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UNMANAGED SPACE

I am sure we would all agree that Jesus has many fine qualities, but based on today’s gospel we may be forced to conclude that being a project manager is not one of them.  At this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ ministry is coming together and he enlists the disciples directly in the effort to spread the Kingdom.  He sends them out two by two.  Herein lies the problem.  There is no strategy and barely a message.  There are no targeted donations to gain influence, no use of family or tribal connections and no resources to help the disciples stay on message.  In fact, Jesus takes away their credit cards and other resources.  They only get to keep their walking sticks and sandals.  Is this any way to run a railroad?

We know from our experience, and other gospel readings, that preparation, practice, and planning are critical in the spiritual journey.  But tonight we confront an older, deeper space – unmanaged space.  This gospel asks us to consider the often scary movement in our lives from managed to unmanaged space and the spiritual richness that resides there.

Empty Space can be Liminal Space

The disciples were sent to “be with” people, forced to accept their hospitality.  The disciples also did not have a preconceived idea about what the work would be.  They were not in the healing business, but if someone was sick they went ahead and healed them.  They were not in the expulsion of demons business, but if someone needed that they went ahead and did it.  Some folks might need a hand around the house, or just someone to talk to.  Jesus, in effect, said go “be with” people and see what happens.  The premise for this strategy is that the kingdom of God is at hand and it is abundant!  Being “with someone” knowing the kingdom is at hand, in the moment, can lead to all sorts of grace.

We know from our experience the critical transition from planning and managing to “being with.” We can plan an afternoon with a three year old but unless we at some point “become with” the child we will miss the abundance.  We can read books and go to parenting classes but sometimes we need to just sit with a teenager going through transitions and wait to see what happens.  In fact, this act of “being with” is the cornerstone of really listening to each other (a/k/a “active listening”).  We can’t listen if we are already full of our own opinions, needs and goals.

Our tradition often speaks of this “being with” as emptiness.  In the famous text from Phillipians 2, we are told Jesus did not count equality with God as something to be grasped, rather he emptied himself to be Emmanuel, “God with us.”  It should then come as no surprise that to approach the Divine with intention means to do what Jesus does – empty ourselves.  In prayer and meditation the Divine is close by when we stop managing and empty ourselves of thoughts, desires and the need to perform or control and listen for the Source of Life.  In community with each other we perceive the Divine when we empty ourselves of performance, control and power and are present and vulnerable with each other.  In service we can sense the Divine when we empty ourselves and are truly present with those we seek to serve.

Practicing Emptiness

Sometimes we need a hyperbole, or exaggeration for effect to help us see the point. This happened for me in the person of Chris Rosati, a man who has ALS, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This is a fatal disease of the nervous system where gradually the patient loses control of various body functions. Amazingly, Chris’ basic message is how lucky he is!  For him emptiness is a way of life and he testifies the spiritual blessings are large. He interviews others with ALS who make similar points. They live their lives with such heightened spiritual awareness because they do not need to rid themselves of “management.” Their disease does that for them. While they want a cure to be found, Chris and his friends go so far to say they are not sure they want to live any other way. It is hard for me to get my mind around that, and it may be an exaggeration, but what a testimony to the power of emptiness!

Yet most of us are like the disciples, we need to be sent to unmanaged or empty space. Our world constantly lies to us about where real meaning lies – in efficiency, productivity and management. Our lives are like a radio station that can never go silent for a moment for fear others will change the channel.

Thus, the key for us to be formed as disciples is to engage in intentional acts, indeed to practice these acts over and over, that create unmanaged or empty space in our lives. Here at Sts. Clare & Francis we talk about the three-legged stool of spiritual practice- prayer, community and service. These core practices are indispensable because by their very nature they take us to a place we cannot control. We can, of course, “manage” these practices, but if we stick with it prayer and meditation cannot be directed like a play. Sharing faith with each other in a truthful manner that includes doubts and fears cannot be managed.  To step out and risk emptying some part of ourselves in service to the world is a liminal act.

