Monday, December 14, 2020

St John of the Cross and the Spiritual Canticle

Dearest e-votees,

Today is the day in the year set aside to commemorate St. John of the Cross.  I have been exploring some of his life story and his writings today.  One of his writings is the Spiritual Canticle which is a poetic allegory.

I was caught by one particular stanza.  Perhaps it will captivate you as well.  Peace,

Karl

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You can read the entire Spiritual Canticle at: St. John of the Cross: Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ - Christian Classics Ethereal Library (ccel.org)  I was particularly captured by stanza 15:

XV

The tranquil night

At the approaches of the dawn

The silent music,

The murmuring solitude,

The supper which revives, and enkindles love.

Advent is a time of darkness and still.  A tranquil night if you will.  We wait during the long nights of winter.  Nights when the snow sucks up the sound and maybe all we hear is the crunching snow underfoot.  We wait for warmth.  We wait for light.  We long to hear music, song, speech, noises of any sort.

We know the dawn is coming.  It comes every day.  It comes every year with the spring.  It comes at the end of all time with the full consummation with the promises of God coming to fruition.  We long for the awaited spring to come.  We long for the warming sun to rise.  We long for the Son to come as promised.

We know the rhythm and cadence of silence.  We know solitude.  We know sanctuaries and worship services shuttered out of an abundance of caution during a pandemic.  We long for music to break the silence.  We long for the song a robin in springtime.  We long for singing choirs of angels.  We long to gather as faith communities to sing of God's promises and our hopes and dreams at the coming reign of God.

We may find ourselves in solitude but we can't stay there.  We hear the murmuring within our own soul.  We long to murmur with others.  We long for the icy winter to thaw and for babbling brooks to give voice to the hope of spring.  We stand graveside longing for life to spring forth.  We know the dead of winter but know, too, the new life of spring.

We know of the power of communal meals.  Holiday feasts sustain our souls.  Shared laughter and drink with friend feeds us to our core.  Gathering around the promises and the incarnation of communion draws us to pools of grace and heals our hurts.  This supper revives.  This supper enkindles love.


Dear God, we thank you for the lyrical verses and images of St. John of the Cross.  Help us await the bridegroom.  Help us rest, look, pray and linger our way through Advent.  Revive us and enkindle love.  Amen.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Speaking and Singing Word to One Another

 Dearest e-votees,  

Today is a day set aside in the church to commemorate Ambrose, the bishop of Milan.

Ambrose is credited with the innovation of singing hymns antiphonally.  (One person sings part of the psalm and the gathered group responds with the next portion or the antiphon).

Many worship services to this day practice responsive reading or singing as a way to share in God's word together.  

Peace,

Karl

+ + +

There are lots of ways to confess our sins and to be assured of God's forgiveness.  Confession and absolution are important parts of our worship services.  Often the congregation as a whole confesses and the pastor offers a word of absolution.  That is good and salutary.  Sometimes the weight and burden of the guilt lead one to offer confession in a one-on-one setting with an offended party or with a member of the clergy.  The words of absolution from one who has been wronged or on behalf of the church and God through a called minister are also good and salutary.

But what speaks quite powerfully to me and through me is when a community practices responsive confession and forgiveness.  Part of the gathered community offers a word of confession.  The other part of the gathered community receives that confession and then speaks a word of forgiveness and absolution.  Immediately thereafter the groups switch parts so that all confess and all speak forgiveness.  I like this because it powerfully embodies for me the mutual consolation of the saints.  All of us are sinners and need to confess.  All of us are called to speak forgiveness and good news to those who seek comfort in the gospel.  

I am not a big fan of hierarchy and power differentials.  When people come into the church looking for the boss I often quip that I'm middle management.  I may have the honor, privilege and responsibility of serving in an ordained capacity but I am just as desperately in need of grace and forgiveness as anyone else.  

