Archives for the month of: June, 2014

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One of the healthy aspects of the Feast of the Trinity is that it reminds us how little we know about God – that our ideas about God are at best imperfect metaphors. While the metaphor of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is powerful and all around us in word, song and art, we are indebted to biblical scholars like Sandra Schneider who playfully reminds us “God is not two dudes and a bird!”

There has been a revolution in discourse on the Trinity in recent decades recapturing some ancient wisdom. To try to tap into this wisdom, recall with me tonight a recent moment of communal connection in your life. It may be a family moment of closeness. For those counselors/therapists among us in may be a particularly good session with a client. It could be prayer or meditation with others or it could be a moment of sharing/worship with your faith community. Whatever it is, recall the energy of the moment. We can feel communion, can’t we?

If we can feel the connection, the energy, between sharing people who are finite, just try to imagine the flow of energy in the infinite community of the Trinity. You see, at the core of our understanding of the Trinity is communion between persons within God. There is an energy, a flow, created by this infinite communion just like we experience with each other, but infinitely greater. We heard a few moments ago the famous words from John’s gospel “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” God is extending the circle of the Trinity to include us! What would it be like to imagine the Trinity as something to actually participate in?

A River of Life

When people of faith over the centuries have tried to put words to what it is like to enter the life of the Trinity they often speak of the metaphor of the river of life. This metaphor is everywhere. It is in the beginning in the Garden of Eden and in the end of the story in the final Book of Revelation. The psalms sing of the River and the prophets proclaim it. Just a few paragraphs after our gospel reading tonight Jesus would offer the Samaritan woman “living water” and a few chapters later he would say “rivers of living water arise out of the center” of those who follow Jesus (John 7). The river is also central to Hinduism where rivers, particularly the Ganges River, are gods. In Buddhism the teachers see the River as depicting their central belief that life is constantly changing, always in flux.

A spiritual person is a river enterer! The rite of baptism tries to capture this. The author James Finley delights in this image to explain the spiritual life in his classic book “Christian Meditation.” When we experience the life of the Trinity it is like getting wet in the River. He has much to say on this metaphor but a few recurring themes are 1) that this Life is moving, it is not static. Every moment of awakening (getting wet) is new because the River is always new; 2) It is abundant. There is no damp stage in the River. You get wet whether you are 8 or 80; and 3) The River is indiscriminate. You get wet whether you stumble into awakening by mistake or whether you have been preparing a long time. People who study books on rivers do not get more wet than those who do not.

Once we have been awakened and gotten wet we want to go back to the River again. We want to become habitual river enterers through meditation and other practices. We want to hang around with those who know the way. We want to learn from those who know about drop offs and undertows. We want to avoid those who act like you can control who enters the River. We are excited when anyone, from any place or tradition, enters the River.

Roadblocks to the River

Why are we not more aware of the River and entering the River more often? It might be our own imagination of God. Maybe we need to believe in the River and try to get past images of God as a stern patriarch.
I might believe the River is there but I am afraid. I cannot enter the River if I am hanging on to something on the shore. Experienced River Enterers tell us the River is moving, abundant and indiscriminate and I am too often just the opposite – stuck, preoccupied with what I do not have and very selective in my love. The River and I are too often on different frequencies.

I bet that one day when we see God “face to face” we will see the River is not far off. I bet we will be amazed that we were actually in the Life of the Trinity all of the time and the River is really part of us! Our masks blind us to this reality most of the time. But until that day, strengthened by the Eucharist and walking with each other, we can reimagine God as a community to participate in, and more and more be a community of River enterers.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the Feast of the Trinity
Saturday Evening, June 14, 2014
Focus text: John 3:16-18

Photo by Bryan Jackson on flickr.com

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18 year old Jack Rayson won one of this year’s Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. In one of his pieces he depicts a little girl in the future experiencing a global tragedy together with her family. A space ship from Earth carrying humans to settle on Mars overshoots the planet and the humans are lost. It is a cliché at times like this for us to say that everyone remembers where they were at that moment; it’s a moment that affects us all. We think of these things as shared experiences that characterize our common history. But in what ways are they shared experiences and in what ways not? Jack Rayson wanted to tease this out.

He drew upon an experience he had when he was in kindergarten: the World Trade Center towers came down in a terrorist attack. He knew what had happened, but he could not understand why all the adults around him were crying. So now as an 18 year old wunderkind, he writes about a fictional little girl who notices that her reaction to the spaceship missing its mark is different than everyone else’s.

I think we can build on the insight of this 18 year old and safely say that it is not just age that gives us different perspectives on the same experience. We are all formed by our many identities (age, education, culture, the type of home we grew up in, our gender, etc.) not to mention our experience so far in life and how we have made sense of the world. There is a sense in which we can say that we have a shared experience like 911 or the space shuttle disaster, and there is a sense in which our experiences are truly our own.