This liturgy is itself a parable about this journey – our liturgy tonight is highly managed as folks have prepared and practiced to lead us. Yet the hope and prayer behind all this preparation is that we would find glimpses of emptiness in the liturgy to “be with” the Source of Life and with each other. May this movement from managed to unmanaged space be the pattern of our evening together and the pattern of our lives.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Homily – Sent to Unmanaged Space

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Liturgy for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Saturday Evening, July 11, 2015

Focus text: Mark 6: 7-13 (Jesus sends out the disciples)

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In our culture we use the word “friend” loosely. I have considered many people I work with friends, but the strange thing is that when they move on there was nothing besides work to keep us connected. I actually joke about this with my golf friends, some I see several times a month. With a few exceptions we know very little about each other besides golf. When the golf part goes away, the “friend” goes away. Adding to the confusion is the proliferation of Facebook “friends.”

It is actually quite key that we get our terms straight – we are told that God referred to Abraham as “my friend” (Exodus 41:8) and that God spoke to Moses as “as one speaks to a friend.” (Exodus 33:11). Now Jesus, in the last hours of his life, tells his disciples in today’s gospel “I no longer call you servants, I call you friends.” Today’s liturgy asks us to ponder the mystery of friendship with God, and, as a result, a posture of friendship toward the world.

Friendship According to Jesus

We are indebted to the biblical theologian Sandra Schneider for helping us see what Jesus means by friendship. Just prior to this statement about being friends is the foot washing scene. Sandra explains the issue at the foot washing was “friendship” vs “status,” and perhaps it took a women’s perspective to see how radical Jesus’ symbol really was.

In the dangerous and unpredictable world of the gospels, strict rules about honor and status brought some order to things. Some people, like Jesus, where superior by design and were entitled to receive service in the natural order of things. Others, like women and slaves, were obligated to provide service in the natural order of things. Some people washed feet and some people got theirs washed. Nobody made a fuss. This was just the way things were.
By washing feet as a symbol of His ministry Jesus is acting out what he had been saying all along. He is dismantling the “status” system. In Jesus’ society nobody is owed anything. Nobody’s status entitles them to anything. Service is a free gift among equals. Service is given without creating an obligation the way real friends serve each other. Jesus was not promoting humility when he started washing feet that day – he was creating a community of friends.

Ron Rolheiser tells a cute story that illustrates friendship like this: there is a six year old boy who has a ritual every night to say prayers with his mother before bed. Every night they would pray for mommy and daddy, grandparents and friends. One night the boy hopped into bed without the ritual and his mother asked what was going on. The boy replied, “my teacher said I should I should be with God the way I am with a friend, and I do not have anything to say right now.” There is a freedom in friendship.

Reimagining God?

So what does this insight about friendship say about God. “God, can I really be your friend?” If the answer really is yes, we may have to reimagine the metaphors we use for God. Most of us carry with us metaphors about God that are not about mutual love. A friend does not coerce. You will not befriend someone you fear. A friend does not say “believe in me or else.” A friend does not want to control my life. A friend understands me.
Even more startling, true friendship changes us. I suggest to you that it is impossible to be in a mutual, loving friendship and not be changed. Nothing changes our biases on race like a mutual friend of another race. Many attribute the evolution in their thinking on sexual orientation to a friendship with a real person who was gay or lesbian. Is it taking it too far to suggest that our friendship changes God? How can it not be so, when God is Love?

One of my favorite authors, Sr. Joan Chittister, tells us about an evolving God in her famous article “A God Who Beckons.” (NCR, 8/2009). It is an article worth rereading on a regular basis because of the clear picture it provides that Love must evolve. What is exciting about friendship with God is that under this metaphor our lives really matter! Our intentions, our prayers, our dreams, our actions affect a vulnerable God and shape a creation that is ongoing. Joan claims “an evolving God is big enough to believe in.”

At the end of the day metaphors only change us if they come true in our experience. There is a famous hymn called “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” based on a poem written around 1850 by Joseph Scriven. He was engaged to be married twice, once in England and once later in Canada, and both times his fiancé died tragically shortly before the wedding. He spent his life in generous ministry as a single man. One verse goes like this:

“Have we troubles and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged – take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness, take it to the Lord in prayer.”

Friendship in action is “sharing sorrows.” I ask you to imagine a time when, in the midst of your sorrows, a friend was there that shared your sorrows. We are asked to believe tonight, and we turn to a God in prayer tonight, that shares our sorrows like a friend.

