Archives for the month of: December, 2014

earth

When I encounter gospel readings on “alertness” or “wakefulness,” the Jesuit author Fr. Tony De Mello comes to my mind. Tony famously said there are three non-negotiable keys to spiritual development: The first key is awareness. The second key is awareness. You guessed it, the third key is awareness! If you are like me, you might object saying: “C’mon Tony, shouldn’t the Ten Commandments crack the top three? What about the Golden Rule, what about social justice? You have to be exaggerating.”

Fr. Tony’s focus on awareness gets some support from today’s gospel, and many like it. Jesus often calls us to a posture of alertness, watchfulness and wakefulness. Tonight we begin the season of Advent which inspires us to be awake and watchful for the coming of Christ. We do well to ask ourselves tonight is Fr. Tony exaggerating or is he on to something? What does spiritual wakefulness looks like in our lives this season? I suggest to you that given the events surrounding Ferguson this week, the answer to this question has never been more critical.

Learning to Observe

To get at the heart of this gospel, I think we need to cross examine the very basic stories we were told about ourselves. Most of us were taught that our most fundamental problem is that we thought or did bad things and needed forgiveness. So we lined up for confession with a list of misdeeds and mistakes. We did not go to confession and say “Forgive me Father for I am asleep to God. Forgive me for not being alert to the spiritual pulse in all creation.” No we were so focused on the story that we a little sinners needing a rescue that we neglected the most fundamental story of all – we are asleep. Fr. Tony says “Life is something that happens to us while we are busy doing something else.”

So what do we do to wake up? Fr. De Mello is not a big proponent of methods, however, he does keep coming back to a practice of observation as a tool for awareness. He says we awaken when do what uniquely makes us human – rise above ourselves and compassionately observe the thoughts, beliefs, voices and feelings that flow by. It helps to imagine our thoughts, feelings, compulsive acts etc., actually happening to someone else. My favorite image of this is that we are the unfathomable sky looking down at various clouds of thoughts and feelings we are having. We, in our essence, are the limitless sky, not our thoughts and feeling. For example, I need to learn to observe, without judgment, George being delighted or depressed as the case may be that fleeting moment. If I identify with the delight or depression, I am asleep.

A modern counterpart to Fr. Tony is the writer Eckhart Tolle, and the story of his conversion to wakefulness illustrates the power of observation. Eckhart was a young student on a metro bus one day and he sat within earshot of a woman who was keeping up an ongoing conversation with herself out loud. Her pitch would rise and fall as she had pleasant or painful thoughts. She seemed completely unaware of her surroundings. He felt sorry and embarrassed for the women, but then it hit him like a tons of bricks that he behaved the same way most of the time, only silently in his head! He relived hurts, debated issues, argued with people etc., generally clueless of what was happening around him. As he observed himself doing this, a small, incremental quieting occurred right away and he was on his way to transformation.

A Quantum Leap

If we look at wisdom from the world of science, Fr. Tony’s call to awareness looks smarter and smarter. The study of the smallest of things this past century, referred to as quantum mechanics, revealed some things about consciousness that sent the theologians back to their books. In what is now referred to as “The Most Beautiful Experiment” concerning waves and particles, scientists discovered that matter at the quantum level was affected by observation. Endpoints were not predetermined based on laws. Matter and energy that was observed behaved differently than when it was not observed! Isn’t it interesting that mystics like Fr. Tony have taught for centuries that real change in the human person always starts with observation, with awareness?

If all this sounds a bit self-absorbed, it really isn’t. In fact we are not much use to the world asleep! To love another begins with really seeing them in wakefulness, not seeing them as I need them to be. The world needs us to be operating out of our limitless sky within, seeing clearly, following the pulse of Love. In a homily last month Frank asked us to do this work of observation with racism. He asked us to observe the clouds that float by when we encounter a person of another race. Do we observe fear? Do we observe some presumed entitlement over this person? He said not to judge these feelings and thoughts about race. Until we observe it, we cannot deal with it.

We have witnessed this week in our City what happens when unobserved fear of blackness erupts through the crack of profound stress. We have witnessed unobserved anger resulting in further damage and division. As a culture we need to put the work of observation and awareness regarding race on the front burner.

Astronauts who have been to space universally report on an experience that has come to be called the “The Overview Effect” – what happens to them as they look down on this blue/green oval of teeming life in the midst of dark space. They say their hearts are forever changed by this overview of our fragile, unified world. They report perceived boundaries and conflicts diminish within them. As we do our work of observation within, may it be so with us. May we be changed forever by our spiritual work this Advent.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Liturgy for the First Sunday of Advent

Saturday Evening, November 29, 2014

Focus Text: Mark 13:33-37 (Be alert!)

Photo via nasa.gov

57116658_1ca3b3d185_o

Good evening brothers and sisters. It is good to remember those who are no longer physically present with us, but continue to live in on the many ways that they have touched our own lives. We can look at this beautiful altar our community has created, and know that we are accompanied by a much larger cloud of witnesses that we see sitting here today.

