Archive for May, 2007|Monthly archive page

PENTECOST SUNDAY – C: May 27, 2007

Acts 2:1-11
Romans 8:8-17
John 20:19-23

Dear Jesus,

A lot of what passes for religious art tries my faith. Maybe it is because a type of piety often is depicted that I cannot identify with. The saints are dower, epicene and effeminate. They are untouchable, ethereal, in no way part of the world I inhabit. Insipid is a word that comes to mind. I don’t mean to be irreverent. Excuse me if I come across as disrespectful. And I certainly don’t mean to be an iconoclast. It is just that I think religious art ought to be so much more and ought to depict the struggle of those on the Way with you so that their courageous character might emerge and inspire. I think of a wood-carved statue of Monica, Augustine’s mother that I had the privilege to stand before and ponder. The woman stood, head uncovered, staff in hand and faced into the wind that tugged at her hair and garments. She stood undaunted. Valiant comes to mind.

Last week, I visited a church and wandered from art piece to art piece and wanted to wretch. I wanted to encounter representations of people whose humanity I share. Granted, the statues represent those already in glory. But I want to be encouraged by them as they were in this world, to see their fragility, to see examples of those who came to understand with Paul that I can do all things in (you) who strengthens me. And apart from you I can do nothing. You are the only explanation for the success of those who walked in trenches and engaged in the struggle.

What occasions my words to you on this day of Pentecost is the window I saw that represented this feast. I thought of the words in Acts: And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, (a hurricane, perhaps) and it filled the entire house in which they were…and there appeared tongues of fire. The placid group in perfectly pleated and flowing robes seemed all too tranquil, free of agitation and disturbance unlike what would be the reaction of anyone caught in such a storm. Wouldn’t their clothes be ruffled by the wind? Wouldn’t fright register on a face or two? Wouldn’t at least one hold his/her hands to his/her ears against the noise? I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine sitting calmly while fire descended over me. This hadn’t happened before. The group did not know what all of this meant or how they would be transformed. They didn’t know what you meant when you said, behold I make all things new. Where is their terror as the world turns upside down and they come to realize that they will never be the same again?

I am reminded of the words of a theologian who remarked that she was surprised that safety equipment wasn’t distributed to people as they came into the church for worship. Don’t they have any idea what they could be in for? Her question: what if it were to happen this time? What if we, the assembled, were to see clearly what we believe happens when we baptize? How could we calmly watch as one of our beloved descends into this pool of abundant water that is both womb and tomb? Wouldn’t we tremble as the earth quakes and the heavens open and all creation pays heed to the Voice calling the one by name and declaring him/her to be My Beloved One? That’s what the Voice said of Jesus in the Jordan.

Wouldn’t we need seatbelts and life jackets if the Word washed over us and, broken open, entered and transformed us? Wouldn’t we have to hang on for our dear lives if, as hands are raised over us and the elements on the altar, if when the Spirit is invoked, like the bread and the wine, our very substance yielded to be transformed into your body and blood? And what about our having to be broken and distributed to be your loving presence in the world? This action that is Eucharist demands all this of those who take and eat.

We are celebrating Pentecost, the outpouring of the Spirit, the birthday of the Church. I guess I am wondering if we shouldn’t experience the pangs, the labor pains, as this new creation is brought forth. I wish our icons and our liturgical celebrations confronted us, shook us to the core, and called us to that new life your dying and rising began, rather than lulling us with their romantic piety. It seems impossible to identify with those who walked this way before us if they are so stoic. I wish our art and our rituals made us realize the wonder of the call and the impossibility of responding without our yielding and being empowered by the Spirit. Then we could stand in awe as possibilities dawned on us. Imagine what would happen if, as did that gathering on the first Pentecost, we threw open the doors and filled with your love and animated by the Spirit we rushed into the public square and spoke heart to heart to those we met there.

Of course we might have to pour out our lives to convince them. But isn’t that what this is all about?