The responsive confession and forgiveness feels good and right to me.  Please know that you are a beloved child of God and forgiven this day.  If you see me around please remind me of those things as well.  


Dear God, shape us into your people as we speak and sing your words between ourselves.  Help us bear one another well and bear you well to one another.  Amen.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Giant Disruptions in Our High Holy Seasons

 Dearest e-votees-

One of the things that has been on my bucket list for a while is to watch all 123 of the American Film Institute's top 100 movies of all time.  (There are 123 because they made their original list in 1998 and then revised it in 2007).  You can see the lists summarized here. Being the cinephile I am I have assembled all of these 123 movies into a collection that fits neatly into a cabinet I am working my way through.  This pandemic has opened up some time to make progress on this project.

Part of the joy of this is seeing movies I would never have picked out by myself.  It is good for us to be challenged, blessed and interrupted by the tastes and expertise of others.  This week I found myself watching Giant (Giant (1956) - IMDb).

Peace,

Karl

+ + + 

Somewhere in the midst of this 200-minute western epic is a Thanksgiving scene.  It is actually two Thanksgiving scenes that contrast one another.  The main couple are having some stresses in their marriage.  They are having Thanksgiving apart.  She and the three children are with her family having dinner.  The children had befriended Pablo the turkey and were traumatized when he was served on a platter for the holiday feast.  The children are inconsolable.  He is at his sprawling cattle ranch in Texas with his own turkey and no one to share it with.

These scenes struck me deeply this year.  Many of us are having what are normally high holy days filled with family and food in a much more constrained way separated by miles and concerns over health.  Some of us are suffering strains on relationships due to distance or extreme proximity that are stressful and hard.  Some of us are deeply traumatized (over all manner of circumstance) and may well find ourselves inconsolable.

For years and years we have been offered a picture of Thanksgiving as a feast of fellowship with family and friends.  Images of pilgrims and original peoples breaking bread together challenge us to live up to higher ideals that transcend current cultural and racist divisions.  A major theme of the movie Giant deals with relationships between Texans and Mexicans; between current squatters and original peoples.  We all know at some level that Thanksgiving isn't a holy day without blemish.

Most of us fall somewhere between the Rockwellian images of family feasts and abundant tables and the gritty reality of wresting away control of a "new" land from current occupants.  Most of us long for deep family connections and warm encounters but know the disconnects and chills that come through pandemics and festering arguments and seething political divisions that divide us.  Most of us long for tears of joy and stirred hearts but can also relate to those other tears of the inconsolability of the broken ways of our own sin and the sins of others.

As we linger in the afterglow of Thanksgiving and lean into the glow of the Advent candles and the hearth of Christmas I hope and pray for joy and peace for you and your family.  May you find consolation as needed in the abiding love of our Lord and Savior, Jesus.  Maybe you be surprised by grace and whimsy in unexpected places as this year continues along in new and unfamiliar forms.  May the disruptions and interruptions bless you and draw you closer to one another and to God.


God, have your way in us.   Help us love you well and reflect you to others.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Audacity of a Single Thankful Heart

 Dearest e-votees,

As you well know tomorrow is the day set aside for Thanksgiving here in the United States (our neighbors to the north already had their day on October 12).  President Abraham Lincoln set aside the last Thursday of November to be that national day set aside for giving thanks.

You may not know that there are daily texts set aside for the commemoration of Thanksgiving.  The gospel text is the cleansing of the 10 people with leprosy in Luke 17:11-19.

I hope and pray you find yourself in a place surrounded by friends and family (in person or through the interwebber), with ample food on your plate and ample gratitude in your heart.

Blessed Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Peace,

Karl

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Leprosy (whatever exactly it was in Biblical times, not necessary what we would classify as leprosy today) was a malady that caused separation.  Those with leprosy would be cut off from those who did not have it.  They may have been isolated into separate communities or colonies. They may have abided by the regulations spelled out in Leviticus 13:45-46 to greet people crying "Unclean!  Unclean!" and living outside the camp.  There is quite a bit of attention devoted to leprosy in the 13th chapter of Leviticus.  And the upshot is that if you have leprosy it is not good news for your ability to defy social distancing and to flourish in community.

