Archives for the month of: March, 2014

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Why does it seem so often in life that what is “really” happening is hidden from us?  We go to the theater and when the curtain closes for intermission we know all sorts important stuff is happening behind the curtain.  In the movie The Wizard of Oz, the climax of the movie was discovering what was really happening with the Wizard behind the curtain.  How many times have you gone to social or family events sensing the event was hiding some reality behind the scenes?

Today in the story of the Transfiguration we get a glimpse of what is hidden in the spiritual life.  We get to see what really happens when the curtain goes up and we can see what God is up to and what we look like in God’s eyes.  St. Paul famously said at the end of the love poem in the letter to the Corinthians that now we “see in a mirror dimly.”  But we do get glimpses of reality.  If we can learn from what we see in these moments we can adapt our behavior to join in what is happening behind the curtain.

Union Revealed

If we were to travel down the road to Louisville, Kentucky, to the corner of 4th Street and Muhammad Ali Blvd., we would see a plaque describing another experience of transfiguration.  On March 18, 1958 Thomas Merton was doing errands when he experienced a moment of transfiguration, a moment when the curtain over reality was lifted.  He did not see Jesus transfigured, rather he saw ordinary people on the street transfigured while going about the routines of their day.  He writes “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved these people…  I saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the person that each one is in God’s eyes.  To me they seemed to be walking around shining like the sun.”

Our text today, Merton’ experience and perhaps glimpses of our own, tell us what is going on behind the curtain to help us participate in reality even though we cannot see reality clearly.  In the gospel the lifted curtain reveals Jesus in union with Moses and Elijah across time.  It reveals God saying to all who would listen “This is my Beloved Son.”  Lifting the veil has Merton loving people he does not know, feeling connected to strangers on the street.  Transfiguration for Merton exposed the myth of separateness.  Everyone has life within that shines like the sun.

James Finley says glimpses of transfiguration always share at least one characteristic – they call us to greater union with God and others.  Always.  But what does union feel like?  How do we know what conduct to pursue?  He tells this story to help us recollect:

Imagine a child that very much wants a present that is too much to hope for.  Her mother decides to buy the present and she is filled with anticipation the day the present will be given.  The mother watches the child’s face as the present, too good to be hoped for, is opened.  As the child removes the lid on the box and her face erupts in joy the mother is lost in her face, lost in the union with the child’s delight. Love makes her forget herself for a time, but this loss is pure gain.

Choosing Union

This is just one way to put language to the union that is being expressed behind the curtain.  We can practice such union in worship, in meditation, in forgiveness and in human intimacy.  Musicians and artists tell us about being lost in the art and the music where they are out of control, out of their heads, one with what they are doing.

The disciples in the gospel present an almost humorous contrast to this union.  They think their little worlds are the real world and thus, are threatened and terrified of reality.  While true union promotes silence, Peter needs to fill the wonder with words and concepts.  (Notice how God can’t bear it and interrupts him!)  Peter then tries to control the uncontrollable with separate shrines to contain the union he is experiencing.

Choosing to mimic the union we see behind the curtain affects more than our relationships and devotional life.  Years later Merton recounted the Louisville experience in his book “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.”  He explained that seeing others transfigured was for him like waking up from a dream of separateness.  He confessed he had fallen into the folly of thinking he had been living a life superior to others as a monk.  He was humbled by seeing people as they really are.  He now knew superiority was a lie, he was one with others.  This oneness meant we are not as insignificant as we feel.  If reality is one we can send ripples that move through reality.  Merton then began writing about the Vietnam War and racial injustice.  He remained a monk and lived much of his time in solitude, but he now knew his solitude was not his own anymore!  His solitude was for others, for union.

Tonight we are asked whether we have faith in our glimpses of reality from Scripture, from the testimony of others and from our own experience to join in the union behind the curtain in small ways and large.  If so, we can use this Lent to practice union.

