Category Archives: Heretic??

“. . . reverence humming in me.”

photo-1520637388405-3a2a895efd2a I recently started participating in a book study.  It is a diverse group of good folks –christian, atheist, agnostic, whatever — each on a journey of personal spiritual growth. Like me, they seem to be pilgrims, seekers, and heretics – awash in questions and doubts, deconstructing former concepts and beliefs, constructing personal truths and unique spiritual paths, — staying the course with authenticity and integrity in our often chaotic intersections with the world we live in, the life inhabiting that world, and the Spirit/God embodied in both the world and its inhabitants.

We are studying Rob Bell’s What We Talk About When We Talk About God. Much of our first discussion centered around Jane Fonda’s remarks made during a 2007 interview with Rolling Stonemagazine, “I could feel reverence humming in me.” Do you have a sense of “reverence humming” and “What is it?” My response to that question was to share a bit of my winter hike expereince. Hiking along an ice and snow laden trail I was bent, literally and figuratively, on keeping my eyes on the trail, following exactly in my hiking buddy’s footprints, and cautiously testing every step for firmness. I finally had to stop and straighten my aching, bent back.

As I looked up, my breath caught. The towering, red-rock canyon walls glistened in the bright, cold afternoon sun. They jutted straight up into a flawless, cobalt blue sky. “Wow, look at that!” was all I could utter. As I stood there taking it all in, I was overwhelmed with feelings of wonder, awe, gratitude, humility, and reverence. My heart was full and overflowed as tears filled my eyes. That, for me, was “reverence humming in me.” It was an experience I will never forget, and one which I frequently recall on hiking trails and elsewhere as I remind myself to “look up.”

Since that experience 28 years ago, I have (I think, I hope, but maybe not?) become more open, receptive, and settled to and into the various sounds, rhythms and vibrations of “the hum.” Never used the word “humming” to describe it, but I like Ms. Fonda’s analogy. “Hum” seems to give some substance to an otherwise intangible, indescribable feeling.

Where does the “humming” come from? For me, at this point in my journey, it comes from a sense of awareness, connection, and gratitude. A keen awareness of the mystery, the miracle, the love, the grace, the wisdom and truth of the of Spirit of God present in our world. A profound sense that I am connected to it all — a part of it, a product of it, a participant in it. And grateful for it all!

Here’s and idea!  Let’s all “hum” in concert!!

Netflix’s “Messiah” – Are We Asking the Wrong Question?

I don’t know if it classifies as binge watching, but I watched all ten episodes of Netflix’s new series, “Messiah,” in four days. Pretty much a record for me! I have been mulling over various aspects of the program since then (over a week) and can’t seem to clear my mind of it so I just need to say what I think.

I have read several reviews of the program and most of them pan the series citing numerous flaws from ambiguity,poor story lines and character development, to “no deep theological grounding or specificity.”  Some of these I agree with and some I do not even while acknowledging that I am by no means schooled as a cinema critic or theologian. I do believe that the program made some salient points regarding the coming of the Messiah – both first and/or second – and our receptivity – historical and/or future – of the Messiah.http---com.ft.imagepublish.upp-prod-us.s3.amazonaws.com-7850cea6-2790-11ea-9a4f-963f0ec7e134.jpeg

The overbearing question throughout the series seems to be, “Who is he? Is the stranger, dubbed Al-Masih (the Messiah) by his followers, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, returned?” “Who is he,” is a centuries old question beginning when Jesus asked Peter, “But who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15; Mark 8:29; Luke 16:15). Folks through the ages have answered that question in a variety of ways and will continue to do so. With regard to Netflix’s “Messiah,” I believe perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Maybe the more relative question is, “Who are we; who am I?” Can we see ourselves in the characters portrayed in “Messiah?”

Are we the prostitute, paid by a high-level government official to seduce Al-Masih as a means to discredit him, who upon experiencing his gentle confrontation of her life, “How can you be the person God intended if you are not honest about who you are?” and hearing, even in the wake of her deception, the truth of God’s love for her walks away repentant and changed. Are we the agent who deceptively witnesses this encounter and walks away changed – to the point of quitting his job. Are we, am I, like these two — truly changed when touched by the love of God?