“God, can I be your friend?” Let’s be a community of friends and help each other open our minds and hearts to a God that says “Yes.”

Amen
George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the 6th Sunday of Easter
Saturday evening, May 9, 2015
Focus text – John 15:9-17 (“I call you friends.”)

Photo by Trina Alexander on flickr.com

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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

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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.

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Child psychologists tell us that we all come up with a story about ourselves to fit in and develop an ego. We access the story by stating “I am loved because ____.” The blank for you may have been you were pretty, or dependable, or smart, or obedient etc. Our neighbors and culture give us other stories, some not so good. These stories become a point of view that we use to interpret life.

The spiritual journey is in large part about unlearning these stories we tell about ourselves. Instead we are called to embark on a journey to maturity that the Apostle Paul calls learning to see “from God’s point of view” (Phil 3:15). In today’s Gospel reading we look in on a meeting on a mountain where God is in charge of the agenda, so we see, for a change, what God sees. This evening we are asked to see if the stories we tell ourselves each day about ourselves, about our world, would be altered if we considered God’s point of view.

A Radiance From Within

We refer to today’s text as the Transfiguration, and we see some familiar themes appear when God gets to run the meeting. We see our story is deeply connected to other stories, as Jesus converses with Moses and Elijah. We see a brilliant radiance in what normally appears as flesh and blood. Finally, we hear and affirmation of love and dignity: “this is my beloved, listen to Him!” So we have connections, radiance and loving affirmation – we should let God lead more meetings!

You would think we would like this sort of thing, but like the disciples we are more often afraid to see from God’s point of view. It hurts to give up the stories we have depended on. Part of us is uncomfortable with this radiance. Religion, unfortunately, is often not much help. Religion is more comfortable with Moses than Jesus. Moses was also once on a mountain, and his face was radiant as he came down the mountain with the tablets of the Law. However, Moses could only understand he reflected the light from outside of himself. Being mere reflectors of light is safer for us and it allows us to believe some get it and some don’t. Jesus, on the other hand, embodied the light, it came from within.

Thankfully God’s point of view won’t go away. The mystics have through the centuries kept pointing to the radiance in each of us. In the 12th century Hildegard wrote “all living things are sparks from the radiance of God’s brilliance.” Teresa of Avila tracked the source of radiance to our “Interior Castle.” One of the defining moments in Thomas Merton’s life occurred when he was doing errands in downtown Louisville and was gifted to see those around him from God’s point of view. He wrote later that he saw ordinary people walking around “shining like the sun.”

Living With God’s Point of View

We do not need to take the gospel’s or the mystics’ word for it. We know from our experience the radiance within is true. In addition to our own mystical moments, Fredrick Beuchner says if we pay attention we can see this in radiance even in little ways:

“Every once and so often, something so touching
so incandescent, so alive, transfigures the human
face that is almost beyond bearing.”

I remember at my daughter Teresa’s second birthday party a dozen or so people gathered and at the appropriate time we sang Happy Birthday to her. She was first not sure what was happening, but halfway through the song it hit her that we were singing to her! We were loving her! The joy of this realization started at her toes and reached the top of her head with her face so radiant that it was beyond bearing for my crying eyes. Several times I have seen mothers looking at their infants with radiant love such that I had to look away. I know you have your own stories of seeing radiance. Love/God is Light. Love is radiant.

If I told you I believed in God’s point of view most of the time, I would be lying. The contrary voices in my head are strong. The images of God as “out there” are so prevalent that it is hard to tune them out.
The stakes are huge. The inner radiance is the basis for “all are welcome” as we proclaim the spark of God is in everyone regardless of race, gender, orientation etc. It is the source of our cry for justice as the recognition of the spark of divinity exposes all oppression, all racism, all violent inequality. Our faith asks us to see the radiance in the Shia and the Sunni, in the atheist and the fundamentalist, in the Harvard graduate and those with intellectual disabilities, in the hooded teenager and the police officer.