In a few minutes we will do something here that looks small and insignificant.  But there is something bigger going on.  We gather around a table of radical equality, of radical communion, to practice the union behind the curtain.  In doing so we send a ripple of reality into the ocean of life.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Liturgy for the 2nd Sunday of Lent

Saturday Evening, March 15, 2014

Focus text:  Matthew 17: 1-9 (The Transfiguration)

Photo by Edinburgh International Film Festival on flickr.com

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If we can read this great, old story with fresh eyes, it has a lot to say to us about becoming who we are meant to be.  This story from the first book of the Bible reminds us of a children’s fable.  A snake is talking to a man and woman living in a garden; trees have special names, like “Tree of Life” and “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”  But don’t let the genre fool you; this story is laden with ancient wisdom.  Our ancestors often read this story and reflected on the “fallen nature” of humans.  It might be better to say that this is a story about how, even from the beginning, humans couldn’t quite seem to really take flight and ascend to their true selves.

The Story

When the humans eat the fruit of “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” their eyes are opened, we’re told, and they become aware that they are naked.  Prior to that moment, they had not noticed.  The author is pointing to that time in human development when humans grew in self-consciousness (every human goes through this) and realized that they were other than the Great Mystery, from which they had emerged, and that they were therefore vulnerable.  They were ashamed of who they saw themselves to be.  This vulnerability introduces fear and mistrust between us and the Great Mystery and between us and one another.  This in turn occasions the fearful avoidance of human potential.  They were like the child who initially grows in self-awareness and concurrently grows in the beginnings of doubt that love and wholeness will be there.  To say, to be living in a deep awareness of life

Like God?

The talking serpent said that if they ate they would become like God.  Did they?  They gained a kind of “awareness.”  But there are different kinds of awareness.  If I am aware that I am naked, that is to say vulnerable before the world, that is not the level of awareness that we are meant to achieve.  True awareness is to know that I am both other and connected, opening up the possibility of not living in fear.  To know that I am both other than God and yet participating in God’s own life is to really have awareness.  With this kind of awareness I am in communion with God and in fact understand that I am like God, sharing God’s own life.  This is awareness.  Saying, “I am screwed up, and others cannot be trusted” is not true awareness at all.

Good and Evil?

The person who is full of shame is the one who very often wants to shame others.  Their understanding of “good and evil” is to “know” all the ways that someone else is evil!  This is not true knowledge; this is true smallness.  True knowledge of good and evil does make us like God because we respond out of a heart bent on justice and compassion—like God.  When we see true evil our heart recoils, and we fight it.  We’re not belittling the neighbor we can’t tolerate; we are reaching out to the one who is suffering.  Injustice and unnecessary suffering are evil, and (when we live in God) we move against them as if God herself were moving against slavery in Egypt. 

Fixing or Covering the Shame

In the story the man and woman do not move away from shame; they cover it up by sewing fig leaves together.  It is as if they have all they need right in front of them but cannot seem to fly.  For those of us who use the stories of the New Testament to give further meaning to our lives, we see Jesus, for example in tonight’s story about his temptation in the desert, standing tall in his knowledge of who he truly is down deep.  He does not cave.  He does not believe that his hunger, his powerlessness, or his lack of fame mean that he should be ashamed of himself and/or that he is disconnected from his God.  It takes a giant act of trust to believe that there is nothing to be ashamed of and that I am loved and empowered by One who may be Other but whose life I am in fact living.  We are not alone.  We are loved.  We are participating in something very awesome and eternal. 

 

Sts. Clare & Francis

Saturday, March 9, 2014

First Sunday of Lent
Genesis 2:7-9; Genesis 3:1-7

Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11
Homily by Frank Krebs

Photo by saikofish on flickr.com

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Can you recall a time in your life when someone forgot you? You may have been the kid left at soccer practice.  A friend may have forgot an appointment at Starbucks.  A birthday or anniversary may have gone unnoticed.

Although most of such oversights by those we care about are innocent (and those doing the forgetting are usually mortified!) the feelings it causes in us is often exaggerated because such events pick at a much deeper wound.  Mystics have written for centuries that in the human condition there is a deep, primal fear that we lack substance, that we are just a mist that will dissipate, that we will be forgotten.  This wound feeds so many of our day to day anxieties.  Today’s readings address this wound head on and offers a prescription for us to fill.