0d2ae700-2b8d-11ea-aa4f-010dacd0a2f1_800_420.pngAre we Jabril, the young Al-Masih follower who stays true to his belief in Al-Masih even as Al-Masih has seemingly abandoned them in the desert at the Israeli border? Through injury, thirst, and hunger Jabril is sustained by his belief and the dreamy appearances of his deceased mother who had told him, “God has a different plan for you.” It is Jabril who courageously leads the remnant of followers into Israel, and some critics speculate that he is the real Messiah. Did Jabril’s touch revive the apparently deceased Qamar? Or, perhaps Jabril is not the Messiah but simply a true disciple and as Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works…” (John 14:12 New Living Translation). In all our claims to be Christian, are we, am I, like Jabril, a true follower of Christ?

The_Finger_of_God_S01E03.jpgAre we Pastor Felix Iguera who was disillusioned with church and ministry to the point of dousing his church with gasoline before it was miraculously saved from a tornado? Iguera experiences a roller coaster of despair, confusion, doubt, and hope only to succumb to his own weaknesses and family frailties. Claiming to be a humble servant and wanting only what God wants, he takes the reins and arranges for AL-Masih to appear on his millionaire, televangelist father-in-law’s show claiming “this is what God wants”  Al-Masih agrees, but when he walks away from the appearance Iguera is again in confusion and despair.

When the story breaks that Al-Masih, by his own admission and hard evidence, is a mortal man, Iguera returns to his church and in what seems to be an act of lost faith he does indeed burn it down. This brings me to a question of our faith.  If the true Messiah, Jesus, is not the literal Son of God, does that negate his message to the world? Does that mean Jesus was not God’s anointed? Is our belief in Jesus as God’s Word to the world based solely on our belief that he is the literal Son of God?  Are we, am I, Pastor Iguera?

310x190_tomer-sisley-campe-agent-shin-bet-messiah.jpgAre we Aviram, a hard-nosed, tormented, vengeful, often brutal Israeli agent, who is intent on catching Al-Masih and exposing him as a fraud? Aviram is unwavering in his purpose even as he is shaken by Al-Masih’s knowledge of his past bad acts. He flirts with belief yet remains hard-hearted. Not until he is facing imminent death and tormented by his sin, his “failure to choose goodness,” does Aviram say, “I’m sorry,” as the plane crashes. Are we Aviram — tormented with shame, hardened, and unable to accept God’s love?

Unknown.jpegAre we Eva Geller, the CIA agent, sparing with Aviram, and equally determined to debunk Al-Masih and uncover his real intent? Eva has issues. Her identity is in her work. She has a strained relationship with her father, grief and guilt over her late husband, is distraught over not being able to have children, and is sensitive about her mother and her Jewish heritage. In her own words to Aviram, “I am as messed up as you.” She too is shaken by Al-Masih’s knowledge of her past which further solidifies her efforts to find “the truth.” Even as she finds evidence of “the truth” of Al-Masih’s identity and suspects that the U. S. government shot down the plane carrying him back to Israel, she appears to continue to run from the truths of her personal life and emotional distress – she remains a lost soul. Are we Eva?

Yes, “Messiah” has spawned questions and controversy among viewers and critics. Of course, Christ, the Messiah, has stirred questions and controversy for centuries. Ultimately the question “Who is He?” is only answered by each of us individually in our own unique way based on our beliefs.  In regard to the question, “Who are you/Who am I?” I am drawn to Al-Masih’s words, “How can you be the person God intended if you are not honest about who you are?” Honestly, answering that question is not easy. “Messiah” offers numerous character mirrors. Do we see ourselves in them, and what can we learn from them?

The Sacred: Part II-Reflections and Ponderings

Unknown

          “Brenda, if you learn and know nothing else, know this:  the sanctity of life, the sacrament of relationship, and the sacredness of death.”

          In reflection, it seems ironic that the night I heard these words ended my CPE training. I continued to have difficulty with the retina, needed additional surgical procedures, and was not able to return. However, I continued, and to this day continue, to revisit and ponder upon the events of that night and the words I had heard. Given the manner in which I had received them they were much more than mere words. It felt as if they were more like an edict, a proclamation, a lens through which to view all of life.

          “Brenda, if you learn and know nothing else, know this: the sanctity of life. . .”