Giving up something, or doing something practical for Lent often seemed contrived to me. This year, however, I do have an idea. I want to see radiance more often than I do. My idea is to turn a famous quote from Merton into a prayer I will say at least once a day through Lent to, in some small way, help me be more aware of radiance. Join me if you would like. It goes like this:

“At the center of our being is a point of pure light,
a point or spark which belongs entirely to God.
It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible
light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it,
we would see those billion points of light coming
together in the face and blaze of a sun that would
make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.”

Amen
George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the Second Sunday of Lent
Saturday Evening, February 28, 2015
Focus Text – Mark 9:2-10 (the Transfiguration)

Photo by Francesco Sisti on flickr.com

Notes: For more on the references to the mystics see http://www.adishaki/christianity. Merton’s quote at the end comes from his book “Seeds.”

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Today’s gospel brought to mind a quote from Richard Rohr in his recent book about the True Self: At some gifted moment he says “a door opens at the center of our being and we seem to fall through it into immense depths. This door needs to open only once in your lifetime and you will forever know where home base is.”

Mark’s Gospel does not try to describe home base (see John’s Gospel for this). Rather Mark is more about verbs than nouns and shows us a Person living from home base. Today’s text is a great example. What does a life lived from home base actually look like? Well, today we a picture to take with us.

A Day in the Life

Mark starts Jesus’ public ministry with a “day in the life” of Jesus. A part of this day Jesus rose very early before dawn, went to a deserted place where he prayed. The disciples did not get why this was important. But Jesus was connecting with home base. We have our first clue about living from home base – it involves chosen solitude and silence.

You see home base is not a book, it is not a church, not a creed, it is not your particular religious tribe. Home base is not accessed through a membership or a diploma. Home base is within us at the “center of our being.” Everyone has the same journey. Gratefully this is not a journey primarily about words or head knowledge. In fact those of us addicted to words are somewhat at a disadvantage!

A second clue we are living from home base is that we sense our purpose. Jesus is being pressured by his disciples to go hither and yon, but Jesus chooses otherwise saying “For this purpose I have come.” The fathomless center of our being gives us purpose that, well, centers us. We can tell when we are operating from that center. There is a calmness, a serenity regardless of the particular circumstances. Paul says this in the second reading – he can handle any circumstance because he knows home base.

But that is not all – the final clue in this text that we are operating out of home base is evidence of healing for those around us, starting with our immediate community (Peter’s household) and then on to strangers. If you were to do a study of Jesus’ healings looking for some pattern, some predictor, about how healing happens you would be frustrated. Jesus heals those with faith and those with none, those that ask and those that don’t. It seems healings just happen around Jesus with no apparent rhyme or reason and sometimes folks cannot receive it. At the center of our being is life that heals and if we operate out of home base our lives will bring healing. We will not be able to help it!

I know you have seen these clues of home base in your life and those who influence you. Nelson Mandela did not write eloquently about his inner spiritual journey, but in light of today’s text, he clearly was operating out of home base. He eventually embraced the solitude and silence imposed on him in prison. He emerged a man absolutely committed to his purpose of a peaceful, non-violent transition of power. His life became a beacon of healing for his tortured nation.

From Home Base to “the next town”

So If we follow Jesus into his typical day living from home base we would find ourselves choosing solitude and silence, we would find ourselves with a sense of purpose, we would find ourselves being a healing presence to our immediate community and finally find ourselves seeking healing for those “in the next town,” the stranger.

It is perhaps this last step that is most challenging for me this evening. Our world is so polarized and there is so much ego on both sides of every question that it feels violent to even stay informed, much less be an active advocate for the stranger!

What if we approached the justice issues of our day from the immense depths of home base seeking healing? Our immigration system with its tragedies on both sides of the border needs healing. We may disagree on details of policy, but not on the need of healing. We can debate the details of health care delivery but can we share the grief felt by millions being left outside the delivery system? We value law and order, but this strategy of mass incarceration that separates millions from a reasonable chance in life cries out for healing. Being healers for the stranger in the public arena involves the way we talk to each other, the way we seek common ground on core values that spring from home base. What if we talked to each other like doctors exploring ways to help a patient?

There are faithful people in this community that prod and exhort us about healing for these and other strangers. Join me in thanking them tonight for their healing instinct and their service to us.