Source of Anxiety

I have found the writings of Fr. Ron Rolheiser to be particularly insightful on the issue of this primal anxiety.  He says that as a result of this fear of insignificance we try to create immortality for ourselves.  We try to escape our worry by creating immortality through our children and grandchildren.  We do things like writing a book or build a second home that can be passed down to our heirs.  Money is a universal tool to obtain for ourselves a sense of immortality.  You see bumper stickers proclaiming folks are spending their kids’ inheritance, but that is rare.  Most of us want enough money to leave some behind so we will not be forgotten.

Today’s readings tell us we do not need to anxiously try to create immortality for ourselves.  Isaiah writes in God’s voice to a people in exile feeling forgotten by God.  God says even if a mother could ever forget her infant, “I will never forget you.” We are not a mist that will disappear.  God knows our name.  Jesus says it a different way in the gospel today.  If God does not forget the flowers and the birds of the air, how can God possibly forget you.

Do you remember the gospel reading where the disciples go off on a mission trip and have great success with demons etc.? They came back to coach Jesus all excited, but Jesus said do not rejoice that you had success, for who knows what will happen next time.  Instead, rejoice that “your names are written in heaven.” We are irrevocably loaded onto God’s screensaver.  God has given us substance, we do not have to anxiously create it.

From Mind to Heart

Is our prescription for our deep wound now filled?  Not quite.  Rolheiser is brilliant on the insight that while beliefs are a good start, they will not alone combat our wound and the primal anxiety it creates.  We also need to know we will not be forgotten for real.

A few weeks ago on a cold February morning I was at the golf practice range beating balls.  An elderly teaching pro named Dave was the only other crazy person there waiting for one of his young pupils.  I knew Mike only slightly and, although not looking for conversation, I politely asked Dave a typical golfer’s question about whether he got away to some warm weather for some golf this winter.  He said no, because his wife had been diagnosed with cancer.  I said I was sorry and wished them well.  He replied “we are not worried about it.”

He now had my full attention.  He then told me a story of when he was much younger and his kids were small he fell gravely ill and was in a coma for four days.  He did not have a “near death experience” but he did have spiritual experience of great love and peace.  Through this experience he came to know in an experiential way that he would not be forgotten.  After that he said he just does not worry as much, even about big things like cancer.

Rolheiser says there is a gospel story that symbolically leads us to where Dave is.  Near the end of John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene goes to Jesus tomb carrying spices to embalm the dead body.  She is sad and anxious.  She sees Jesus but does not recognize him, thinking instead she is talking with the gardener.  She questions him about where is the dead body of her friend.  Jesus asks, “What are you looking for?” Before she can answer Jesus calls her by name, “Mary” and her eyes are opened.

Sometimes, like Mike’s experience, this deep knowing comes as a spontaneous awakening.  But we are also invited into a spiritual practice of being Mary, of seeking, persisting, questioning and listening for our name from the lips of God.  When we hear it we know in our heart as well as our mind that we will not be forgotten.

This pattern of seeking, questioning, listening and knowing is all around us here at Sts. Clare & Francis.  Many examples could be cited, but on this night of transition for Jessica’s ministry I think it is appropriate to give thanks for Jessica’s service in the pattern.  Tonight we celebrate a ministry typified by seeking.  We celebrate a ministry unafraid of any questions, indeed that reverences questions.  We celebrate a ministry that helps others listen, that helps others know for sure they will never be forgotten.

May this Eucharist help expose the deep wound of our humanity, the root cause of our anxiety, and help put is in the pattern of knowing for real that our names are already written in heaven.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

For Ron Rolheiser’s articles on anxiety see the archive on his website dated 2/17/13 and 2/24/13.

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Saturday Evening, March 1, 2014
Focus text: Matthew 6: 24-34 (“Do not worry about your life.”)

Photo: “Forget-me-not” by Sir_Iwan on flickr.com