          I know that sanctity is the quality or state of being holy or sacred; thus life itself is considered holy and sacred; inviolable — to important to be ignored or treated with disrespect. The origin of “sanctity” is the Latin word “sanctus” meaning sacred. 

          I believe the “sanctity of life” message that I heard was a foundational theological and spiritual truth based on the sacredness of life — all lives.  It was not the “sanctity of life” political message that was being touted then, and we hear often today in the Pro-Life/Pro-Choice debate. Again, it was a universal truth based on the sacredness of life — all lives. We hear today the expressions — Black Lives Matter, LGBT Lives Matter, Cops Lives Matter — and they do because ALL LIVES MATTER. Oh, that we might embrace ALL LIVES MATTER and SANCTITY OF LIFE as spiritual truths and live them out in our daily lives and not simply use them as catchy slogans to promote our political, racial, or cultural biases.

          Christianity’s foundation for sanctity of life is grounded in the doctrine that God is the Creator and God chose to create man in His image. Man is God’s image bearer. It is also quite relevant and important to notice that this valuing, worthiness, sacredness of life is universal to the traditions of all major world religions and perhaps represents their deepest teachings, roots and values. Sadly, we, all of us, are not living up to our traditions.

         “Brenda, if you learn and know nothing else, know this. . .the sacrament of relationships. . .

          What does that mean? Being brought up in the Baptist faith tradition, I was more familiar with the term ‘ordinances’ than “sacrament” so I had to do some study.  I knew of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as “sacraments” in the Protestant faith traditions.  I quickly learned there are seven sacraments in the Catholic faith tradition. But,what exactly is a sacrament? What is the meaning and purpose of a sacrament or sacramental rite.

          Well, I read a lot about sacraments, their meaning and purpose.  Most of which I understood, some I did not as I am not a theological scholar.  I was able to grasp that sacrament is derived from the Latin word sacramentum and means “a sign of the sacred.” A sacrament is also a portal of grace in and to our lives.  Sacraments not only come from God, but they also make God present in our lives. Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Sacraments are visible signs of invisible things whereby man is made holy.”

            So, in my ponderings, I have come to understand sacrament to be an outward expression of the sacred/the holy, that which points us toward God, and/or that which invites God’s participation in our life. I had learned long ago that in a sacramental marriage God’s love is manifest in the loving, grace filled, covenant relationship between the couple. God and His love are mirrored in that relationship. Thus, the sacrament of marriage is intended to be an outward sigh of God’s love and grace, the sacred and holy.  Now, that is in theory, at least. We know from experience that that is not nearly always the case.

          As I continued to ponder on “sacrament of relationship” I began to ask myself could it not be possible for us to manifest/mirror the love of God in all our relationships from the loving, covenant relationship between life long partners, to the kind, helpful, affirming relationship between intimate friends and family, to the courteous, respectful relationships with our co-workers, to the respectful acceptance of differences with those we call our enemies. If we accept the premise of the sanctity/sacredness of human life — all human life — then it is not a huge jump to conclude that if I am sacred, and you are sacred, then how we relate and treat one another should be “an outward expression of the sacred” — a sacrament, if you will. Can our relationships not be a “portal of grace” to one another? The sacred in me recognizes, respects, and responds to the sacred in you in a sacred fashion. Can not the sacred and grace be expressed in how we relate to one another? Thus, the Sacrament of Relationships–all relationship.

          “Brenda, if you know nothing else, know this. . .the sacredness of death.”

          What is sacred and holy about death? For so long in our cultural history we have not talked about death and dying and what it means for us individually and as a people. Thankfully, we are beginning to move toward conversations regarding death, even our own deaths. As Michael Dodd, a religious naturalist, says, “Death is sacred, necessary, and real.”

          As I studied the word “sacred,” the definition “worthy of or regarded with religious honor and respect” caught my attention. Certainly through my experiences that evening in the hospital, I began to view death with a worthy regard and sense of honor – sacredness. I suppose that, in the first place, if we view the individual life as sacred then the death of that life is no less sacred. Death is a necessary and inevitable part of the cycle of life. As surely as we have birth and life, we must have death. In our natural world, death is life-giving.

