Saturday, September 29, 2018

Collective healing blessing

For all of us triggered by the news of late, especially the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, I offer this opportunity for healing/grounding. Tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 p.m. (EST), let us all gather together in prayer, grounding ourselves to our Mother Earth who heals us body and soul as the lap of Divine Love. Share a selfie of your grounding moment and let the earthly roots of Divine Love be the pathways of our collective healing and blessing. If you can’t get outside, hold salt in your hands (salt of the earth). As we re-ground, I offer this blessing we can pray over ourselves and each other.

Touching forehead:
In blessing our foreheads… we claim the power of reason.

In blessing our eyes… we claim the power of vision, to see clearly the forces of life and death in our midst.

In blessing our lips… we claim the power to speak the truth about our experiences; we claim the power to name.

In blessing our hands… we claim our powers as artisans of a new humanity.

In blessing our wombs… we claim the power to give birth, as well as the power to choose not to give birth.

In blessing our feet… we claim the power to walk the paths of our courageous foremothers, and when necessary, to forge new paths.

In blessing each other… we claim the power that rests collectively in our shared struggle as women.

Now placing palms or feet (if bending down isn’t an option) fully on the earth, say:

We bless the earth in all its fruitfulness. In so doing we claim the power of life that rests in the earth. In touching the soil, let us feel the energy of all who struggle this day to rise from their oppression… Let us claim the collective power that is ours!

Adapted from Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Self-Blessing Ritual, “Women Church,” 171.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Creation Season 1: Transformed to rise

The community of St. David's has practiced Creation Season for decades and encourages others to do the same. We also join tihs year with people around the world celebrating and giving thanks for creation. Today's global focus is land.

Lectionary: Genesis 12: 1-2; Psalm 126; A poem by Mary Oliver, The Messenger; Matthew 13:33.

Note: If the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE for an alternative audio format.

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Columbanus, a 6th century Irish monk, once said – ‘If you want to know the Creator, first get to know the creation.’ Celtic spirituality recognizes and affirms the presence of God in all creation. In the Celtic tradition, a stony dirt path is not disrespected as a dirty or unsophisticated means for travel; it is acknowledged as being part of the skin of the earth and, therefore, is treated with respect as it is traversed. Squirrels aren’t just rodents who outsmart every human effort to protect birdfeeders; they are recognized as living messengers of God’s playfulness and resourcefulness, and are honored for their purpose.

Medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich spoke of Jesus’ “homely” love for us; and by homely she didn’t mean unattractive; she meant simple, cozy – like the feeling of being safe and comfy in your own home. This is love that is intimately familiar. This love wears warm ups and fuzzy slippers and offers you hot cocoa or a glass of red wine, and pats the couch next to them, showing you where to come sit and relax.

When Jesus spoke of God’s love for us he often used homely examples, as in today’s gospel from Matthew. The kingdom of heaven, Jesus says, is like yeast that a woman mixes with flour until all of it was leavened.” The many bread bakers in this congregation know that kneading the yeast, warm water, and flour together transforms it into a dough that rises; but it takes time and the dough has to be at rest while the transforming process happens within it.

In God’s house, our divine mother kneads her creation with what it needs to be transformed so that it will rise. All of creation rises to life by the intentional action of God.

Creation, like bread, has many flavors, colors, and textures. All, however, are expressive of the divine reality.

It seems silly, doesn’t it, to judge rye bread as superior to all other breads? And what about those who love caraway seeds in their rye bread and those who hate them? It seems even sillier to judge caraway loving people as inferior to caraway hating people; yet we do this sort of thing all the time in many ways. We sub-group and divide ourselves as if we are not all made from the same dough kneaded by the same heavenly woman.

One risky way we practice this sin of hubris is by judging ourselves as superior to the rest of creation. Humans are part of creation, not separate from it, and God has chosen us to be stewards of God’s creation – all of it – not just the parts we deem worthy or convenient.

Today we join with worshippers around the world celebrating and praying for creation; specifically, the land. Many people raised in modern western culture view the land as a natural resource meant to support human life. We cultivate the land and eat from its bounty. We plant beautiful gardens and dress our homes and our altars with its fragrant blooms.

All of this is right and good. Where we fail is when we see the land ONLY as a resource for our benefit. The land is a living part of creation that offers its gifts to all of us: humans, animals, insects, and every living thing that walks, crawls, flies, and swims on the earth.

True to our Celtic tradition, our work as Mary Oliver says, is to love the world, every specific part of the world God calls into our consciousness. That will be different for each of us, and there’s a purpose to that. We can only serve the part we are called to serve; which is all we’re expected to do. But together, we can be stewards of the whole of creation.