Jesus was passing between Samaria and Galilee (that is to say between Gentile territory and Jewish territory--that is to say between an "us" and a "them") and he encounters people who are living in between.  Perhaps as ones suffering from leprosy that have been rejected by both "us" and "them"--they are in some sense an ├╝ber-them (outsiders to all).  Normally Samaritans and Jews wouldn't associate.  But in their mutual malady these 10 lepers had blended across that social divide.  There were 9 Jews and one Samaritan.  

Jesus tells them to go an show themselves to the priests (see Leviticus 13) and they go.  Presumably the 9 Jews go one way and the 1 Samaritan goes the other way to their respective priests.  All 10 of them demonstrate some faith as they leave before having been healed.  It is in the journey that they are healed.  Only the Samaritan, however, after realizing what had happened turned back towards Jesus to give thanks.  Jesus offers praise for the Samaritan's actions.  

We are living in a time chock-full of "us"s and "them"s.  We all struggle with maladies (self-inflicted and from without).  We all need cleansing and healing.  Jesus comes into the world to do just that.  All of us are able to be made clean by Jesus.  Will we follow where he leads and answer his call?  And when we see ourselves being made well--being salved, being saved--do we turn to Jesus and offer thanks and praise?  Jesus invites us to turn from our ways that do not honor God and to give thanks.  Abraham Lincoln offer the same sort of call in his Thanksgiving proclamation.  Today God still calls us to be a people of repentance and gratitude.  Will we?  Are we able to hear Jesus speak to us as he did to the lone grateful one:  Rise and go your way, your faith has made you well?

Dear God, be with us wherever "our way" takes us.  Stir up your faith and your healing in us.  Help us never stop thanking you.  Amen.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Thankfulness

Dearest e-votees,

One of my favorite Biblical passages is Philippians 1:3-6:

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. (NRSV)

It seems a good passage to linger with as we lean into Thanksgiving.

Peace,

Karl

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When I studied Philippians at seminary it was in a class called Prison Epistles.  This is one of Paul's letters that we believe was written while he was imprisoned.  It is likely towards the end of his life when he is nearing his martyrdom from the business end of a Roman sword.

As Paul reflects on this relationship with the saints at Philippi he has two responses:  thankfulness and sustained prayer.  Think about the sustained relationships you have throughout your life.  Are you able to give thanks for those people every time you remember them?  I wish I was as gracious and loving as Paul holds himself out to be.  Do you constantly remember with you in all your prayers for those people?  Again, I wish I was as gracious and loving as Paul holds himself out to be.  Sometimes I suspect that Paul might be overselling himself.  Nonetheless verses 3 and 4 serve as aspirational goals for me in any community in which I find myself--particularly faith communities that I am blessed to serve.

What truly resonates with me in this passage is verse 6.  Paul expresses steadfast confidence that the one who began a good work among you (I believe this to be God, not the mission-planter Paul) will bring it to completion.  When a baby (or an adult convert for that matter) is baptized God begins a good work which will be brought to completion.  When someone engages the work of reconciliation God is in that work and it will be brought to completion (at least to do the good that the effort can if not 100% reconciliation).  When we wrestle in fervent prayer, seek to see Christ in our neighbors and those who aren't our neighbors yet, step further along the costly path of discipleship those faith endeavors (begun by God) will be brought to completion.  

I want you to know:  I thank God for you.  I thank God for God's stirrings in your life that will be brought to completion.  When I pray for you (which is never enough, let alone constantly) I give thanks and find joy.  Have a blessed celebration of Thanksgiving (whether incarnational or virtual) with friends and loved ones.  You are a blessing.  I see the image of God (imago dei) in you.