          Just a little aside here: I have an affinity for dead trees, and my partner gives me grief about that at times, especially when I am taking photos of them. I see a dead tree still standing tall or fallen, and I am in awe at the growth and change that has occurred from tiny seed to towering trunk. I envision the life that the tree has exuded and nurtured from the insects it has fed, to the nests and young is has held, to the seeds and seedlings it has propagated. Even in its dying it will decay and continue to provide sustenance and return rich, life-giving nutrients to its mother earth. For me, that is a sacred process.

           Then even more so would not the death of a person, any human being regardless of race, creed, or culture, be a sacred thing. Consider with wonder the growth and change the person has experienced in his/her lifetime. Note with awe, perhaps most strikingly, at the deathbed, the lives, the family, the relationships the person influenced and nurtured. Yes, and even as much as we don’t like to think about it, and however we frame it –“dust to dust, “ashes to ashes,” “coming from God and returning to God,” that person’s remains will in some fashion return to the earth and become life-giving. Death – a sacred/holy thing in the cycle of life.

          Now, in my opinion, what makes us as humans different from the tree is our attribute of soul or spirit. What I have come to believe regarding the human soul/spirit — and I believe it is undeniable and universal — is that it is “eternal.” In our christian faith tradition the soul/spirit of the deceased has eternal life with God. And, perhaps an additional way of viewing eternal life is that the soul/spirit of the deceased is carried and lives on within us — in our hearts and souls and in our minds and memories. And that is a sacred/holy thing—coming from and perhaps an extension of our sacramental relationships.

          “Brenda, if you learn and know nothing else, know this – the sanctity of life, the sacrament of relationship, and the sacredness of death.”

          Those words have become transformative in my life – my beliefs, my thinking and my sense and expression of my spirituality. I had begun to move and grow from a more rigid, perhaps fundamental, spiritual worldview a couple of years prior to this experience. You might say this night and these words somewhat “sealed the deal.” I am, and always will be, a christian (with a small “c”), a Jesus-follower, and a member of the church catholic – again small “c.” However, much of the dogma and doctrine of faith traditions no longer fit into my new found paradigm of what is truly sacred and holy.

          What I heard that night was a universal spiritual truth of the sacredness of life, relationships, and death common to all peoples, cultures, and faith traditions.   In all our differences, we as the human race hold, at the very least, these three things in common. We all have life. We are living, breathing, and capable of thought, emotion, and action.

          We all have relationships. We are born into relationship. You and I are someone’s son or daughter, perhaps mother or father, or brother or sister. So is our neighbor that aggravates us at times, our Muslim co-worker, the immigrant, perhaps undocumented, that does our yard work, the adorable grocery clerk, the annoying taxicab driver, the soldier we would call our enemy. All people are in relationships, and someone loves them and they love others. Think about it.

          We will all die, at some point, and that death will be sacred as it marks the passing of a sacred life, a shift in sacramental relationship, a return to that from which we came. In death we all participate in that natural circle of life. In death, a life is mourned by others, and others will continue to carry the soul/spirit of the deceased within themselves.  

           We can’t escape it. The sanctity of life, the sacrament of relationships, and the sacredness of death are elements that unite us with one another. It is my hope and prayer that we can come to realize this at both the head and the heart level, come to truly see others as “sacred” beings, and seek a respectful, peaceful unity in sacramental relationships with all peoples.

 

 

The Sacred Part I: What I Heard!

We are in the midst of Holy Week and I awakened this morning to the breaking news of a deadly attack in Brussels. Two locations bombed, thirty-one individuals killed without provocation, hundreds others injured–physically and/or emotionally, and relationships and families thrown into turmoil and grief with the loss of loved ones. In the wake of increasing global violence and incidents such as this, I am shaken with grief and despair. I am apt to question “why.” Why do we continue to destroy our fellow humankind? What have we lost, forgotten, or failed to learn in our lives’ journeys that we treat one another with such disregard and inhumanity.
      Honestly, as I lay in bed last night, I committed to sharing this post today. The news of this morning affirms our need to be reminded of what is holy and sacred.  I so want to hope in the midst of despair! 

The Sacred: Part I– What I Heard!Unknown

      In the late 1980’s I marked a verse in my old King James Bible, Matthew 10:27:

What I tell you in darkness that speak ye in light, and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.

 

More recently I discovered and really like The Message translation:

             Do not hesitate to go public, now!

I’m going public today and share my story of an experience that changed me, my life, and my spiritual path and journey.