We are richly blessed with places throughout our diocese, located in the unique, miraculous ecosystem of Western North Carolina, where you can feel the presence of God in the earth, in the trees that are rooted in the earth, in the mountains, rivers, creeks, and caves. For example, there is a place at Kanuga near a tree by the lake, where if you lay on the ground and listen, you can hear the heartbeat of the earth. There is a path at Lake Logan where you can see and feel the life energy of the trees moving from the leaves into the atmosphere. In that place, as you walk reverently by, the trees seem to welcome you into a safe, loving embrace. There is a grove of trees at Valle Crucis teaming with bird and insect life where you can hear the voice of God singing peace in the symphony of their sounds at sunrise and at sunset.

Once as I sat with a friend near a creek, a beautiful red belly water snake came slithering past my left hand, which was resting on the ground propping me up. The snake continued its path alongside my left leg and went beyond us to a covered rock place at the edge of the creek about 4 feet in front of us. The snake curled up there but turned and faced us. All three of us sat there for a long time, looking at one another, listening in silence, except for the sound of the water which drew us all to it.

I’m not usually afraid of snakes. In fact, I’ve loved them since I was a child. But I was unfamiliar with this particular snake, so I offered it my respect as it slithered past me. As my friend and I sat with the snake at the creek’s edge, we pondered what gifts were being offered to us by the presence of God in the snake. We discerned of change and new life, of new skin – the same us, but new and different somehow.

When we got back to where we had cell phone reception my friend and I looked up the snake we had encountered. We were relieved to learn that it was not venomous, though it does have fangs and can be aggressive if its hungry. In its presence, however, we were not afraid. We were with a member of our creation family who happened to be a reptile.

That’s the point. We enter in relationship with creation when we are in it. “According to a study done by Hofstra University, most Americans are far less connected to nature than our parents and grandparents were… only 30% of their children play outdoors every day. In fact, children today spend 90% of their time indoors and they spend an average of 50 hours every week using electronic devices, according to the Children and Nature Network. Adults are increasingly disconnected from nature too.”

This is where we come in and why celebrating Creation Season is important (yes – you’ve converted me!). While we wear these body-clothes as Mary Oliver calls it, we are stewards of this creation to which we belong. But it’s hard to serve a relation you don’t even know.

So, as we walk through these 8 weeks of Creation Season, how can we as a church community, build relationships between ourselves, our community, and the creation in which we live? It matters to us – to our health and well-being. It matters to the part of creation in which we live; and it matters to the earth, because the well-being of our small part of creation is connected to the well-being of the whole earth.

Something for us to ponder together…

We have a plan that is developing for this Creation Season as people approach me offering to share their expertise and passion. We’ll be posting these opportunities as they finalize. I may be calling on some of you who have been recommended to me to ask you to consider sharing your wisdom and experience. Keep watch in the Coracle, our Facebook pages, and your emails.

In the meantime, let’s close with this prayer I found from Fiona Murdoch, from Eco-Congregation in Ireland

God of the universe,
We thank You for Your many good gifts -
For the beauty of Creation and its rich and varied fruits,
For clean water and fresh air, for food and shelter, animals and plants.
Forgive us for the times we have taken the earth's resources
for granted
And wasted what You have given us.
Transform our hearts and minds
So that we would learn to care and share,
To touch the earth with gentleness and with love,
Respecting all living things.
We pray for all those who suffer as a result of our waste,
greed and indifference,
And we pray that the day would come when everyone has enough
food and clean water.
Help us to respect the rights of all people and all species
And help us to willingly share your gifts
Today and always. Amen.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Pent 15, 2018: It's about cleansing our hearts

Lectionary: Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Note: if the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE for an alternative audio format.
En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

I’d like to begin today by sharing with you the wise words of an under-employed theologian: Calvin, from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Waterson. Calvin says, “You know what’s weird? Day by day, nothing changes, but pretty soon, everything is different.” Calvin is right in that it feels like we are who we’ve always been, but when we look back we realize God has been working in us and actually a lot has changed.

It's always been thus and it’s in community where we see this best. Our Judeo-Christian history shows us that the movement of the Spirit of God within us has led to an ongoing process of change and we can infer from our history that this will continue beyond us into the future.

An example of this is in today’s gospel from Mark. The topic is ritual hand-washing, but that isn’t the point of this story. The point is: how we respond to the difficulty of honoring what is tradition while allowing for the free movement of the Spirit in the world of the moment.

A word about ritual handwashing. It was not about germs but about humility. We must remember that in this moment of history there was no awareness of germs (that wasn’t until 1500 years later). The Torah requires only priests to do the ritual handwashing, but the tradition had developed over time to include everyone (male) to do it. The amount of water used wouldn’t have been enough to clean their hands as it was meant to cleanse their hearts.