So is this gospel picture of “home base in action” good news for you tonight? Do you find yourself consoled by silence and solitude? Do you feel your sense of purpose shifting in the sands of changing circumstances? Do you sense yourself bringing a healing influence to your community and to the stranger. We gather tonight to remind ourselves of the immense depths at the center of our being and resolve to see home base in action in us.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Homily – Home Base In Action
Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Saturday Evening, February 7, 2015
Focus text: Mark 1:29-39

Photo by Brent on flickr.com

Notes: The quote from Rohr comes from “The Immortal Diamond.” For much more on being a healing influence in the public arena check out “Healing Our Democracy” by Parker Palmer.

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Imagine . . .
fishermen, laboring with their nets, in boats that are filthy from wear,
knee deep in crud of their trade, and reeking from the smell of fish.
When out of the blue, comes a man walking along the edge of the water,
who calls to them, saying, “Come follow me!”
And they drop their nets, get out of their boats, and go after him.

Now, I ask you, “Who does this?!!!”
They dropped their lives to follow a man they may or may not have even known.
I was talking to my husband, Andy, about this and he said,
“At least one of them had to go home and talk to their wife before quitting their job.”
Maybe so, we just don’t know.

What happened between, the guys were fishing
AND
they dropped what they were doing to follow Jesus?
There had to be some kind of conversionary PAUSE between the fishing and the following.

So, I began looking into my own life for clues.
I experienced an instantaneous infilling of love from God when I was in my late teens, at a time when I felt directionless, an empty. It was nothing that I planned or could have made happen, yet, in a PAUSE, created by a void in my life, the tenderness of God penetrated my heart for the first time in my life.

I wonder. . did something like this happen to the disciples?

It’s true that one very powerful way that PAUSES occur,
are through emptiness, a loss, an illness, or some great problem.
But most people don’t have instantaneous awakenings.
Rather, most people can relate to a smaller step approach of awakening,

Eckhart Tolley, in his book, A New Earth, speaks to this.
He says that there is a universal inner purpose for all of humanity
and that is to AWAKEN.
That’s it, ladies and gentlemen!
Our inner purpose is to awaken.
And awakening occurs in the PAUSES of our lives.

It’s so important to know that:
both the INTIMACY of God and POWER of God are in the nothingness of the PAUSE.
And as we attune ourselves to this,
we come to desire this spaciousness even more then the incessant chatter in our minds. Now, this doesn’t mean we constantly sit around in a Zen position waiting for ‘the PAUSE’; it means that the freedom and communion brought about through prayer PAUSES and situational PAUSES, eventually become a part of us, and we carry this undercurrent of stillness into the everyday activity of our lives.
And this changes everything.

An Eastern spiritual teacher writes: Thinking, though useful, is not the highest human faculty. We cannot solve the problems of the mind with the mind, by analyzing them, thinking about them, ruminating over them.
It’s in the PAUSE.
It’s in the stillness of our mind, that new ways of being are developed.

The ancient Indian Sanskrit word for breath is ‘otman’,
which means the ‘indwelling of the divine spirit’ or ‘God within’.
Paying attention to our breath causes us to PAUSE. We can’t think about anything else when we concentrate on our breath. Because breathing is a formless expression, it has been used over the centuries as a way of intentionally creating a PAUSE.

A little boy once approached his Rabbi and asked, “Rabbi, why does God no longer speak to his people? He spoke so beautifully to Abraham. He spoke with such power to Moses. He spoke so clearly to Jeremiah and the prophets. Rabbi, why does God no longer speak to his people?” The Rabbi shook his head as though he were in pain. “My son,” he replied, “It is not that God no longer speaks to his people. It is that no one these days can stoop down low enough to listen. No one . . . can stoop down low enough . . . to listen.”

PAUSE.

I wrote these words as I lay in the grass on a lovely summer day.

I sat among the trees
as the wind whipped through them.
I saw and felt and heard,
staying attentive for moments at a time.

Until …
I fell back asleep.
My thoughts
lost once again,
in the future,
and the past.
Flitting like a fire fly,
here and there,
back and forth,
up and down,
down and up,
going were they will.

When . . .
a moment
an hour,
a day go by
And I awaken again.

PAUSE.