         In October of 1997 I was in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE – chaplaincy) training. I was six weeks into the course, and it was my first rotation being on call– an all-nighter as hospital chaplain on-call. As I sometimes do with first-time experiences, I felt a bit apprehensive, but not overly so, trusting God to lead and guide in all that I might be called upon to say or do. I also knew that as I began the evening, I was a bit more vulnerable –physically, spiritually, and emotionally — than I might ordinarily have been in that I was recovering from surgery for a detached retina. The last couple of weeks had been full of uncertainties. My prayers were for a quiet night.
         I began the evening by making a few visits and the “rounds” of the various floors and departments. I then retired to my assigned “sleeping” room. Although, there would be no sleeping that night. Without going into the details of each case, I will simply say that there were four deaths in the hospital that night.
         The first was a heart attack victim in the emergency room — a 60 year old man, a family in the midst of shock, confusion, questioning, and grief. I have distinct memories of physically supporting the wife as she stood by the gurney holding her deceased husband’s hand. I did everything I knew to do as chaplain even as I wrestled with this, my first face to face encounter with death.
         The second was a middle-aged woman who had been on life support for several days and the decision had been made to remove the life support. I checked in on the family a couple of times, thankfully, the family’s minister was present with them.
         The third death that evening was an elderly gentleman in the oncology unit. He was alone as family members did not arrive until after he had expired. The final death was an older gentleman also in the oncology unit. His wife and daughter were present with him. I assisted them with some of the necessary paper work and waited with them until the funeral home came for the remains. When they left, I walked them to their car through the maze of construction that was going on at the time. As I walked back into the hospital through the construction tunnel shrouded in black plastic, it was four o’clock in the morning. I was exhausted — even more drained than when the evening began. I recall my prayer as I walked, “Please, God, no more tonight.”
         I got back to my “sleeping” room and leaned against the bed. That’s when it happened. I fell apart–overwhelmed with emotion and exhaustion. I began to cry — deep gut wrenching sobs. The events of the evening were soaking in, and I felt tremendous sorrow for the families. I also felt a sense of wonder and gratitude for the guidance and grace that got me through the night. In the midst of my sobbing I heard God’s voice — not a loud audible voice, yet more than “a still, small voice.” I heard these clear, distinct words in the depths of my heart, mind and soul.

              “Brenda, if you learn and know nothing else, know this: the sanctity of Life, the   sacrament of Relationship, and the sacredness of Death.”  

I was taken aback. Where did that come from? And I continued to weep hearing those words over and over again.
      I did lay down for a bit, but sleep was impossible. The events and scenes from the evening were running like a video loop in my head. I could not shake them. In wonder and awe and still somewhat incredulous, I kept hearing and thinking about His words. The message that the most important things in life to know were the sanctity of life, the sacrament of relationship, and the sacredness of death. It was as if when we know and practice these, everything else will take care of itself. I left the room early, completed the log of the night’s events, and exited the hospital shortly after 7 am in wonder and awe, and with lots to ponder. 

Remembering Thomas Merton

NOTE:  Tomorrow, January 31, 2015, marks the 100th birthday of Thomas Merton.  I thought I would pass along this tribute.

Remembering Thomas Merton, Interfaith Dialogue Champion by Leroy Seat on EthicsDaily.com*

Growing up in rural northwest Missouri, I didn’t have much opportunity to know people who belonged to the Roman Catholic Church.
My years in two Baptist colleges and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary didn’t afford much possibility of getting to know Catholics, either.

Actually, as I think back, I guess my first Catholic friend was a Canadian priest, Zénon Yelle, who lived in the same city in Japan.

In the 1970s, he became a member of a book discussion group that my wife, June, and I attended monthly.

Zénon was a thoughtful man and a good scholar; getting to know him helped me gain a more positive idea about Catholics.

It was also probably in the 1970s that I first became aware of, and then read a book by, Thomas Merton, an outstanding Catholic thinker and prolific author. Merton was born on Jan. 31, 1915, 100 years ago tomorrow.

The first of Merton’s more than 70 books that I read was “New Seeds of Contemplation,” and I have read it a time or two since. And then a few years ago I read “The Seven Storey Mountain,” his highly acclaimed autobiography.