The Community of Jesus in Desolation

The community that gathered around Jesus in his life-time had a shared experience of his death and his absence. For all it was an experience of what the founder of the Jesuits would call “desolation.[i]” Desolation comes from a Latin word meaning abandonment. It is characterized by anxiety and by depressive symptoms. A lot of “dis” words apply:

Dis-tasteful: appetite is gone

Dis-couraged: heart is gone

Dis-mayed: possibilities are gone

Dis-spirited: without spirit

Dis-enchanted: the song is gone

So we must assume that this is what the followers and friends of Jesus were experiencing when he was gone. At the same time it’s safe to say that the experience was different depending on the person—for instance, for his grieving mother and for the guilt ridden deserter, Peter. Each had his or her own experience of the absence of Jesus.

Our Community in Desolation?

Does this sound familiar? Have we been experiencing some aspects of desolation as a community? We’ve been in a transition ever since we found out that Jessica was going to have another baby and step aside from ministry. We each have had our own reactions to the loss of our associate pastor, and to the search for a new associate pastor. In the ensuing months we have seen heroic activity on the part of many stepping up to do what a family needs to do to carry on. Yet even as many have acted with extra effort and generosity to keep us going, there are still traces here and there of desolation falling off our bodies like a scent.

Dave Ebenhoe at the “Healing our Wounds and Finding the Way Forward” event asked us, “Given that this has been your experience, are you still willing to come together and build community.” And we have. It is evident in our recent attempt to verify our list of members (As of this writing we have 86 members verified with 60 more persons to contact). It is evident from our pledge drive (again, with this number of people having been contacted, we have over $90,000 pledged for this year). Nevertheless, at times, that persistent scent of desolation lingers like yesterday’s cigar smoke. And each person’s story is different. This is not to say the whole community is in desolation all the time; that is simply not true. But to pretend that this transition has not been hard for many folks is simply to, well, pretend. The loss has been a shared experience, but it is also true that each of us has reacted differently, more characteristic of who each of us is as a person.

The Story of Pentecost

In the experience of the community that produced the Fourth Gospel, they were in desolation, but Jesus kept showing up, usually on Sunday when they were experiencing the Eucharist. And every time he spoke a word they became a little stronger. Today he specifically breathes on them, i.e. gives them a kind of artificial resuscitation.

I’ve talked before of the poet of Genesis imagining a God (who has no hands of course) taking his hands metaphorically and fashioning a body from the good earth and breathing life into it—his own life so that the body would thrive.

As we prayerfully climb into this passage tonight and become a part of it, Jesus is taking the drooping body of his disciples, lying down on top of us, listening for a pulse, and breathing his own breath into our bodies to lift us up. (It’s a different take on Pentecost, no?)

Climbing into the Scene

We can do a lot of things for each other, but we cannot do this. How many times I have shared coffee or whatever with you, and I, Frank, have wanted to give you a spirit that would lift you up beyond the desolation you were feeling. I cannot do that. I do not have that kind of power. I cannot give you your taste back, give you the song back, give you your heart back, give you your spirit back, your sense that there are possibilities back…because these things are not mine to give. You have to tell him that you want them back. You have to tell him that you are open to having them back. He wants to revive you.

(For one thing, I am not even experiencing these months the same way that you are exactly. This loss for me is a different kind of loss perhaps than what you are experiencing.) There is only one Orchestra Leader who knows why she has assembled all these different gifts, these different perspectives, these different passions—there is only one Orchestra Leader who can imagine what the finished piece of music is going to sound like. And she is trying to breathe life into us tonight. That is why the Christ is showing up again.

He still wants Clare & Francis to be the place of love and acceptance that it has been from the beginning. Only God can give us the unity we cannot give each other. Communion is a gift.

We have to tell him that our doors are locked, that we’re scared, and that we don’t want this to be the case. God can deal with locked doors, but she will not violate the privacy of your heart. She stands knocking, we have to open the door. We may see light sneaking in from under the door, but to get the full view, we have to open the door.

Allow the Lord to be with you tonight and be open to the music, the heart, the possibilities that God wants to give us for our future. Be open to being revived. Amen?

Pentecost

Sts. Clare & Francis
Saturday, June 10, 2014
Exodus 34:4-6, 8-9
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
John 3:16-18
Homily by Frank Krebs

Photo by Sweetie187 on flickr.com

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[i] The first rule for discernment is not to make a decision when in desolation (identified with feelings of anxiety, distrust, desire to manipulate and control, secrecy, etc.), but instead to remember that consolation (identified with feelings of peace, closeness to God, unity, beauty, openness, cooperation, etc.) will return and to wait until that time before making the decision. –Clarence Heller on discernment

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I would like to begin by reading you a letter that was written about 7 weeks ago:

Dear Fayetteville Public Library, Arkansas Family and Friends,

I am profoundly saddened that I am unable to be with you on Friday, April 11, 2014. I long to come to the state of Arkansas, in general, and I long to be in Fayetteville, in particular. I learned in Arkansas at a very young age from my grandmother who taught me, ‘when you learn, teach, and when you get, give’.

