Archives for the month of: April, 2015

breathe
You would think after all these years, I would know how to breathe. Due to problems with my back, I have come under the care of chiropractors, physical therapists and massage therapists who have each, at one time or another, told me I breathe poorly. Most of us, due to sitting too much, breathe quite shallowly, maybe half way down our chest, before we exhale. These advisors want me to go deep and stick out my belly button when I breathe, thereby engaging all sorts of muscles and promoting all sorts of healthy stuff.

The first thing Jesus does when he appears to the disciples after the resurrection is breathe on them. What I am discovering is that my relationship to my breathing is a lot like my relationship to God. Breath it seems is both a central metaphor for God and a pathway to God. Let’s see if this metaphor will help us breathe with God more this season.

An Intimate Metaphor

If you think I am overstating the breath metaphor, listen to this: the Psalmist writes it was God’s breath that moved back the seas and exposed dry land. God “breathed life” into Adam and Eve’s nostrils. In a dark hour for Israel, the faith community was likened to a valley of dry bones that God breathed life into. The very word for God in the Old Testament mimics the sound of our breath. (Try it- “Yah” on the way in and “wey” on the way out). In the beginning of John’s Gospel Jesus comes to us on God’s breath as the Word of God. Now Jesus “breathes” on His disciples.

This is intimate language about God. Such language is so valuable to us as we try to balance the ever present images of God the distant King. This is language of love that we know something about. Lovers sometimes kiss like they want to empty the lungs of each other. When my kids were small I would go nose to nose with them as they slept, marveling at the sweetness of their breath. Who hasn’t cuddled another and found themselves matching the other’s breath, in and out. Breath is a great metaphor for God. It is a metaphor of love.

It gets better. We actually experience God like we experience our breath. Like the spark of divine light within us, our breath is a total gift. We did not create it and we cannot control it. Like our relationship with God, most of the time we are unaware of God! It takes some disruption in our breath for us to awaken to it and so often it takes some disruption in our lives for us to be aware of God’s presence.

Shallow spiritual breathing leaves little room for God’s breath. I need to really exhale tired old images of God and of myself to create room. I remember the feeling of my chest expanding when we started a Catholic community where women and men were equal. I finally realized that I was not able to breathe in liturgy where there were distinctions based on sexual orientation. I found I could take a deep breath in a community where authority was from the bottom, not the top, where leaders were elected and accountable. I found I could breathe in a community where doubt is admitted, where questions are honored and theological exploration is prized.

Practice Breathing

But our breath is not only a rich metaphor for God, it is a doorway to God. Tony De Mello tells the story of an explorer who spends many months travelling through the Amazon, mapping the mighty river and studying the wildlife and plants. When he returned the people were eager the hear about all he had discovered, but he found words to be inadequate. How do you explain the sounds at night and the thrill of a new discovery? He gave them the map and told them to experience it for themselves. But the people merely made copies of the map and framed the original and put it in city hall. Then the people named themselves experts, charging others a fee for valuable information about the mighty river.

We could be content with the map of this great metaphor of breath, or we could follow the mystics and also see our breath like a canoe that can takes us deep up our inner river. Those who teach meditation invariably ask us to become conscious of our breath as we begin to open up to the presence of God in and around us. Conscious breathing tends to put us in the present, in the now, and that is where God is! It puts us in touch with that fragile giftedness that is our life. Just as physical deep breathing activates muscles and helps deepen my regular breathing, conscious spiritual breathing activates spiritual muscles so I can navigate my rich inner world.

Is today’s gospel good news for you? I hope so. I hope the intimate metaphor of God’s breath inspires us to do the hard work of making room for God’s breath and canoeing up the River of Life inside.
Amen

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the 2nd Sunday of Easter
Saturday Evening, April 11, 2015
Focus text – John 20: 19-31 (Jesus Appears Post Resurrection)

Photo by Yozine on flickr.com

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As I listen to these powerful and haunting words this evening I feel some inner confusion. I am not sure how to react. You see, there is a very strong tendency in our culture and our tradition to adopt the stance of a spectator this time of year – to imagine that Jesus is battling alone in these pages in some cosmic struggle for my salvation. When put in this stance I do little more than applaud. It is a struggle in which I do not feel involved.