The Ascension of the Lord – C: May 20, 2007

Acts 1:1-11
Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:19-23
(Or, Ephesians 1:17-23)
Luke 24:46-53

Dear Jesus,

I have been struggling with what to write to you about this feast of your ascension. I don’t want you to misunderstand me. That sounds foolish even as I write it. Who knows and understands me better than you who have my heart? Still, sometimes, since I don’t often hear a response from you firsthand, I wonder if you are perturbed by my quest. I want to be with you on The Way. And my heart does burn within sometimes as I ponder your word. My trouble, though, has to do with interpretation. The more literal the farther from the truth you came to reveal that message seems to me.

My problem is not with the Ascension. I believe in your returning to the Father and inheriting the kingdom that results from your Paschal journey. It’s your being “taken up into heaven” that makes me wonder. It is one thing for the time of your disciples’ being able to see your physical-risen body to come to an end. Does it have to be up and away? What does that do to the immanence of your presence that you promised would last as long as time does? When you took on flesh, uniting human with divinity, wasn’t that, too, a forever thing? You spanned the chasm between God and human kind, or rather wedded the two and gave new meaning to our having been made in God’s image. Your dying and rising took away our sins and brought salvation to us who love and wait for you.

Am I wrong in believing that the intimacy you initiated remains? Isn’t that why the definitive sign of your presence in the community that is your body is the love that abounds? It is to be imitative love, love that imitates the love you poured out on us to the shedding of the last drop of your blood. Is that not why the assembly’s action that is the source and summit of all that is done in your name is their coming together to give thanks and renew your dying and rising and so to be sent to be your presence to those who live in your passion: the poor, the disenfranchised, those suffering from the ravages of war and disease? When the assembly has eaten the Bread and drunk from the Cup, why is not that Presence proclaimed and given primacy of honor, rather than to the Remnants that are transported to the tabernacle or placed in a Monstrance?

Sometimes, I fear that I go too far. You know that I believe in your abiding presence in the Eucharist. There can be comfort and challenge in praying in that Eucharistic Presence. But those devotions grew out of a time when your faithful ones did not have access to the Table and did not often share in the meal. They adored from afar and communed spiritually. I am more comforted and challenged by the Meal and the ongoing transformation that results, my own in the midst of those being transformed with me, our being transformed more and more into your Body. I am comforted by the Presence. I am challenged by your directive to do this in my memory. If we break the Bread and share the Cup, that is if we do Eucharist, we must be bread broken and cup poured out so that others recognize your abiding presence and are comforted by your love.

I wish your ascension weren’t so vertical. Does that make sense? I wish it weren’t so distancing. You came down from Heaven. You are taken up to heaven. And we can think that we abide down here far from you up there. Can’t your ascension be seen to be more horizontal, that is, seen to be catching us all up in the journey that is bringing the human family into the Kingdom that is dawning. It’s all present tense. The immanence remains as does, in perfect tension, the transcendence. And it is Mystery that resists being able to be concretized. The more we think we get it, the farther we are from the reality. The Mystery can’t be defined, limited, concretized any more than God can be.

I live in the desert now. Spring comes there, too. Cacti with spines and thorns burst into bloom and the flowers fill the air with sweet fragrance. I sat near one last night and breathed in the perfume while a mourning dove, perched on a roof nearby sang her dirge to anyone who would listen. By morning, the bloom had died and the dove had flown off in pursuit of a love. And I remembered.



The Sixth Sunday of Easter C: May 13, 2007

Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
John 14:23-29

Dear Jesus,

Sometimes, in the night, when I am anxious, I wonder if I believe. I toss and turn and feel emotion churning in the very pit of my stomach. In those times, nothing seems to be working out as it should for someone who is walking with you. When someone I love dies, I grieve and wonder if I will ever know consolation. I stare at the yawning grave as the casket is lowered, my vision blurred by the tears. Should someone I love betray me, my grief is the same as at a time of death. How could friend do such a thing to a friend? Shouldn’t friendship be forever, rooted in you as it is? If my health should fail, what would I do then since I have only known good health? I’ve tended friends in their illness and kept vigil with the dying. But how will I deal with these realities in my own life? Do I believe? Why am I anxious?