In Arkansas I also learned not to complain. I was taught that there are people all over the world who have less than I have and who would give anything for a portion of my possessions. They went to sleep last night as I went to sleep and they never awakened. Their beds have become their cooling boards and their blankets have become their winding sheets and they would give anything and everything for what I was complaining about.

In Arkansas, I learned to trust love, not the romance of it, but the heart of it. In Arkansas I learned to have respect for friendship, to honor it, to trust it and to build it.

An unexpected ailment put me into the hospital. I will be getting better and the time will come when I can receive another invitation from my state and you will recognize me for I shall be the tall Black lady smiling. I ask you to please keep me in your thoughts, in your conversation and in your prayers.

Love,
I am,
Maya Angelou

In early April, she was scheduled to speak in Fayetteville Arkansas. A sudden illness required her to cancel the appearance. She sent that letter with her regrets:

Have you ever received a letter quite like that? Three phrases leapt out at me when I first read her letter.

 my grandmother taught me ‘when you learn, teach, and when you get, give’,
 I learned to trust love, not the romance of it, but the heart of it, and
 I learned to have respect for friendship, to honor it, to trust it and to build it.

Now, to this afternoon’s scriptures:

In the first reading from Acts, we hear about the 11, gathered after Jesus’ Ascension, in an upper room in Jerusalem and they “were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” Notice, they no longer hide behind locked doors for fear of hostile authorities — as we heard in the Gospels in those weeks following Easter. Jesus has already ascended, and now they devote themselves to prayer as they await the fulfilment of the his promises. They have been given hope and a mission by Jesus to be his witnesses in the world. He’s opened their minds to understand how he fulfilled the Scriptures. They are sharing the gift of community. The nascent Church is beginning to live out that call of Jesus to be one, as he is one with God.

Jesus’ prayer in tonight’s gospel is first a prayer to God, summarizing all that Jesus came to do and that intimate relationship which exists between him and God that allowed him to complete his work. It is also a prayer for the disciples, and for us, asking for strength and protection for those faithful believers who will remain in the world as Jesus returns to God, fulfilling the mission of Jesus by being his witnesses in the world. By being community, being in unity with one another and with Jesus.

Finally, St. Peter reminds us this afternoon, that to suffer for Christ is to share in Jesus’ sufferings. Followers of Jesus should rejoice because such suffering is a sign that they are blessed by God and are destined to enjoy eternal glory.

And so, we have been given much this afternoon – a reminder that we are community, consecrated through baptism to be the witnesses of Jesus in the world, to be the very person of Jesus to all those we see and encounter, in here and out there, indeed everywhere we go.

So, when we leave her this evening, what will you “give” from what you “got” this afternoon? What will you do with this community, this friendship of God, given to you as a gift? This gift of relationship with God, though our encounter with Jesus, how will you “honor it, to trust it and build it?”

Have you learned to trust love yet? The romance of love is believing that it costs nothing, believing that love will somehow cure me from all my insecurities and fears, and that it will bring me anything and everything I want.

The heart of love teaches us that true love can only be found by emptying ourselves and allowing another, the other, to fill up that which is lacking within us. For followers of Christ, the heart of love is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus — God proclaiming life where death once ruled. The center of that love is the Cross. The cross represents the way in which God contradicts the world: no matter how often the world says, “NO,” God is present giving an eternal, “YES,” bringing light out of darkness, hope out of despair, even life out of death. The heart of love is the heart of the resurrected Christ. That love brings with it freedom. And the freedom of the Cross is knowing that there is no contradiction in our lives which God’s love cannot overcome. The freedom of the children of God is not the freedom to do whatever we want to do, but what we must do to become holy with the very glory of Jesus, that is, to become witnesses in and to the world – by being who we are now and who we will continue to become as we learn to open out hearts more fully to love of God, as found through Jesus.

I learned, in Arkansas, at a very young age from my God who taught me ‘when I teach you, learn, and when I give you everything, give of yourself to anyone who needs it’.

I am learning to trust God’s love, not the romance of it, but the cost of it, in following Jesus. Allowing him to lead me, guide me, especially in those times I find a still fearful heart that desires security but remains all too human.

The call of Jesus to his followers was, “Come and See,” and “Follow Me.” What more are we waiting for? What more do we have to learn, to get, to trust, to respect, to honor, or to build? What else do we need to do before we “Go and See” or “Follow Him.”

Sts. Clare and Francis
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Saturday, May 31, 2014
Acts 1: 12-14
1 Peter 3:15-18
John 17: 1-11a

Homily by Jim Schratz

Photo by York College ISLGP on flickr.com