Partly in honor of his memory, this month I have read Merton’s “No Man Is an Island,” one of his most widely read books on what he calls “the spiritual life.” These books are quite beneficial for Protestants as well as Catholics.

In 1941, Merton became a Trappist monk in the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky. That was his home for the next 27 years before his untimely death.

E. Glenn Hinson was one of my teachers at Southern Seminary in the spring semester of 1960 – and after all these years I still exchange emails with him regularly.

In the fall of 1960, Hinson began taking students to Gethsemani. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in any of his classes that did that, so I never had the privilege of meeting Merton or hearing him speak – or of learning more about Catholics.

But the contact with Merton was quite meaningful to the seminary students who did go to Gethsemani with Hinson, and in a recent email Hinson wrote, “Merton had a very profound impact on my life and ministry.”

Through the years, Merton became a strong proponent of interfaith dialogue, engaging in deep discussions with Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama, the Japanese writer D.T. Suzuki and the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

In December 1968, Merton went to Thailand to attend an interfaith conference between Catholic and non-Christian monks.

From there he intended to go on to Japan to learn more about Zen Buddhism. After speaking at the conference in Thailand, though, he suddenly died.

It is generally concluded that while stepping out of his bath, he was accidentally electrocuted by an electric fan.

It was a tragic loss to the religious world and to all who knew him. It is impossible to know how much more good he could have done if he had lived.

One chapter in “New Seeds of Contemplation” is titled “The Root of War is Fear.” Several times I have quoted the concluding words of that chapter, and they are words worth remembering and worth considering over and over again: “If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.”

*Leroy Seat was a missionary to Japan from 1966-2004 and is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church. A version of this article also appeared on his blog, The View from this Seat, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @LKSeat.

GRATITUDE, WONDER, AND AWE!

Note:  We are traveling.  So here are my thoughts and travelog!  

We are in Abilene State Park.  As we have traveled today I have been overwhelmed with the knowledge and feeling that I am extremely blessed.  After months of planning and preparations, we are finally on the road.  Six weeks of touring in Arizona mostly — seeing some of the sights and speaking at  PFLAG — Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays — as well as other gatherings.  We kept looking at each other and saying, “We are actually on the road and going!”

Being humbled with gratitude leads me to an attitude of prayer.  Amidst the gratitude today, I found myself “voicing” prayers in my heart.  We had voiced a spoken prayer this morning before leaving, thanking God for this opportunity to travel and speak and asking His blessings and safety in our travels.

Oh, my goodness!  Three deer- a doe, a young fawn, and a spike buck have walked up throught the woods and are grazing about twenty yards from where I sit.  Thank you, God!  Oh, that we might be more atune and thankful for the moments of awe and wonder that come our way at unexpected times and places.  We had an armadillo join us for dinner earlier.  Certainly not as graceful and lovely a creature as the deer, but one of God’s creatures none the less.   We also had several squirrels scampering from tree to tree.  Now as the dusk deepens there is a chorus of cicadas in the air.  Moments of Wonder and Awe!  I am thankful!

Now, back to the discussion of gratitude prior to the arrival of the deer.  There was a time today in my thankfulness that  this thought fluttered across my consciousness, “Maybe God will bless us on this trip because I am grateful and praying?”  I am appalled at times by the thoughts that sometimes flutter across my mind!  And this was just such a thought and time.  I believe and know that there is neither bargaining nor negotiating  with God.  God blesses me, all of us, in His wisdom and mercy when and how He sees fit.  I am thankful for those blessings. Period!  And when life is rolling along and things do not seem so blessed, I will be thankful IN, not for all things.  I believe that concept is expressed in I Thessalonians 5:18. 

This reminds me of something that I learned many years ago.  It is true that we all have random sometimes disgusting, appalling, and unwanted thoughts to flutter across our gray matter.  What matters is not that we had the thought, but what we do with it after we have it.  Do we dismiss it as a random, unwanted thought and move on to more acceptable thoughts, or do we dwell on it, allow it to loom large and influence all of our thoughts and actions?  This is where the important choice must be made.  I like to use this analagy:  Thoughts can be like the birds.  We cannot keep the birds from flying over our heads, but we certainly do have a choice in whether we allow them to build a nest in our hair!   Think about that!Sp 