There cannot have been a more angst-ridden atmosphere than that in the Upper Room on that night before you died. That’s where we are again on this Sixth Sunday of Easter. You are the teacher to the end. Your students struggle to take in the message. You are the potter. Can they allow themselves to be the clay? You are molding them, preparing them for a reality that they cannot imagine – life without your visible presence. Knowing them as you do, even as you speak you know that the lesson is beyond them. It will take the Advocate, the Spirit, to empower them, to enable them to hear and believe.

Were these lessons you tried to teach me in those early days? I remember how I longed for baptism, that wonderful moment that would transform reality as I would be transformed, called by name, and identified with you. As I came out of the Waters, I wanted what St. Paul said to be true for me – to live would be you. I don’t think I thought about dying being gain. After all, I was young then and naïve. I couldn’t imagine sickness or suffering. How could there be betrayal. Life in you would shield me from all such dire realities that others experience. That is what I thought then. Walking with you in the brightness of the wonder that is you would banish the shadows where terror lurked. Walking with you in the new life of Baptism would be like living in the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. Now.

You are the gentle teacher. You know that I loved you. As does any lover, I saw our relationship being my life and my support, lived in an Eden of bliss and forever young. You did say it was about love and that the Father would love me because I loved you and wanted to live in union with you. I would be drawn into the community of life that is God having the likeness in which I was created perfected. You would hold me out of harm’s way.

That was then. So long ago. Untested. Untried. Now there are sleepless nights. Now there is tossing and restless turning. I have cried in the night and wondered, forgetting that you were betrayed with a kiss. You wept at a friend’s death. And you cried out in terror as the darkness enveloped you and you felt abandoned by the One who had sent you. So many signs. So much I missed.

A man chided me once. Or was it pity I heard in his voice. He laughed at my faith even as he said it would be nice to believe in you. But that was out of the question. Why? Because, he said, the Messiah should bring about the Messianic Kingdom of peace and justice and light. If that had followed from you, he said he would believe. But look at the world. Look at the suffering. Look at every age after you and we see as much famine, war, disease, and death as before you.

Didn’t that kingdom begin in your resurrection? When all those who come to faith in you form community that is the Church, isn’t that the Messianic Kingdom? When that community assembles around the Table and renews your dying and rising in the action of Eucharist, when the Bread is broken and the Cup shared, isn’t that the Messianic Kingdom realized? The action doesn’t end there – ever. There is always a sending to be what the Eucharist empowers – your presence to a wounded world.

In my sleepless nights, what am I forgetting? As I toss and turn and want to cry out, I wonder if I will survive. And should I survive, what then? Do these signs of failure, betrayal, and death forebode a void that will envelop me in final defeat?

I hear you speak now with firm gentleness. Peace. I give you peace! Do not let your heart be troubled. Believing isn’t easy and has little to do with feeling. If I believe, I must trust you and your word. This peace has little to do with the absence of war and hostility. Certainly that absence will one day be part of abiding peace. This peace ought not be destroyed by betrayal. Certainly reconciliation will be part of the peace you give.

Help me again to remember what the peace you give in a way the world does not give, to remember what is that peace. Remind me that you have assured me, and all who accept your peace, that nothing will separate us from the love of God that comes to us through Christ Jesus. That doesn’t mean we won’t know suffering. That doesn’t mean we won’t encounter death. That doesn’t mean we will not know betrayal. But we will, in the end, when all else fails, know the love of God forever.

You said all this before you died to bolster the courage of your disciples as they watched you die. You say this now to your newly baptized so that they will not be discouraged should they experience trial as they begin to journey with you on the Way. You say it to me and others like me who are seasoned travelers who may know success but may taste failure as well. Even in the darkest night, God is there and we are loved with the same love God has for you.

That is the truth, isn’t it? Is that what you want me to remember and believe? Come, Advocate. Come, Holy Spirit and help my unbelief.