I don’t know about you, but I really didn’t grow up celebrating the solemnity of All Souls. However, there is something really beautiful and important that I learned from my Mexican friends about honoring and celebrating the Day of the Dead. For Mexican Catholics, el dia de los muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is an incredibly important holiday marked with rich tradition and ritual. I had the opportunity a little over a month ago to spend some time in Mexico. My first two days there I was staying with a friend whose grandfather had recently passed away. And the family shared with me about how they would return to the cemetary for the celebration of the day of the dead, and the whole cemetary would be filled with families. They bring the favorite foods and drinks of their loved ones and share stories and memories. There is special pan de muertos, “bread of the dead,” and flowers that mark the graves, and inside the homes there are beautiful elaborate altars remembering their loved ones. They get that the person buried there in the cemetary, is not really dead, but continues to live on in each of their lives. Our loved ones who have passed away have left their immortal mark on the world, in the lives of all those they have known.

In the first reading we hear that “they seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead.” Yet our own hope, like in the book of Widsom, is full of immortality, because we too know that just like all those who have gone before us, we will continue to live on long after our mortal bodies pass away. Life after death is not just in some other cosmic reality, but right here on earth, we continue to live on through all those who’s lives we’ve touched. I wear a locket today of my Grandma and Grandpa Lay who’ve both passed away, but continue to live on in my love of telling stories, in the green glass mixing bowl of my grandma and the chocolate chip cookie dough it holds, in card games, in fishing poles and the great outdoors, and in the love that they imbedded on my heart.   I had 14 years with my Grandma and 23 with my Grandpa. But there are others, like an Anglican woman priest in El Salvador who I knew maybe only an hour, or a day, but impacted my life in a way that brought me to where I am today. We might never know the impact that we have in any given moment, with any given word or action, but I can assure you that it does have an immortal impact. In every moment, each one of us is not only shaping the present, but also the future.

Perhaps you have seen the movie the Butterfly Affect with Ashton Kutcher? It gets at this point that just changing one thing, one small word or action, completely changes everything else that happens after that. In the movie, the main character realizes he has the power to go back to different points in his life, and change just one small action. He does this in the hope of creating better lives for all those he loves, but each time he wakes back up, after making a change, to a completely different reality. Sometimes the reality is better or worse for him, or better or worse for a friend. The point is that we can’t see the future, or anticipate the affect of our actions, but each day, what we do and say, or don’t do and don’t say, matters, and has a lasting impact on the future.

It has an impact, because we do not live in an isolated environment. Our bodies, our lives, and all that surrounds us, is made up of the same stuff that has been around since the beginning of the universe. And to get us where we are today, death has been a necessary part of bringing new life into the world. Elizabeth Johnson in her book, “Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Life” states that ‘To be created is to be finite and mortal.” She talks about how creation is constantly repeating the circle of life, death, and new life, and as this cycle repeats the Spirit of God is present through it all, and has in fact lived through it all in the person of Jesus. We are a people who believe in immortality, in life after death, because we are a people who know that the Divine love and creative energy of God is so intimately connected to all of creation, that there truly is nothing that can separate us: neither life nor death. We live and move and have our being in the Spirit that has been moving life along since the beginning of time. But we also have freedom. And we can choose to what extent we follow that spirit. We can participate in moving creation forward, in seeking greater connection amongst ongoing diversification, or we can hinder it, or make life all together extinct.

Today is the Feast of All Saints, an important cloud of witnesses in our Catholic tradition who have had their own lasting impact in the world and in the Church. We are where we are, and we are who we are, because of the Saints and Souls that have gone before us. We remember our name sakes: St Clare and St. Francis, and the impact that they had in the world. They too were on the evolutionary edge, rejecting the norms and expectations of society, of their families, and working to build a renewed Church that recognized our interconnectedness. Their legacy of peace, communion, interconnectedness, simplicty, has lived on and inspired many more throughout the ages. What will our legacy be here at Sts. Clare & Francis? How will we be remembered and shape the future yet to come? How will we help ensure that the Spirit of God continues her work in creation, pushing us forward deeper into the realization of the beloved community of God?

We honor and give thanks to all those who have gone before us, and who accompany us on our journey. We remember our loved ones in the sharing of food, drink, and traditions, just as remember Christ present with us in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. And we open our minds and our hearts to the reality that what we do in this moment, and every moment, matters and is shaping the future of the world to come. Will we help bring harmony or discord? Will we be moved to action from a place of generosity and abundance, or self-interest and scarcity? We have but a breif moment in these mortal bodies of ours. What will you do with your brief moment?

I would like to end by invoking the names of those whose bodies have been laid to rest, but whose presence is still very much alive and well in our community. There is a powerful tradition that I learned from my Latino brothers and sisters to do this. After each name is spoken, please respond together “Presente!” which is the Spanish for Present, recognizing how that person is still present with us today.

November 1st, 2014

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

Readings:

1st Reading: Wis 3:1-9

2nd Reading: Rom 6:3-9

Gospel: John 6:37-40

Homily by Jennifer Reyes Lay

Photo by Eric S. on flickr.com