salvation - of healing and wholeness.  Isaiah 2:1-5 predicts a time when we will all worship God together, when we will lay down our weapons and turn to tending the earth.  Matthew 8:5-13 tells of the centurion who believed that Jesus could heal, which led to Jesus pronouncing the future when "many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven."  Unfortunately, Matthew feels compelled to tell us that many Israelites will be "thrown into the outer darkness."  This inclusion is less a universal promise than a supplanting.

OK, so both these texts have problems.  But the promise is real too.  We are all invited to the table, to the mountain, to the house of God.  Not all of us will hear that invitation, not all of us will respond.  And it's not clear to me just what the entrance requirements are.  Must I acknowledge the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as the only face of God?  Must I worship as the ancient Judeans did?  Must I believe in exactly the way the first generations of Christians did (knowing that in fact there was great diversity from the beginning)?  No, I'm not clear about a lot of things.

But I am clear about this: I am invited to walk with the Divine One, the Holy One known to Israel.  I am invited to lay down my weapons and turn to my erstwhile enemies with an open heart.  I am invited to end the divisions and hatreds that keep me from knowing God in our midst.  And you're invited too.

Welcome to Advent.  Welcome to the season of longing and expectation.  You are invited to watch, to listen, to prepare the way.  Each of us can do this, and no one can do it for another.  Welcome.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Thanks for your support!

Dear Friends,

We are in the midst of our annual appeal.  Many of you read online and don't receive our postal mailings, so we want you to hear from us about what your support means to us.  I hope you will feel moved to donate and help us keep witnessing to the power of resurrection and renewal.

When we decided to found the Companions we had many issues we wanted to address, but we knew that the central need was to move in together and pray to know what God's dream was for us.  In the past almost six years we have learned that the network, the dispersed community of Companions living by the Covenant and sustaining one another, is the key.  While we are open to others entering into shared vowed life with Elizabeth and myself, we see that the Spirit is spreading the Charism of the Companions by a variety of means.  Our monthly online covenant group, our weekly online meetings and daily text conversation with Covenant Companions, our weekly "face to face" group at Coffee Table Communion, as well as the hundreds of you who read our newsletter and follow us on Blogger or Facebook, all share in the conversation about God's love and power.

Elizabeth and I are privileged and blessed to "tend the hearth" of this extended community.  We are able to do this because money has appeared when needed.  We each lead retreats and offer spiritual direction, but those don't pay our bills.   Some of our members can't afford to attend Companions retreats or continuing education opportunities, and we do our best to make it possible for everyone to attend.  We need your donations to enable us to do this work.

If you believe in what we do, please consider supporting us.  Your donation is a sign of commitment and a real contribution.  I won't name a number - you know what you can afford and what you think this ministry is worth.  I will ask you to review your first number, and consider stretching it a bit.  Everyone is pinched right now, and long-time supporters can't all give what they have.

This is an opportunity for you to move closer in to the life of the Companions.  We do pray daily for our donors, and we're always open to specific prayer requests.  We hope you agree that the Companions offer a unique model of community and a needed voice.  Thank you for sharing your life with us.

Donations may be made via PayPal or checks sent to P.O. Box 226, West Park NY. 12493.  Donations are tax-deductible.

Shane Phelan CMA

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Christian Erased

This past weekend I went to see "Boy Erased," the new movie about a teenager who is sent to "conversion therapy" to "cure" his homosexuality.  It is a powerful, chilling movie.  Conversion therapy is popular among conservative Christian groups.  The movie tells us that 36 states allow parents to place their children in these programs, and that 700,000 people in the U.S. have been "treated."  There is no data showing that these programs actually result in happy heterosexuals.  Even if they did, they raise the question of why anyone should try to change.  You see, I don't think LGBTQ life is lesser than heterosexual life.  In fact, I know it isn't.

As I left the theater, I was profoundly aware of the cross I wear.  I know it's a signal to many people, for good and for ill, but I'm rarely uncomfortable wearing it.  I was that day.  I wanted to shout to the other movie patrons, "That is not my Christianity!"  In fact, I don't think it's Christianity at all.  I don't think Jesus was in the business of isolating young people, shaming them, intimidating them, condemning them.  I don't think Jesus was more concerned about sexuality than about social justice, caring for the poor, or peace.  I know many other people agree.  But we are rarely the face of Christianity that makes news.

I wonder what sort of conversion therapy is needed for Christians to become followers of Jesus.  Clearly our current churches are lacking something.  The ones who are fierce about formation are usually the toxic ones, while the progressive churches seem sometimes to leave Jesus and devotion as an afterthought to social action.

Here among the Companions, we are trying to let God form us, to re-form us into the image She intended before we began erasing it.  We're just a tiny crew in a little boat on a giant sea, but we aren't the first such.  I pray for conversion of heart, mind, and soul, for myself and for those who would erase the innate beauty of others and themselves.  Pray that we may let God re-form us into a bold loving community across boundaries of dogma, sexuality, race, gender, class, nationality, language - across boundaries.  Let's erase the whatever stands between us and following Jesus.