“You don’t have to prove anything…”

“‘You don’t have to
prove anything,’ my mother said.
‘Just be ready
for what God sends.'”
William Stafford, his final poem, written on the morning of his death

William Stafford came from a highly literate family, even though his determinative years emerged during the depression.  Nor did he have the advantage of growing up and attending schools in the same setting.  Instead, his father moved his family from town to town in search of work.  To help out, young William worked as an electrician’s apprentice, delivered newspapers, worked in sugar beet fields, and raised vegetables.    Perhaps, despite being frequently uprooted, the tasks of everyday work, along with reading and paying attention even to the ordinary, proved to be formative.

“You don’t have to prove anything,” his mother had once told him.  “Just be ready for what God sends.”   Written on the morning of his death, these words reflect a man for whom attentiveness and readiness were an indelible hallmark of his writing.    Be it a grassy riverbank, the rustle of leaves on a sturdy oak, the brilliance of stars in the night sky, inflections of speech, or musing on the wisdom of Native Americans, his parents, and other writers, his was a life that “followed that golden thread” to where it would lead him.   His legacy as a writer, a poet, and a conscientious objector, was forged through being ready for what God might send.

Prayer: Divine Maker, In the face of the unraveling of our planet and, at times, our lives, remind us that we don’t have to prove anything.    Instead, teach us to be attentive and ready for what you might send, for this is where your Message of consolation, encouragement, and strength is made real.  Resting in the assurance of your boundless love, we pray this in all the holy names of God. Amen.

 

 

God is always needing to be born…

 

“We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the Divine Son takes place unceasingly but not within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace, but I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and culture?” Meister Eckhart

Eckhart was ahead of his time. So it shouldn’t surprise us that his preaching and teaching in 13th/14th century Germany was considered, at best, scandalous.   Considered a heretic by the church hierarchy, the suggestion that the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God, having been born in the person of Jesus, still needed to be delivered elsewhere was shocking. Deemed unorthodox and, thereby, dangerous, Eckhart was summoned to be brought before the Inquisition.

But what if God needs to be born time and time again…and by each of us no less? What if, as scandalous as this may sound, “we are all meant to be mothers of God?” If this is so, the implications are nothing less than profound! Imagine if the practice of genuine forgiveness – is nothing less than birthing the grace of God? Imagine if making honest amends for whatever wrong we’ve done can usher in the holy? What if helping an elder cross a busy intersection, giving a weary store cashier a warm smile, or protecting a section of forest from further development, can birth God?

Prayer: Divine Maker, In the wake of so much sorrow and isolation, you summon us to be nothing less than mothers of God. We give thanks that your summons is not in opposition to a life of freedom, joy, and peace…but attests to the luminescent reality that the Kingdom of God dwells within. We pray this in all the holy names of God. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

The Blessing of the Longest Night

This is the night when you can trust,
that any direction you go,
you will be walking toward the dawn.  [2]

Can we trust that the direction we’re headed will get us there?   How about those times when we were certain that the path was the right one…only to discover that we’ve lost our way?     What of those times when we’re unsure what lies beyond the bend?

But to the ancients, Winter Solistice signified that despite missteps and misfortune, something altogether mysterious was afoot.   From the neolithic structures in England and Ireland, the worship of the gods Apollo and Saturn by the ancient Greeks and Romans, observances by the Native Americans, and the ancient Persian festival of Shab-e Yalda, this union of awareness emerges and takes hold.   Even when Christianity emerged onto the world scene, ancient winter solstice celebrations became incorporated into Christmas.

What, then, is the Blessing of the Longest Night?    Though the world’s peoples are separated by geography and culture; language and religion; ethnicity, national identity, and borders; the longest night ushers in a shared human experience.   A shared experience marked by a sense of wonder and celebration.    Despite all that divides us as the human family,   for the briefest moments, we become one.   A union and blessing that walks us and all creation toward a new dawn and a new beginning.