But wait a minute. I read elsewhere in Scripture that “in God I live and move and have my being” (Acts 17:28). If this is true there is part of me that bears this Jesus into the often difficult circumstances of life. Here is the question: Can I likewise act from this divine place inside me in the sometimes difficult circumstances of life in which I find myself? Let’s meditate on the Passion tonight with this question in mind.

In light of all the words we have already heard this evening, our meditation will merely be a series of questions from the text about the divine life embedded in us:

Have you ever been loved and respected for superficial reasons? Have people waved palms at you because of what they hope you will do for them? Part of us loves this attention, but our deeper part finds it lonely. The part of us that lives and moves in God can ride a humble donkey as a sign of freedom from this superficial attention.

On the other side of the spectrum, have you ever been loved for who you truly are. Like the women with the expensive oil, has someone rejoiced at the your divine spark and told you so. Like Jesus I expect you felt built up, but not embarrassed. Like Jesus you held in great honor this one who could really see.

Have you ever been betrayed, for love, for money, for a job? Have you ever had someone distance themselves from you during stress, as Peter did? The authentic in us receives this betrayal and denial without violence, without judgment. The injury stops, it is not passed on.

Have you ever been through a struggle and really needed your friends, family or faith community? Have you ever been vulnerable enough to specifically ask for support that was not delivered. Like the disciples at Gethsemane your friends fell asleep when you needed them. The part of you that lives and moves in God names the pain but does not lash out. The authentic life in you does pass on or multiply the injury.
Have you ever felt utterly forsaken, like you have no hope and you cannot fix it or even understand it? But part of you is not diminished. That part of you that lives and moves in God can still forgive the haters. This part of you can still comfort the other prisoner. This part of you will not project the forsakenness onto others.

Have you ever experienced the revelatory nature of death, whether in small ways or large? In Mark’s Gospel nobody proclaims who Jesus really is, not after healings, miracles, great sermons or pithy parables, until his revelatory death – a Roman soldier says “truly this is the Son of God.” In our own physical death, when our ego recedes and we are alone with that part of us that lives and moves in God, we are closest to our final and most revelatory adventure. At this time we hear most clearly “Truly you are my child.” Can we believe this is true in the smaller deaths along the way? Can we believe that as the ego retreats in the face of injury, illness, in difficult moments of parenting, in challenges in our primary relationships, in trials in our service, and in challenges in our faith community, when we are briefly alone with the self that lives and moves in God, we are apt to faintly hear “truly you are my child.”

In God we live, in God we move, in God we have our being. This week is not just a story about Jesus’ journey with God in difficult circumstances. It is a story of our journey to access God within us in the circumstances of life in which we find ourselves. Let’s find ourselves in the story this Holy Week.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for Palm Sunday
Saturday Evening, March 28, 2015
Focus text: The Passion according to Mark

Photo by Israel Tourism on flickr.com

gilmore-girls_1280x1024
I’m embarrassed to tell you . . . I’m addicted to The Gilmore Girls. The Netflix reruns of this TV series offers all 156 episodes AT ONCE, feeding into my insatiable appetite to turn on the Gilmore Girl’s word, and turn off my brain and veg. “Just one more episode,” I tell myself, as the previous one ends.

For some time, it had become clear to me that my best friends were now the Gilmores. So Lent seemed the opportune time to say goodbye to them, and drag my sorry self off the couch. This may sound ridiculous, but I have grieved them. I mean really, how do you say goodbye to your best friends?

Yet, I knew that if I let them go, God could somehow slip into the space made available.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus begins to prepare his disciples for the coming shock, that he will be killed. He wants them to know that there is a plan and he knows about the plan, and that he trusts the plan, so they don’t freak out and go crazy (which they did anyway). He wants them to know that there is more to come after his death . . . that this will not be the end.