It was ritual action, one we have kept and still use as part of our Eucharist. You may notice that the acolyte pours water over my hands before the consecration of our bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. As my hands are washed I offer up a prayer for our assembly taken from Psalm 51: Lord wash away our iniquities and cleanse us from our sins. Create in us clean hearts, O God, and renew a right spirit within us.”

The word “heart” in Hebrew refers to the womb, the interior of a person where new life is conceived and nourished. This is why when the Pharisees ask Jesus why his disciples don’t wash their hands according to the tradition of the elders Jesus calls them hypocrites and using tradition fires back: “This people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” (Isaiah)

Then turning away from the guardians of the tradition, Jesus addresses the whole crowd assembled and teaches them about the importance of the condition of their hearts. Evil, he says, doesn’t come from outside us but from within us. Evil is that which causes sorrow, pain, or harder labor/work. Remember Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.”

Evil comes from within and it can be thoughts or actions. Then Jesus names a few:

• lasciviousness – a thought: disrespecting another using sex as the means
• fornication – disrespecting another and one’s self using sex as the means

• covetousness – a thought: to want something that doesn’t belong to you
• theft – taking something that doesn’t belong to you
• adultery – taking someone that doesn’t belong to you
• murder – taking a life that doesn’t belong to you (since all life belongs to God)

• slander – making false or damaging statements about someone in order to harm their reputation
• blasphemy – doing the same thing about God and sacred things

• pride – a thought: giving ‘self’ priority over other, even over God. Pride is the opposite of humility, which characterized Jesus, his ministry, and one of the main purposes of our rituals – the cultivation of our humility. Pride leads to…
• folly. When we think unwisely, we tend to act unwisely.

These are the things that defile, Jesus says. We disrespect and violate ourselves, others, and God when we do these things so we must cleanse our hearts when any of these is present.

Jesus demonstrated by his life and ministry that while tradition has value, and the elders have wisdom to share, God is at work doing a new thing, because God is working out God’s plan of redemption for the whole world: all people, in all times and places. Continually examining the condition of our hearts is important if we are to participate with God in this.

Our whole tradition, the Christian tradition, is a new thing God worked through Jesus and the Jews in that time. It’s no wonder the leadership of his time resisted the changes.

Change is difficult, especially for the guardians of tradition. What if important traditions are lost? I’m sure the Pharisees worried about that when Jesus’ disciples dropped the handwashing tradition. Yet, here we are, still ritually washing our hands more than two millennia later.

God is the true keeper of tradition. No leader, no historian, no theologian decides which traditions will live and which must be let go for a time or forever. God decides this because only God knows the full plan of redemption.

As for us, Jesus teaches us to notice the condition of our hearts, the deep interior of our beings, where new life is conceived and nourished by God. When we find the presence of those things that defile within us, we are to repent – to ask God to cleanse our hearts and renew a right spirit within us.

Anglican theologian Evelyn Underhill says this about God’s re-creative work: “The coming of the Kingdom is perpetual. Again and again, freshness, novelty, power from beyond the world break in by unexpected paths bringing unexpected change. Those who cling to tradition and fear all novelty in God's relation to the world deny the creative activity of the Holy Spirit, and forget that what is now tradition was once innovation; that the real Christian is always a revolutionary, belongs to a new race, and has been given a new name and a new song.”

Beloved ones, this isn’t just an interim-time task. It’s an all-the-time task. As followers of Jesus we intentionally open ourselves to the movement of the Holy Spirit within us, trusting that our loving and merciful God is steadily working out a plan of redemption for the whole world – all people, in all times and places. Our only concern is faithfully participating in that plan as it is revealed to us in this moment of our collective history.

The church is supposed to be a place where the condition of our hearts can be examined safely within a community where love is practiced. When we find that we have gone astray, as individuals or as a community, we are supported in our repentance by a community that continually cultivates humility through our ritual practices. In this way, over time, we are able restore the priority of God’s will for us over our own.

Each time we review our history, as we will later this month in our first parish summit, we will see how God has worked in us, day by day, changing us, forming us, preparing us to participate in God’s plan of redemption in this moment of history, in this place in God’s kingdom.

I close with a prayer from another of my favorite Bishop Steven Charleston, the retired bishop of Alaska, retired Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and a member of the Choctaw nation: “Give your heart to love today, not to old thoughts of who you were, but to the new idea that your kindness could change another life. Give your mind to hope today, not to the usual list of impossibilities, but to a single faith that goodness is the purpose of history. Give your spirit to peace today, not to the anger of the moment, but to the welcoming road of grace that leads to the home for which you have longed. Give your hands to the work of justice today, not in resignation but in certainty, knowing that what you do will make an enormous difference.”