[1] Image by SASCHA SCHUERMANN Credit: AFP/Getty Images

[1] An excerpt from Jan L. Richardson’s poem, Blessing for the Longest Night.

 

 

Responding to Creation’s Endangerment with Passion

“If we fall in love with creation deeper and deeper, we will respond to its endangerment with passion.”  Hildegard of Bingen

    In the northern part of the state of Utah is the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere.   Once it was a prehistoric body of water spanning thousands of square miles.   But over the past decades, the area of Great Salt Lake has fallen significantly.  After years of drought and increased water diversion, it has fallen to its lowest area at 950 square miles.

     With a high salinity that is saltier than seawater, the Great Salt Lake had been referred to as America’s Dead Sea.   Once it had been a haven and habitat for millions of native birds, brine shrimp, shorebirds, and waterfowl.   Now at a record low, it ultimately will become a bowl of toxic dust, poisoning the air around Salt Lake City.   A researcher who’s been investigating its cataclysmic demise calls it an “extinction event.”

  Yet over a thousand years ago, the writer, mystic, abbess, philosopher, and visionary, Hildegard of Bingen, perceived not only ecological peril but saw a way out.   Though it meant adopting a radical counter-cultural approach, the antidote would save the planet and thereby all of us.

  Her remedy?  “If we fall in love with creation deeper and deeper, we will respond to its endangerment with passion,” Hildegard wrote.   However, we must take note that her prescription goes far beyond merely seeking and enjoying the great outdoors, to a radical realignment of what it is we most deeply value.

   Imagine if your child or grandchild was in danger of being hit by a car, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to save them?  Imagine, if your adult child was struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, or your beloved teenage daughter ran away from home, or your only son struggled with depression; wouldn’t you go the distance?   If the one who meant the world to you was in danger, wouldn’t you do all that you could to save them?

   But children, grandchildren, and members of our extended family are our flesh and blood, we say.  Lush forests and clear streams and huge herds of bison are beautiful even majestic to see but they’re not the same as us.   Nor are they connected to us the way our own children and grandchildren are.

  But what if they are?   What if all of creation is our flesh and blood too?  Such that it not only courses through our veins and inhabits our lungs but is ingested with everything we eat and drink.   What if it is more than just a part of us?   What if we are in creation AND creation is in us?

  What if all of creation is our flesh and blood too?

[1] The Great Salt Lake is shown in the background of the earthwork Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point in Utah. Last year the Great Salt Lake matched a 170-year record low and kept dropping, hitting a new low of 4,190.2 feet (1,277.2 meters) in October. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

We are Meant to Live in Joy (in spite of everything)

“We are meant to live in joy, [but]
this does mean that life will be easy or painless.”  [1]

      What if we’re meant to live with joy…not just on occasion but as a means of perception?    What if experiencing joy isn’t a form of denial, a lack of caring or responsibility, or even foolishness…but the path to enlarge and even make holy the framework of lived experience?

Observed the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “You are able to accept anything that happens to you provided you accept the inevitable frustrations and hardships as part of the warp and woof of life.   Yet the question is not, ‘How do I escape this?   The question is, ‘How can I use [this crushing disappointment, this prolonged suffering, this devastating loss] as something positive?'” [2]

Which leads one to ask, “What if acceptance is the polar opposite of resignation and defeat?  What if acceptance is not caving into inevitability but is a quality of recognition that perceives reality is imploring us…even begging us, to continue on?    What if reality, far from being an adversary, teaches us the necessity of living in the moment…while experiencing the joy that comes in knowing that all of life and creation itself, is a gift?

Prayer: Divine Maker, In the wake of so much loneliness, suffering and despair, teach us to embrace the necessity of living each and every moment in joy.    Remind us that reality need not be oppositional to holiness…but can be a means of clarifying the work that you have asked us to do…however difficult and even arduous it may seem at the time.    We ask this in all the holy names of God.  Amen.

[1] from the Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, 2016 by His Holiness the Dali Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams

[2] Ibid.

 

 

 

 

When You Can’t Pray….

“Often the longings of prayer, are diffused and muted longings,
that one barely feels at all.” [1]

How can one pray, when there isn’t the remotest desire or longing to do so?  For that matter, how can anyone fall back on prayer when they’re painfully aware of its insufficiency?    In the face of so much unnecessary suffering, exploitation, and violence, why even suggest this practice (other than not knowing what else to do or say)?

Writes author, James Finley, “There is, it seems, a deal that [our] heart makes with itself, so as NOT to admit that it harbors a longing so deep that it can’t continue…” [2]  What I think he speaks of here, is that ironclad agreement we make with ourselves – often without being consciously aware of it.   For when the mowing down of civilians is routinized; human and civil rights systematically usurped; forests, rivers, and its creatures plundered; institutions routinely violated, and fascism lauded by those in public office – is it any wonder we’ve learned to cope by shaking our heads and doing what we can to get through another day?

Yet when you’re worn out, and you can’t pray or even want to for that matter, could recognizing this be a new beginning?    Yes, the great sages and mystics throughout the ages gifted us with meaningful and beautifully composed prayers, but their stories are incomplete if we forget their own struggles. Perhaps, as James Finley has observed, “…despite their doubt and [disheartedness], through it all they perceived that God continued to love them anyway.”[3]

Prayer: Divine Maker, who knows me better than I know myself, thank you for continuing to hold me in love, even when I don’t believe in you.   Thank you for believing in me, even when I have lost faith in myself.   We ask this in all the holy names of God.  Amen.

 

[1, 2 & 3] James Finley, from Christian Meditation

We Are All Just Walking Each Other Home

We are all just walking each other home,”  Ram Dass [2]

This pathway and vista off into the distance offer an image of the Pilgrimage of Compostela, which in English is the Way of St James.    A network of paths or pilgrim ways leads to the shine of the Apostle St. James the Great, in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.    Along with Jerusalem and Rome, the route along the Camino de Santiago is known as one of the three great pilgrimages of Christendom.

Wrote the spiritual teacher and author, Ram Dass, “We are all just walking each other home.”   While all of us are on a spiritual journey, Dass perceived that each of us (whether consciously or not) is on a path leading us back to our source.   Wrote another, “Even if you do not believe in life as a spiritual journey or take solace in the notion of an afterlife, the concept of walking each other home is important.   It’s what holds us together.” [3]

Emerging from the isolation of a two-plus-year pandemic, compounded by economic uncertainty, political unrest, unleashed aggression, and the unraveling of our planetary home, is it possible to hold one’s self together?  Or, as evidenced by the centuries-old practice of pilgrimage and communicated by spiritual teachers, writers, and poets, we’re not meant to take all this in alone.   What if instead, despite the brevity of our lives and the frailty of creation, we’re summoned to accompany each other on life’s way, bringing out the best in one another while doing all that we can in the time given us?

Prayer: Divine Maker, In the wake of so much loneliness and despair, open our eyes to see others on the road before, alongside, and behind us.    Teach us that holiness (wholeness) was never intended a private, super-religious affair but one that asks that we look to the welfare of the other….wherever on the journey they may be.  Remind us, that we are all just walking each other home.   We ask this in all the holy names of God.  Amen.

[1]  Photo courtesy of Patrick Mills.  The photo was taken on June 5, 2017, near O Pino, Spain on the Camino de Santiago.

[2] Ram Dass and Mirabai Bush, Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying, September 2018

[3] Carol Cassandra, https://sixtyandme.com/how-life-is-a-journey-of-just-walking-each-other-home/, adapted

Beyond personal salvation

 

“If we keep recruiting people to evacuate the earth, then every person who gets saved is, in some ways, taken out of the action. It’s like going to the bench of people who want to play in a football game and trying to recruit them to leave the (stadium)…” Brian McLaren

Rest assured, Brian McLaren isn’t suggesting dispensing with personal piety and devotion.   Nor would he advise us to stop praying unceasingly, reading and reflecting on scripture, attending worship, engaging in Bible study, or personal acts of penitence.  So what is, Brian McLaren, former church pastor, the guru of the Emerging Church movement, a leader from the progressive wing of evangelicalism, and acclaimed speaker and author, suggesting?