Jesus tells them this parable to illustrate his point:

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.

This description of a grain of wheat was something that the disciples could relate to. They understood that after the fruit of harvest, the wheat had to die off, and find its way back into the ground, for new grain to sprout up.

Everyone here has experienced what Jesus is talking about. Small deaths happen to us daily, sometimes multiple times a day. You may have experienced a small death as you let go of something you wanted to do, to be here for mass. Maybe you were reprimanded by your boss because you did something wrong at work. There are many ways we experience little “unasked for deaths” each day.

Then, there are “voluntary deaths”. Lent is an invitation to voluntarily die to something, in order to open to something more.

And finally, there is our physical death at the end of our lives, which is usually unasked for. All of the previous deaths, whether voluntary or inflicted upon us, are practice for our final letting go.

Jesus emphatically tells the disciples in the gospel today, that death is the ONLY WAY to enter into resurrection. We understand this from Jesus’ own death and resurrection. The enormity of God’s love became known through these events.

But, the disciples didn’t get what he was saying, and for the most part, neither do we.

I think it’s fair to say that we are almost always stunned when “unasked for” death, small or large, comes our way. It’s interesting that you don’t see a grain of wheat kicking and screaming when it falls to the ground. Yet, we almost always do. Rarely do we trust what is happening.

Often, when tough times come, we cry out with anger and shock.

”Why is this happening to me or to someone I love!” It’s so easy to forget that this could be part of the Christian story. No one skips difficult times, whether it is due to our own mistakes or sin, or an event we have no control over. But, Jesus tells us, in no uncertain terms, that it is all fodder for love’s growth.

A friend of mine didn’t have to voluntarily enter into Lent this year; Lent found her. Her husband got ill and she retired early to take care of him. Since then he has declined very slowly, and in the process, she is losing her mind. Going from working full time for 35 years to being at home all the time, is an adjustment that will never be easy for her. And with no reason to believe that her husband will get better and no reason to think that he won’t be around for a good time longer, she wonders how God could do this to them. I understand her lament. How painful this situation must be. Yet, since the dawn of the human history, people have gotten sick and died. It must be part of the plan.

Vietnamese mystic, Thich Nhat Hanh, speaks of un-asked for suffering by saying, “I would not want to send my children to a place of no suffering, because they would not learn understanding.”
How is this possible to take in?!!!!

Author, Renee Brown writes, “What goes wrong with us is part of our gift to the world.”

Jesus says, Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it won’t produce fruit.

I am in the death business. As a hospice chaplain, I practice spiritual midwifery with those in the last segment of their lives and with the families who love them.

Through this, I’ve come to understand, that the expanse of God’s love available in people who have faced life’s challenges and found their way to resurrection, is deeply reflected in the way they face physical death. They trust that transformation occurs in the process. They know, at some level, that all is well. Now, that doesn’t mean they don’t experience fear, or doubt or physical pain, it means that fear and doubt and pain don’t win out; hope and love do.

Last week, I was with a deeply faith-filled woman who has recently lost her husband to death. Through her tears, she said, “At times, I have been in so much pain that I didn’t even want to live. Yet, I vaguely knew that God was with me, and that gave me hope that I could get through this.”

The Paschal Mystery at work in her life, prepared her for this day.

Lent is the practice of letting go; of voluntarily dying to something or opening to something, in order to expand our territory of Love. It is also practice for the unasked for deaths that life will bring. When I turned off the TV, in a very small way, I opened myself up to this. And as I trudged through the silence of my evenings, I began to catch glimpses of God in my conversations with my husband, Andy, our snuggling together in bed to read, and in time spent in prayer as I looked back over my day.

Let us volunteer to die to stuff that keeps us at a distance from God, and in doing so, love will widen in our hearts. Let us practice the art of letting go, and prepare ourselves for the inevitable larger deaths that will surely come our way.

Amen.

Kristie Lenzen
March 21, 2015
5th Sunday of Lent

Photo by Warner Bros.