Peace and blessings,

Karl

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Calendars out of synch

 Dearest e-votees,

I don't know about you but keeping track of time on the calendar and routines during the day has been challenging.  Normal rhythms have been out-of-whack for quite a while.  Day blurs into night blurs into day.  Weekdays blur into weekend blur into week.  Sabbath time looks very different than it used to.  The changing clocks just add another level of detachment.  It feels like I am living in chapter 2 of Slaughterhouse 5:  "Billy Pilgirm has come unstuck in time".

How about you do you have your chronological and routine moorings?

Peace,

Karl

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Another piece of the "Where am I and what time is it?" conundrum is the fact that the church and the world work on very different calendars.   Our church year ends this Sunday with Christ the King Sunday.  The world has another 43 days until the big ball drops in Times Square.

The church enters into a season of Advent at the tail end of November which leads all the way up to Christmas Eve.  The radio stations and stores started trimming the shelves and decking the aisles with Christmas paraphernalia weeks ago.  People have swapped out their spooky lawn decorations for Christmas bits (although there are some staunch owners of inflatable turkeys who won't let Thanksgiving pass by unnoticed).  The isolation, extra-time and pent-up energy are causing some to over-function even more than usual in terms of holiday decorating.  At least most places aren't as out of control at the mall in 'It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown" which has a Christmas Display labeled 246 shopping days until Christmas.

The point of all of this is that we are always being pressed upon with competing calendars, schedules, priorities and deadlines.  Work and play, friends and family, holy and secular.  It can be very stress-inducing and detrimental to all of those realms of our life even in the best of times.  These, it seems, aren't the best of times.  Layer a pandemic, various levels of lockdown and constraint and the craziness of an election that won't seem to stay within the bounds of normal election dates and all of us become a little unstuck in time.

I don't get all bent out of shape about Christmas oozing over and past Advent.  Some churches are even having an extended time of Advent this year to help cope with the distancing of the pandemic.  If it is helpful to fire up the Hallmark movies and the holiday music for your soul you'll find no objection from me.

My hope and prayer for all of us is that we will let Jesus help us find our bearings and grounding during this disorienting time of shifting sands of time.  Michael Card, in "The Final Word" spoke of Jesus as eternity stepping into time so we can understand.  I have always resonated with that turn of the phrase.  In the fluidity of our schedules or lack thereof may we find some time to let Jesus come in to bring direction, grounding and understanding in the ways that matter most.


God, we invite you.  Come into our lives in your time and in your way.  Help us be gracious to others on different calendars and different levels of unstuckness in time.  You are our Rock and our Redeemer.  Help us rest in and cling to you amidst all the churning around us.  Amen

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Blessed All Saints Day Eve to you and yours

Dearest e-votees,

For those of you who observe Halloween--happy Halloween!  I hope you have a safe and good time making memories with those you love.

Tomorrow is All Saints Sunday.  It is a day set aside in the church year to commemorate our blessed dead.

Peace,

Karl

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Here is our appointed 2nd reading in the Revised Common Lectionary (aka RCL) comes from 1st John 3:1-3:

1See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (NRSV)

God has called us God's children.  We have been adopted, welcomed and grafted into the family of God.  In baptism we are reborn as children of God.  

Part of the work of family is to commemorate and celebrate our blessed dead.  We got to where we are today (successes and wrinkles both) through the legacy of our families.  Our forefathers and foremothers have shaped us into our very selves.  Everything we have comes as gift from the hands of a gracious God and often conveyed through our family members.

If we have had great success we do well to paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton:  If we have seen further it is because we have stood on the shoulders of giants (read giants as our foremothers and forefathers).

As you remember, celebrate, commemorate, grieve and however else recognize those who have gone before you, biologically and spiritually, I invite you to light a candle, ring a bell and say a prayer of thanks for who they were and how they've helped you to become.


God, thank you for all those who have preceded us.  Help us never forget them and look forward to when we will be reunited with them again.  In the strong name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.