Kristie Lenzen
1/24/14
3RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR B

Photo by Lucas Jans on flickr.com

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When pondering the journey of the Magi this week, I recalled a history book called “What Went Wrong?” about the stagnation that hit the Muslim world in the 15th century after centuries of dominance in virtually every area of life. The author contrasts this stagnation with the tiny country of Portugal, which during this same period, evolved at a remarkable rate, with ambassadors all over the world, robust trade, and the most advanced fleet of ships in the world.

This contrast between stagnation and evolution is the core message in today’s famous gospel. Matthew contrasts the adventurous Magi with the passive and suspicious leaders in Jerusalem. Of course, both energies are present in us as well. Perhaps by shining a light on these two energies we can have a personal epiphany on this Feast of the Epiphany.

The Tale of Two Energies

The story of the Magi is so familiar that we forget how incredible it is. These guys are way out there, both in terms of geography and world view. They have no grounding in the Jewish tradition, yet they are awakened to the monotheistic God of the Jews though science, the study of the stars. Through great sacrifice and expense they travelled to Jerusalem and eventually Bethlehem. They don’t find the “royalty” they are looking for. Mary and Joseph provide no validation for their journey in the form of credentials or other evidence of authority. They recognize Jesus anyway, have a spiritual dream and head home. What a ride!

In contrast we have the energy of Herod and the religious establishment. This is comical. These strange Gentiles come from the margins with important information about THEIR religion. They convene a big bible study to answer the Magi’s questions. The whole town of Jerusalem is a buzz, but it is just an intellectual exercise. They send the Magi off to Bethlehem, which is a mere 5.5 miles away. Nobody goes with them! “Let us know if you find something” they say!

Was it disdain for the gentile Magi? Was it fear that their little lives would be disrupted? Herod, we know, was personally threatened by the possibility of a new King, but what about the others? Where is the curiosity and the passion?

The Edge

Evolution is a rich image for Magi energy, and evolution happens at the margins. To get a picture in your head about “evolving on the edge,” let’s look at an example of how evolution works. Imagine with me a colony of seals on an island in the ocean. In the large group one young seal looked different – she had more freckles than the others. Her mother was a little embarrassed and sometimes the other seals made fun of her. But as time went by it seemed our seal with more freckles escaped the sharks better than other seals. It seemed the sharks and other predators could not see her quite as well in the swirling waters. She had litter after litter of baby seals and after a while the freckled seals were everywhere. For seals escaping predators, freckles were an evolutionary edge.

What are your spiritual “freckles?” Where is your edge?

This question hit me like a ton of bricks at the ECC Synod last October. I was in the middle of giving a workshop on preaching to a diverse group from beginners to grizzled veterans. My talk had to do with a methodology for preparation, but I found myself at the end going off script and imploring them and me to find the evolutionary edge in their communities and in their own spiritual journey. If we are going to be a Communion of great preachers we have to preach from that fresh edge where there are more questions than answers, where we are growing, where we are evolving.

What is your evolutionary edge? If you are not sure, do not despair because Magi from the margins tend to show up. Nobody had Ferguson on their radar, yet the racial tensions of these months gives all of us a profound edge to explore. We can, like those stuck in Jerusalem, avoid this edge with disdain or fear, but there it is. The intersection of science and spirituality was an edge for the Magi and it remains an edge for many today. Last Sunday we celebrated the life of Dorothy Ambruster, and justice for the poor was a life-long edge on which she kept evolving for 90 years. I will hazard a guess and suggest that meditation and silence is an edge for Pastor Frank. These things may be just a few of the possible edges of spiritual evolution in your story.

So let’s be a people in 2015 who treasure the wise voices from the edge that pass our way. Let’s be a people in 2015 ever on the lookout for evolving edges in our own experience. Whether the Magi voice comes to us from the outside or within us these days, let’s follow them to the edge, to Bethlehem and beyond.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the Feast of the Epiphany
Saturday Evening, January 3, 2015
Focus text – Matthew 2:1-12 (The Star and the Magi)

Photo by Chuck Whitney on flickr.com

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The writer John Shea says that the Annunciation text in Luke is like a Lamaze class – it is a manual for giving birth to God in our lives and in our world. What this time of year tells us more than anything else is that God has so embraced our humanity that the spiritual journey is much more like giving birth to what is already here than worshipping a God “out there.”