Beholding. . . in the Mirror

imagesNote:   As I have mentioned earlier, 1997 was a HUGE year for this seeker on the pilgrimage.  I wrote this piece during that time as my journey made dramatic shifts from a focus on  “doing” — Bible Study, church, the “right thing” — toward simply “being” focusing on quiet, contemplative prayer, and “practicing the presence” as Brother Lawrence said.  The basis for my whole identity shifted from me — who I was, what I did, and how well I did it — to Christ.  Not the church,  not the Christian faith tradition, but Christ — who he was and is and living in union and communion with him.   As my focus has shifted through the years, I have come to believe that the most important thing for me in my faith journey is becoming christian.  Notice that is with a small “c” meaning Christ – like, and not necessarily the “C” of the Christian faith tradition.

Beholding . . . In the Mirror. . .With Open Face

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed in the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.     II Corinthians 3:18 (King James Version)

As I study and meditate upon II Corinthians 3:18, I become more convinced that within it we are given the “recipe” for the christian — “Christ” — life.  I use the word “recipe” somewhat with tongue in cheek for I know we as a society, as a nation, and as a people clamor for neat packages.  We want to manage in one minute, improve our golf swing in five easy lessons,  and become effective people in seven steps.  I admit unashamedly that I have had my days of adherance to seemingly reasonable, simple step-by-step methods for efficacy and management of all areas of life.

However, over the past several years, and particularly the last two, I have increasingly experinenced that the “recipes”, for the most part, just don’t work  in the vast complexities and mysteries of the processes of life.   However, if we consider this a “recipe” verse for the “Christ” life, what are the basic ingredients and procedure?   First, there is the individual, you and I.  Second ingredient is the Christ, Jesus — the Lord — and finally  the Spirit of the Lord.  Rather simple thus far — me, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  Now, what do I do with the basic ingredients!

I sit myself before Christ, the Lord , and I look  at Him.  Now, friends, this is not just a simple behold — lo, look, see.  This is beholding!  This is the Greek word katoptrizomai, a comparative of the word kata which frequently denotes intensity, and a derivative of the word optomai which means “to gaze with wide-open eyes, as at something remarkable”.    So, here is the picture:  I am sitting before the Christ intensely gazing  with wide-open eyes at the remarkable Lord.  I suppose the remarkableness would most definitely be His glory.  What do you think?

Now that we are beholding the glory of Christ, the Lord , what happens?  It is as if the Lord becomes a mirror, “as in a glass”.   As I sit before the Lord, my mirror, the reflection, or the image I see of myself, is my true self created in His image.  Even as I continue to still and humble myself before my “mirror”, my Lord, I am changed into “the same image”, His image — the image in which I was truly created.   How in this world can just looking in a mirror change my image?    I must admit that looking in the mirror most mornings does change my image, but not without a great deal of effort on my part and the application and use of numerous substances and devices.  Blow dryer, curling iron, and several cosmetic products just to mention  a few.

However, when it comes to being changed before the mirror of the Lord, the only things needed are that we come; that we come with “open face”; and that we be willing to surrender  and submit to “the Spirit of the Lord.”  In order to understand how we come with “open faces” or “unveiled faces” as used in the New International Version, it might be helpful to look at II Corinthians 3: 12-17.   In these verses we are told that we have a hope, and with that hope we can be very bold before the Lord.  We do not have to put a veil over our face as Moses did to keep the people from seeing that his face was losing the radiance which was received while in the Lord’s presence.  You can check this out in Exodus 34: 33-35.   Under the old covenant during Mose’s time he was the only one, as God’s appointed leader, who could be bold and come before the Lord.  Now, however,  we can be bold and come before the Lord with open face, receive his radiance, his glory, and then walk among men without a veil to hide the fact that the radiance is diminishing .    In fact,  we can reflect the radiance of the Lord to others.    In essense we can become mirrors ourselves.    We are to become mirrors as the Christ within is reflected to others.

Brothers and sisters!   Perhaps I just got a glimpse of heaven    Have you ever seen the bright reflection of a mirror  in the sun.?   So bright you can’t even look at it.  Think  of it.  Revelation 1:16 tells us  “His (the Lord’s) face was like the sun shining in all its brillance.”   With the Son shining on the multitude of those who have been transformed into his image — those who have become mirrors, a “sea of glass” before the throne (Rev.4:6) — I can’t imagine the magnitude of the brightness.  Nor can I fanthom my light sensitive eyes tolerating the experience.  Just another reason for the necessity and the promise of our lowly bodies being transformed to be like His.  Isn’t God good! He gives us a sight to behold and then he enables us to behold it.   Speaking of beholding, let’s get back to the original idea of  open (unveiled) faces.   (Please do pardon my slight distraction while sharing in my excitement.)