In the wake of the pandemic and during an interview held last year, McLaren, was asked, “What do you think is the biggest turn-off for young people…who don’t like the way the church is right now or the legacy of the church?”   He responded that aside from many [white Evangelical] Christians becoming chaplains to right-wing extremist politics; is this tendency to define faith as an adherence to a certain set of [qualifying] beliefs…that may well be [completely out of] sync with the Gospels.

Imagine if faith meant focusing on acts of mercy and justice rather than being saved?   For that matter, what if salvation as intended by the Gospels, doesn’t mean being jettisoned off the face of the earth?    Instead, imagine if we perceived our world not as dispensable and without hope, but as beloved and redeemable in the sight of God?  What then?

Prayer: Divine Maker, in the wake of so much terrifying news, be with us in our fear and trepidation.   In your love, turn our eyes outward towards my neighbor, however near or far they may be.    Teach us again and again that religion was never intended as merely a private, benign affair but one that requires each of us to look to the welfare of the other – who is as much your child as each of us is.  We ask this in all the holy names of God.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeking Refuge: A Reflection & Prayer for the Peoples of Ukraine

 

“In scenes reminiscent of the Blitz, adults, children, and dogs hide from airstrikes, seeking refuge in bomb shelters and subway stations.” [2]

During World War II, an intense bombing campaign was waged against the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany.    For eight months, the Luftwaffe dropped bombs on London and other strategic cities across Britain, from September 7, 1940, through May 11, 1941.    Remembered as Black Saturday, on the first day of the Blitz alone, 430 people were killed and 1,600 were badly injured.

Wrote organizer, educator, and reformer, Saint Boniface, “O God, you have been our refuge in all generations.”  But what of those fleeing war’s aggression?  Or for those unable to take flight from the encroaching chaos and mayhem?    When wanton cruelty and its destructiveness encroach upon and violate the land, what recourse does the most vulnerable, human and creature alike, have?

Martyred in 754 by an armed group of robbers, the aged Boniface was murdered along with 54 others who accompanied him.     Still, his words attesting to God’s faithfulness in the face of aggression and terror remain: urging us to continue to demand justice and mercy for the oppressed, exercise unfailing advocacy for those distant as well as near, while praying that all of God’s children and creation itself, be afforded refuge’s blessing.

Prayer: God who dwells in places of refuge, be with the peoples of Ukraine, we pray.    Yet for those not in destruction’s path, compel us to be nothing less than fierce advocates and champions of the oppressed.   So that together with those distant and near, all may savor your refuge, under the shadow of thy wings and within the hallowed gates of sanctuary.   Amen.

[1] Image from Daily Mail Online

[2] Adapted from CNN’s Chief International Correspondent, Clarrisa Ward

Desert Solitaire

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit”
Edward Abbey, author of Desert Solitaire. 

Some years ago, I explored Death Valley National Park; a wind-swept terrain bordering the Great Desert Basin.  Covering three million acres, it is one of the hottest places on earth.   Yet it also possesses unparalleled majesty, made all the more intoxicating by an exquisite but at times unsettling silence. 

“Silence is God’s first language,” wrote the late Catholic Priest and author, Thomas Keating, “…everything else is just poor translation.”     While it would be decades before I encountered the practice of Centering Prayer, which cultivates an interiority of silence, the wilderness was my first teacher.    As God’s First Testament, wild spaces find their way into the chasm of the human soul.  Untethered, they speak words of silence.   Yeilding to Creation itself, they pronounce peace, even when all seems lost.

Prayer: Loving God who meets us in the wild places but who also encounters us in silence, be with us in our wanderings and in our searching.  So that we may discover once again the inviolable relationship between ourselves and grounded earth.

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