Luke paints an intricate portrait for us that operates like a five step manual. The first three steps simply ask us to be aware and observant of things that arise in us. We stay with the pattern if we simply hang in there. The final two steps ask us to participate. If we exit the pattern we miss the birth of God. The choice is ours. If we stay with the pattern to the end we can change the world.

God’s Movement and Our Reaction

The pattern starts with God taking the initiative to break into Mary’s life. Mary was not praying for this to happen, she did not send to heaven a business plan on being the mother of Jesus. The Sisters of Notre Dame reference this text in their Constitution by saying “Mary is the model for our daily surrender to the ever new call of God.” The pattern can start anytime, any day, as God keeps speaking.

Some of you are discerning calls to ministry that definitely were not your idea. Doesn’t it seem that most of the time our encounters with God seem like spontaneous gifts, fleeting moments of clarity, love or connectedness? We are like Mary when stay with the pattern and do not run away, or dismiss the encounter as our imagination.

If we wake up to this initiative of God we move to Step 2: Mary was “greatly troubled” by God’s messenger. This is a universal human reaction to the divine in Scripture. Recall how many times God begins a conversation in Scripture with “Be not afraid.” This is an easy place to leave the pattern. Who likes being troubled? In fact in our weakness we like to treat God as a 911 call to rescue us from troubles. What if we look with new eyes at what is troubling us in our lives? Maybe Reality is breaking in there.

I read about a national survey about Ferguson and related events that reported 37% of people in America being “troubled” about their reaction to these stories. This population reports being conflicted and confused about their inner reactions and those of their family and friends. Although I wish the percentage was higher, “being troubled” in this context could be a great thing and it may be God at work.

If we stay with the revelation we come to Step 3, which is my favorite. Here is where our ego makes a last stand and cries out like Mary who in essence told the angel “That’s impossible!” When we hear this echo inside us we know we are close to Reality. “Start an inclusive Catholic, community of faith with 10 people? Impossible!” “Become a women Catholic priest? You have to be kidding!” “Reconcile with my father? No way!” Address unconscious racism in St. Louis? Not in my lifetime!” “Gay marriage in St. Louis? Ridiculous!” When we find ourselves reacting “that’s impossible” and do not abort, we are deep into the pattern. Reality is nearby.

Two Decisions of Faith

The angel in the story is not discouraged by Mary’s reaction thus far. He is not critical. He gets creative and throws Mary the lifeline of community by saying miracle births have happened before! It even happened to cousin Elizabeth. If we stay with the pattern we get this lifeline as well. We need the tradition, the Scripture, our faith community, our small group to reflect back to us that what we are experiencing has happened before, we are not crazy! Mary embraces the call to community and in the verses following our text today Mary travels to have church with Elizabeth (I will leave us to ponder for another day the fact that the believing church at this stage of the game is two pregnant women!). Mary then receives the most precious gift we can give one another – recognition of God’s life in us. “Blessed are you among women……” says Saint Elizabeth.

We finally arrive at the final step. We have experienced the initiative of God, we have paid attention to troubled feelings, we have observed the ego’s defense, we have looked to our past and present community of faith for verification and recognition. All that is left is to say yes or no. “Let it be done to me according to your word” says teenager Mary. Love needs a yes. Love cannot control. If Mary said no, God would have had to come up with another idea to bring Jesus into the world. The story would be different. Our “yes” is not preordained. Our “yes” makes a difference every day. Our “yes” brings Life into the world.

Is the pattern of Mary’s journey good news for you this season? Do you see yourself anywhere in the pattern? Perhaps there are some troubles that need to be reimagined. Perhaps you are walking away from something because it seems impossible. Perhaps you need to accept the invitation to seek recognition of your experience in some form of faith sharing with others. Perhaps you are on the verge of saying yes in some way. Wherever you are, no matter how many times you left the pattern behind, God is new today. Love wants to be born anew today through you.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Liturgy for the 4th Sunday of Advent

Saturday evening, December 20, 2014

Focus text – Luke 1:26-38 (The Annunciation)

Photo by Jan H. on flickr.com