We are not as Moses.  We are not limited in who can come before the Lord, nor do we have to cover our faces afterward.  Why?  Look again at II Corinthians 3: 12.  “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.”  What is the hope that we have?   Jesus Christ — the Christ within,  “the hope of glory.”(Col. 1; 27).  So here’s the scoop!  Through and because of the Christ within we can come boldly before the Lord, the mirror, and sit and behold the glorious image which transforms us into that same glorious image, the image we were created to reflect.

Now exactly how does this occur and how long does it take?  Beats Me!  Probably a lifetime, but I don’t know the answer for myself or anyone else.  Returning to the recipe analogy, I am not the cook!  (Thank God!  Cooking has never been one of my strong suits.)  Who is?  “…even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”   So even with the recipe  the transformation into the “Christ” life for each of us is still a mystery.   Given the mystery are we willing to be faithful in coming before the Lord?   Are we willing to abandon ourselves and surrender the transformation of our lives to the mystery of the Spirit of the Lord?   Are we willing to trust God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and behold  Him with open face as in a glass and remain content to just “be” in His image.  I find these to be questions I must ask and answer daily, sometimes several times a day!

Heretic??

             

“If the YOU of five years ago doesn’t consider the YOU of today a heretic, YOU are not growing spiritually.”           — Thomas Merton

Of late I have been doing a good bit of musing regarding my spiritual journey, how it has taken twists and turns throughout life, and how currently I am in a place spiritually that is quite far removed from where I started.  I grew up with, nurtured, and adhered to my Southern Baptist beliefs through adolescence and young adulthood.  However, when I hit my mid-forties,  a shift began in my  journey, and the road became much broader than the dogma and doctrine of  Southern Baptist beliefs.  Oh,my!  This was not your “Midlife Crisis” for that had occurred several years earlier with divorce, new career direction, a physical move — the whole ball of wax!

A few weeks ago as I lay awake — I sometimes call these my Midnight Musings — I could not let go of the words pilgrim, seeker, heretic.  My musings for some time have been flirting with the idea that some, if not many, of my current spiritual beliefs might possibly be considered heretical if viewed from Southern Baptist standards.  Am I a HERETIC?  God only knows!  I know that I am, and will always be a PILGRIM on this spiritual path.  I am a SEEKER — seeking God, seeking truth, seeking grace, seeking compassion and love for all,  seeking unity, seeking peace.  I would want to say seeking to know God, yet, how can we know “The Cloud of Unknowing” as written by the fourteenth century mystic.   Then I muse “Are we all not heretics in our claims to know God, to understand the heart of God, to proclaim the Word of God.  I wonder about that.  Thus, I am and remain a pilgrim, seeker, heretic.

Along with these musings came the “inner urgings”  to write.  Now I have done a good bit of writing and journaling in my time.  I suppose that would be inevitable given my background as an English and literature teacher — first career.  However,  the urgings were/are to write about the spiritual journey.   Almost, at the same time as I was having these musings and urgings I ran across this quote by Thomas Merton:

               “If the YOU of five years ago doesn’t consider the YOU of today a heretic, YOU are not growing  spiritually.”   (Paraphrased — if anyone out there can help me with the source text for this I would be most appreciative.  I am thinking Seven Story Mountain, but not quite ready to reread the whole book.)

Wow!  Must be a God thing!  I like to view the quote as an affirmation of my pilgrim, seeker, heretic musing!  Plus, Thomas Merton is one of my favorite spiritual writers.

So, here I go!  This blog will be a collection of writings both current and historical, both prose and poetry.  Some entries will be biographical.  Some will be just a thought.  Some will certainly be the midnight musings.  Some may be old journal entries.  Let’s enjoy the journey!

PS Heretic

Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O. was an Anglo-American Catholic writer and mystic. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, he was a poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion.

Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O. was an Anglo-American Catholic writer and mystic. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, he was a poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion.

               

%d bloggers like this: