Sunday, December 1, 2013

Advent I: Incarnation and Transformation

This is the sermon I gave this morning in Anthony for Advent I, Matthew 24:36-44 -- Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming.

How I love the turning of the Church seasons!  It is comforting and deeply satisfying that winter follows autumn, just as surely as autumn followed summer, and that summer follows winter and spring, year after year, and that the Church on earth is attuned to and synchronized with the turning of the earthly seasons.  All these things are part of God's eternal plan of creation and incarnation, and of bringing all things back to himself in his own good time and way.  Creation, turning, and re-turning -- seasons of birth, of growing, of joy and of sorrow, of sowing and harvesting, of coming to fruition and of dying -- all these cycles move through God's time.
     Being created in God's image, we are called to participate consciously and intentionally with him in his great plan.  His love is to be fulfilled in the salvation of all his creation, not by force, but through the willing, freely-chosen and freely-given sacrificial human love returning his love back to him.  As we participate in God's plan by joining him in giving and receiving acts of love, we join with him in creating the person he meant each of us to be, and we assist him in the creation of each person we encounter in his Kingdom on Earth.
     In the Gospel story we read today (Matt 24:36-44), Jesus is trying to respond to his disciples' questions.  They have just come from the Temple, in which Jesus has had yet another very frustrating and disheartening encounter with the hierarchy of his own people, God's chosen ones, people of his own flesh and blood and who shared the religion and culture of his fathers and their fathers baack through the ages.  Of all people, you night think his religious leaders would understand the signs of the prophesies pointing to the coming of the Messiah, for whom they have been waiting and longing through generation after generation.  You would think, but you would be wrong.  They were not able to recognize one of their own sons as the one they were looking for.
     Instead, they came to hear him for the specific purpose of trying to trap him into making a statement they could use against him.  He responded by preaching in the most forthright way he had ever done, interpreting to them the signs of the coming Messiah.  Finally, in frustration, Jesus angrily predicted to them the fall of the Temple, and then turned and went away weeping, wishing he could be a mother hen and gather them safely under his wings, wishing he could fulfill the longing that generations of the people of Israel had expressed, that he would gather them under the pinions of his wings to be sheltered and protected.  How unutterably sad that they were not able to comfort one another, God's people and their Lord.
     The events beginning with the birth of Jesus, and culminating in the destruction of the Temple 40 or so years after Jesus' death and resurrection, mark a great turning in the history of the salvation of the world, from the Mosaic age to the Messianic age; from the covenant of the law of Moses to the new covenant of salvation and redemption through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God and Son of Man, our Emmanuel, God with us.
     Having witnessed the scene at the Temple, and having heard Jesus' predictions and felt his despair, the disciples were bewildered and confused.  They did not know how to understand what they had just seen and heard, so they turned to their Master to explain things.  He patiently told them again of the coming events of his suffering, death, and resurrection, as well as the suffering and death all those will face who follow him.  This Messianic kingdom will be difficult and full of suffering, but also joyful and triumphant for those who walk in the way of Christ.  In the passage for today's Gospel reading, Jesus promises that he will indeed return at the end of this coming age.  Some people will be prepared for his coming, and some will not.
     People of the early Church understood him to mean that he would be coming back in their lifetime, not understanding that he was talking about the completion of the age of the law of Moses.  The destruction of the Temple did indeed occur within the lifetime of many of the people he was talking to.  This destruction  and the ruthless attack upon the Jewish people of Jerusalem marked the end of the sacrifices at the Temple, as quite literally, there was no more Temple.  The Romans overran Jerusalem suddenly and unexpectedly, slaughtering random people right in the midst of their daily lives.  The Jewish people still alive were forced to flee Jerusalem, scattering throughout the known world.
     In the next age, the age of the Messiah, the time of the covenant of our salvation through the blood of Christ, (the one we are in now), we are told to be preparing for the second coming of Christ.  In the text following today's reading, we can read that we must prepare for his coming by participating in the forwarding of his Kingdom on earth.  We are to participate by functioning as Christ's earthly body until his coming again in the flesh at the end of this new age.
     Clearly, Jesus could not have intended to demand that we must never sleep.  That statement is a metaphor meaning that we are never to stop functioning as his living body, the Holy Church.  He tells us to be faithful in preparing for his coming again.  And what are we told to do to prepare?  In the next few passages of the text he explains that we are to be God's faithful slaves, doing his will, performing the work he has given us to do, and doing it to the best of our ability, for at the end we will be accountable to him for what we have done or failed to do.
     Listen again to the prophesy of the Messianic Kingdom in the words of Isaiah (2:1-5):  "...all nations will stream to the house of the Lord, that he may teach us his ways, and that we may walk in his paths."  And further, "For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.  O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!"  You see, this will be the outcome if we, the Church, follow our Lord's commandment to bring the Gospel to all the world.  Listen to the words of today's Psalm (122) -- We will bring the world into the house of the Lord, to the New Jerusalem, where we will prosper and live in peace together.  
     And listen to the words of the letter to the Romans (13:8-14) "The one who loves another has fulfilled the law."  We are exhorted to awaken from sleep -- "The night is far gone, the day is near...."  We are called to lay aside the works of darkness and put upon ourselves the armor of light, that is, to lay aside pettiness, licentiousness, jealousies, and all selfishness, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
     If we are obedient to our calling to turn away from living to satisfy or to gratify our own selfish desires, and turn toward the light of Christ, and do selfless works of love in his Holy Name, a transformation will occur.  We will become more and more the person God created the potential for us to become.  We will be transformed more and more into our real selves, joyful in loving relationship with God.  This incarnation of our true selves through the love of Christ is the theme of the wonderful Christmas folk legends.  Listen again to some of these stories and see how acts of love and worship of the baby Christ transform all members of creation into their true selves.  

The Legend of the Robin's Red Breast
A little brown bird shared Bethlehem's stable with the holy family. One night as the family lay sleeping, she noticed their fire was going out. So she flew down from the rafters and fanned the fire with her wings throughout the night in order to keep the baby Jesus warm. In the morning, she was rewarded with a red breast as a symbol of her love for the newborn king.

 The Legend of the Lamb's Woolly Coat
A lamb named BaBa lived in the stable at Bethlehem. One night as the holy family slept, BaBa crept up to the manger to watch the baby sleep. While she watched, BaBa noticed how thin the infant's blanket was and that he was shivering from the cold. Filled with love for the child, BaBa warmed him with her own body throughout the night. When Jesus touched her rough, shaggy coat, it was transformed into a beautiful soft wool coat.

 The Legend of the Donkey's Bray
After hiding in Egypt for some years, Joseph decided to move his family back to Nazareth. During the night they camped along the side of the road. One night while they slept, their donkey heard the soldiers' horses coming from afar. Afraid that the soldiers were coming to kill Jesus, the donkey neighed to wake Joseph. He neighed and neighed, again and again, but his voice was just too soft to wake the sleepers. Finally, as the soldiers approached, the donkey prayed for a loud voice to wake the family. When he neighed again, he was rewarded with the loud bray such as donkeys have had ever since.

 The Legend of the Camel's Hump 
In order to visit the newborn king, the three wise men traveled with a caravan across many miles of desert. Traveling as quickly as they could, to reach the baby before the star departed, they neglected to carry enough water for both man and beast. The wise men asked the camels to travel without water until the end of their journey so they might reach the baby in time. The camels were agreeable and raced across the desert without rest or water. When they finally reached the stable, the camels worshipped the baby and thanked God for giving them the strength for their waterless journey. Drinking their fill from the stable's trough, the camels were rewarded with humps to keep them from thirsting in the desert.

The Legend of the Poinsettia

In one village in Mexico it was customary for each person to place a gift on the altar of the church for the baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. But one small child had no gift.  An angel told that child to take some dried up weeds he would find along the road to the church. When the child placed the weeds on the altar for the Christ child, they turned into the first poinsettia. Since then the flower has been called "The Flower of the Holy Night" or "Flor de la Noche Buena".

 You see, each time one of God’s creatures enters into relationship with the Christ Child and performs an act of love, that creature becomes transformed in a way toward becoming more distinctively itself.  Just as you, my dear ones, also participate in the incarnation by becoming more and more the one God created you to be, each time you perform an act of love in his Holy Name.  Each time you give or receive an act of love in Christ’s name, you participate in the body of Christ, acting to usher in the Kingdom of God on earth.  In the words of the Prophet Isaiah:
Canticle 11 The Third Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 60:1-3, 11a, 14c, 18-19Surge, illuminare
…over you the Lord will rise, *
and his glory will appear upon you.
Nations will stream to your light, *
and kings to the brightness of your dawning.
Your gates will always be open; *
by day or night they will never be shut….
…..The Lord will be your everlasting light, *
and your God will be your glory.

This is how you ready yourself for the second coming of Christ, not in fear, but in obedience, and with loving adoration and joy.  Amen.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Coco the Cockatiel

Coco the cockatiel died in Seattle yesterday. He was a sincere and earnest little bird, who loved to sing with our women's singing group, Voci Femine. His favorite song was Cindy Lauper, True Colors. He knew that his true colors were yellow and orange and gray, and loved to sing about it. He liked to call, "Ricky, Ricky!" He also could knock and imitate our neighbor Patty Ann coming in the door and saying, "Hello!"

He liked to think about what he might be when he grew up. Maybe become a businessman and carry a little briefcase under his wing. Or a cowboy and have boots and a hat. His favorite, though, was train conductor. He was very good at punching tickets with his beak.

His most scary Hallowe'en book was "The Bad Seed." He never read it, but nevertheless, he just thought that the whole idea was spooky.  

He was preceded in death by his friend Miss Flora.  Survivors include Miss Annabelle Lee (aka Orphan Annie, or Dr. Woo).

Hail to thee, blithe spirit.
Bird thou never wert--
That from heaven or near it
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know;
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow,
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.

Let Elias which is the innocency of the Lord rejoice with the Dove.

Let Asaph rejoice with the Nightingale -- The musician of the Lord! and the watchman of the Lord!
Let Shema rejoice with the Glowworm, who is the lamp of the traveller and mead of the musician.

Let Jeduthun rejoice with the Woodlark, who is sweet and various.

Let Chenaniah rejoice with Chloris, in the vivacity of his powers and the beauty of his person.

Let Gideoni rejoice with the Goldfinch, who is shrill and loud, and full withal.

Let Giddalti rejoice with the Mocking-bird, who takes off the notes of the Aviary and reserves his own.

Let Jogli rejoice with the Linnet, who is distinct and of mild delight.

Let Benjamin bless and rejoice with the Redbird, who is soft and soothing.

Let Dan rejoice with the Blackbird, who praises God with all his heart, and biddeth to be of good cheer.
(Christopher Smart)

Are you such a pretty little bird?
Bye-bye, Coco. Bye-bye little Birdie.
Good night, sweet Coco.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Adventures in Bulgaria, Part Two: Daily life

Every morning I wake up when the sun shines into my window over the top of the grape arbor, which is level
with the house below   My room is up a flower-lined flight of stairs, and has also an outside room where I can sit and have coffee, paint, and read the daily offices.  I have Bulgarian coffee every morning, which is like Greek or Turkish coffee, except that they put in more water, so it's kind of like a cafe Americano, except way, way better.  In this photo of the table, you will see the Bulgarian coffee pot.  You will also see a jar of jam Ginche made from peaches out of their orchard.  Today, though, breakfast was strawberry jam,served with crepes and goat cheese.  Yummy!!
Then I can walk across the street to Michael and Stella's courtyard to hook up with the internet and catch up on emails and facebook and write this blog. It's a wonderful place to study for my first class this fall, on Liturgics.  The silly little computer I bought doesn't seem to have any program for typing documents, so I'm writing my first paper by hand. This picture is looking up and across the street from Georgi and Ginche's gate   Stella and Michael's is where you see the white house up on the left side of the street.  They have a peach orchard behind their fence, which is just beginning to drop ripe peaches.
On the left of this view of their courtyard is a stone sink and a flower and vegetable garden.  Above is the grape arbor, shading the courtyard.  I think that just about everyone here has a grape arbor.  In Bulgaria they don't waste any space on grass.  Every square centimeter is planted in something productive, so the overhead shade yields grapes, which are put to good use in making wine and rakia (distilled from fruit wine, such as peach, plum, or grape).  It's like brandy, only has a lovely real fruit flavor behind its high octane fire-water!

Ginche and Georgi and probably everyone who lives
in small-town Bulgaria, not only have a sink outside, but also cook outside.  For small things, such as making soup or coffee or crepes, they use a propane tank that has a burner on top of it.  For larger things, such as for canning pickles, they use a bigger woodburning stove.  Here you see the seven jars of pickles cooling on top of a tree stump, with the stove and the steaming canner behind.  They put in onion, peppercorns, and dill, then pack in the little cuumbers, then salt and vinegar, and more dill on top, fill the jars with water, and clamp on the sterilized one-piece lids with rubber seals inside them, and process the filled jars in the canner, bringing to a boil and boiling for 20-25 minutes, just as we would do.  I can't wait to try this recipe to see how it tastes with onion and peppercorns instead of garlic.  I'll bet they are really good!!  We live in the courtyards and only go in to get things we need
to bring out for setting the table or tools for working.  The rooms are cool for sleeping, because the houses are built of adobe and well shaded.  Here you see the table where we eat every meal, and behind it is the sink.  Then behind the courtyard wall is an outer courtyard and the barns.  They have chickens, turkeys, two dogs, a pig, and a goat.  Absolutely nothing is wasted.  The dinner plates are scraped into a bucket with the water used to rinse them, and this is fed to the pig.  Peelings and other scraps are fed to the chickens & turkeys, and meat scraps are fed to the dogs.  The outer courtyard is swept every day, and you do not wear your street shoes into the inner courtyard, but have flip-flops or slippers.  We take even these off to go barefoot in the house.  Everything is immaculate and beautiful.  The table cloth we use every day, for example, has hand-crocheted lace around the hem.  This is not unlike the Kingman County farm culture I grew up in, and which some of you Kingman folks will recognize.

So, dear friends, I am learning Bulgarian as fast as I can.  I have learned the sounds of all the Cyrillic letters, the numbers up to five, the colors, and the names of all the fruits, vegetables, and animals we are growing and eating.  I am sure that when I come home, you will see me healthy from living here.  At first they wouldn't let me help do the work, but Ginche and Georgi were getting worn out and I was getting bored silly.  Stella had to explain to them that Americans like to help with the work when they visit, and don't like it if they aren't allowed to.  This allowed them to allow me to do it, and we are all much happier now.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Advenures in Bulgaria: Part One

Bulgaria is full of generous and kind-hearted people.  The couple I am staying with in the village of Barzitsa
have been more than kind to me.  Since they don't speak English and I don't speak Bulgarian, we are communicating by mime, which has worked surprisingly well, except for one faux pas on my part.  They had planned a special day trip for me, but when they told me about it, I thought they were saying they were going somewhere for the day.  I didn't understand that I was invited to go, too, so when they were ready to go, I was heading out the door to go somewhere else!  Whoops!  After they explained again, I quickly changed plans and got into the car with them.  Georgi had even washed the car!

 We drove up a mountain road to a resort hotel in the woods.  We got out and walked down a stone trail into the woods.  After a time we came to a kind of bunker, or cave dug into the ground, where someone had lived for over a year after having to parachute into enemy territory during the War.  It had a bed in one corner, and a fire pit in the other.  Outside was a hollow tree where the man had collected rain water to drink.  That was all that we were able to communicate by mime, other than it all had something to do with the Russians.  It is a fascinating place, and I look forward to learning more about this when I can find a source in English.

They wanted to take me to another place in the woods, but it had been closed off, apparently because it is a protected site that collects water for Varna.  On the way home we stopped at a magazine, which is a little store that has absolutely everything:  meat, cheeses, produce, bread, milk, produce, packaged food, and I even spotted Four Roses American Bourbon.  My hosts purchased some sausages, cheeses, and a watermelon.  Then we stopped at another store and purchased some beer.  We drove home again and had a beautiful late lunch in their courtyard under the grape arbor.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Ordination to the Diaconate/Death of my Mother

I'm in Bulgaria now, resting.  The last few weeks before I left for vacation took me through an amazing journey.  Before I finished my work for the year as a school psychologist, I was called to my mother's bedside, as it was thought that she might not live through the night.  Then each hour for the next two and a half weeks was thought to be probably her last.  I had to leave her side to go to the Cathedral in Salina to be ordained, thinking that I would not see her again.

The ordination was the most beautiful, spirit-filled experience -- beyond imagination.  I spent some quiet time in a small chapel before the service, numb with what might have been grief, had I been feeling it, but also full of adoration of my God, who has called me to be a deacon in his church.  Suddenly, light came flooding through a window over my shoulder, bathing the chapel in brilliant colors.  I looked up, and there was the Holy Archangel Michael standing over my shoulder, protecting me and all who pray in this place.  There are only three things I really remember from the ordination.  One was the laying on of hands.  I could feel the warmth of the Holy Spirit coming through the Bishop's hands into my head, and spreading throughout my whole body.

Another was receiving communion after the ordination.  It was a receiving into the Church and a blessing by the Church of what has been happening to me -- a recognition that this is where I belong, that I finally have come into God's will for me.  And above all, that I am in communion with Christ, my Lord and my King.

The last, and most vivid, thing I remember is administering the chalice to the people of my diocese.  It was as though I were an instrument in Christ's hands, indeed, a part of his body.  All the rest of the ordination is a blur.  Good thing people took lots of pictures!

Then when I went back to my mother's house, she was still alive, waiting to see me a deacon.  I modeled the black shirt and round collar for her.  She seemed pleased, but continued to live on, hour after hour and day after day.  She thought I was her mother, and wanted me to hold her hand all the time, day and night.  I had several nights of serious praying, asking God at first if he didn't want to speed this up a little, though of course, it was his will, not mine that I wanted.  I'm not telling you what to do, Father, just telling you how I feel, as if you didn't already know, but it feels good to tell it to you anyway. (You see, he puts up with a lot!)   Finally I got the message to stop whining and complaining and to line my will up with his, so that he could teach me some patience and compassion.  "Yes, Lord," is the only answer you can give when he talks to you like that, so sternly and so tenderly.  It makes you love him more, and love makes you want to do what he says.

The following night I felt her mother, my grandmother, holding my other hand.  I saw the transitional space between life and death, with my mother's two sisters and two brothers standing beside and behind their mother.  My father was there, but standing apart, watching over us all.  And beyond and above all of us stood Holy Michael, with his flaming sword, keeping us all safe during this time of vulnerability.  When the light of day came, I saw that my mother's face was grey and waxy, and that she had blood pooled in her legs, but still she was alive and alert to what was going on, though her eyes were closed and she did not have strength to speak.  She held to my hand, and held tighter when I started to let go. Finally, by afternoon, everyone else was out of the house, and somehow I knew to sing to her.  First I sang all the old songs my father used to sing to us, like Beautiful Dreamer, Red Wing, and Santa Lucia. Then I tried the Gospel songs her grandfather would have sung around the farm when mom was a girl.  Unfortunately, being an Episcopalian, I exhausted that repertoire pretty quickly!  Then I started WWII songs.  She smiled and looked more peaceful as I worked my way through everything I could remember of the Desert Song, then nearly all of South Pacific.  I did Sons of the Pioneers, including Cool, clear water, Don't fence me in, Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds.  Doris Day:  I sang Moon River and Sentimental Journey.  Finally I tried to sing Deep Purple to sound like a big band. She "got it," smiled, and let go.  She always loved to dance to the Big Band music....

Monday, February 25, 2013

Snowed In

The blizzard has arrived in full force.  Again.  Snow is pouring out of the sky and piling up on top of a foot of snow left from the 18-inch snow of a few days ago.  It hasn't snowed like this here since 1962.  I was a sophomore in high school.  We had an honors math class that had to be scheduled at 7:30 am, before school, so participants had to provide their own transportation.  Karen Hartley's mom, Doug Eisenhower's mom and mine had a car pool.  It was my mom's turn to drive.  When we got up, it seemed so DARK, and we felt SO TIRED.  But of course we got dressed, had breakfast, and got into the car to pick up the others and head for school.  It never would have occurred to any of us not to go.  Cars then were huge gas-guzzling boats with tailfins, V-8 engines, power steering and brakes, and an engine you could kick into overdrive at 90 mph if you needed an extra boost of power.  But they didn't handle very well in snow.  On the other hand, we all knew how to drive, including how to handle skidding.  So we slipped and slid to Karen's house.  When we got there, the house was dark.  They came to the door in bathrobes, and that was when we found out we were an hour early.  Somehow Mom had misread the clock, and everyone else had followed.  So we went back home, Mom adroitly avoiding the ditches, and all had a cup of hot chocolate.  An hour later we got back into the car and started again.  The snow was deeper this time, and the drive was a little dicier, but we got to Doug's, then to Karen's, where this time, we found out that the school had just announced closure.  So we took everybody home again, built a fire in the fireplace, and enjoyed an unexpected holiday.

Photo by Tina Gooden 2013  Red Cedar
Being snowed in makes you nostalgic.  When we were snowed in in 1962, Mom told us about the snow when she was a child, in the 1920's.  They lived on a farm south of Kingman and went to the Harmony School, a one-room school about a half mile east of their farm on the northeast corner, near a creek and a wooded area.  If it was snowing so hard, or if the snow was so deep they couldn't walk, they were allowed to ride Old Colonel.  When they got there, they slapped him on the rump and sent him home.  Then after school their dad would ride to the school to pick them up.

When the creek froze, they would go out during recesses and ice skate on it.  One or two of the "rich kids" had real ice skates, but most of them just skated in their shoes, and had a wonderful time.  Another favorite snow game was "fox and goose."  You go out on untracked snow and make a big circle.  Then you make cross-paths, like spokes in a wheel, with a big "axle" in the middle.  One person is the fox, and the rest are the geese, so it is a game of tag, except that you have to stay on the path.  The girls all wore headscarves that tied under the chin, and the boys had hats with earflaps.  The school was heated by a wood-burning stove, so the older boys got to help the teacher bring in the firewood and keep the stove fueled.  Mom said she went to school with some of the Nunnemakers and some of the Flickners.
Photo by Tina Gooden 2013  Sun Break with Cattle

Their dad always took good care of his livestock.  They stayed healthy and strong all winter long, no matter how cold it was.  He rode or took the wagon out to check on them, no matter what the weather, to keep them fed and watered, and to bring in any young ones (and their mothers) who needed more protection.  He was scornful of anyone who had any of their cattle "down" in the winter.  Funny thing about people.  The man who was called by some, "the meanest man in five counties," was always good to the animals.  The dogs loved him, and even the mules did what he told them to do.  When he went out to hunt a cottontail for dinner, he would carry only one bullet for his shotgun.  He said that if you couldn't kill a rabbit with one clean shot, then,  "by God, the rabbit deserved to live."

Photo by Tina Gooden 2013  Afternoon Break in the Storm
For me, today, the best thing about being snowed in is that God has given me an unexpected gift of time.  I have slept, have caught up on psych reports, am starting the paper for my Christian Ethics class today, and all the while, have been catching up with my family and friends on facebook, chat, email, and telephone.  So wonderful to be able to talk with them.  I miss them all so much.  What a sad commentary on our lives today that we don't have time for our own family and friends...  I suspect that Satan is at work here, keeping us distracted and separated from one another.  Pray to God that we may learn to rest in Him, where we surely will find one another.

I just LOVE Tina's photography.  Her work is for sale at very reasonable prices.  Take a look at her photos displayed on her facebook.  Search for Tina Gooden.  I am sure you will find something you would very much like to have.

And as always, I hope you will comment.  Tell us your own snow story.  Click on (number of) comments just below this.  If you don't know who to say you are, just say "anonymous," and if you would, please tell us your first name and say where you're from.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Road to Emmaus

Yesterday, Ash Wednesday, marked the beginning of this 2013 Lenten season.  As usual, I wrote and revised, fussed and fretted over my Lenten Rule, not making up my mind what to do until the last thing the night before.  Finally, with lots of help from my spiritual director, I decided to focus on learning to take better care of myself.  I am working such long hours at my day job, and studying nights and weekends for seminary, that by the time I get home I am too tired to do anything but eat and waste time.  So the rule begins with exercise, eating healthfully, getting enough sleep, and no computer games.  Of course it also includes the basics:  increased prayer, fasting, and quiet time.

This Lent will be a new experience for me because I have just discovered something wonderful that I suppose everyone else already knows.  Happens to me all the time -- I'm not so special as I might like to think!  Here's what happened:  Ever since I was a child, I have had the fantasy or the wish that there was someone watching over me or going with me who could truly understand what I was thinking and how I felt.  I know, this sounds obvious to you, but I had no idea. I grew up in a family of people who were unable to talk or listen to one another.  When I was in junior high, my girlfriends and I used to stay overnight at one another's houses, and since it was always a Saturday night, not a school night, we were allowed to stay up late and watch "Nightmare Theatre."  In those days TV went off the air at midnight during the week.  They used to play the national anthem and show a picture of the flag waving before the station went onto its test pattern until six in the morning.  But Saturday nights at midnight they showed old horror movies, like "The Invisible Man," "Frankenstein," or the one about the crazy magician who murdered people by burning them to ashes in a furnace.  So at slumber parties we ate popcorn and homemade fudge and drank Cokes and watched horror films.  One in particular had mad scientists in the basement of an old stone mansion doing brain dissections.  They had just discovered how language works, and were on the verge of being able to decode verbal information from the brain tissue (or something like that!).  Anyway, one of the mad scientists had a terminal disease, so they had an agreement that just before he died he was going to say the alphabet, so they could be sure they had the code right.  After he died, they dissected his brain, and sure enough, they were able to follow the alphabet for a few letters, until his thinking pattern changed, and they couldn't follow the alphabet any more.  Well, finally they broke the code and figured out that he was saying the Lord's Prayer, and the movie ended with the mad scientists agreeing that in all finality, communication with God is the only thing that matters.  We girls thought that ending was most satisfactory -- very spiritual and uplifting.

Being impressionable, imaginative, and sentimental girls, we thought it would be a great thing if someone really could read our minds and truly understand what we thought and how we felt, and would take us seriously.  Our seventh-grade science teacher was presenting a unit on how the brain works, so we thought maybe he could do that.  For awhile we all had a terrible crush on him, but sadly, he turned out to be disappointingly lacking in that kind of insight.

After a series of ultimately successful psychotherapies, I learned to talk and listen, but still harbored the wish that maybe someone could understand me and would think I was interesting and good.  I often sensed that someone was there.  Being an adult and a psychologist, however, I understood that was just a fantasy, a defense against mankind's ultimate existential loneliness.
Lelio Orsi (1511 - 1587)  Camino de Emaus

A couple of weeks ago I was receiving Holy Communion and thinking about Jesus being before me and behind me and to my right and left, above and beneath me, with me and within me, and in my heart.  I told him I loved him.  It is a wonderful thing to tell him that and to know that he knows it.  "Lord, Thou knowest."  He really does know.  Suddenly I had an experience like kind of a double exposure.  He was with me, but we were taking Communion together, tasting and taking in the body and blood of Christ.  It was the most companionable and joyful of experiences.  I told him, "Mmmm... you are delicious," and he said he knew it.  We both thought that was awfully funny and fun.  He was laughing and the wine was splashing and bubbling through me like the water of everlasting life.  That was when I realized that he is the One who has been walking with me all the time!  All my life!  I can't believe I didn't know.  What!!  All the time?  So!  That's who has been there, all the time!  Just like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I didn't recognize who I was with until we ate together and my eyes were opened.

Now we are on the road of Lent, walking toward the Crucifixion.  I want to shout at Jesus, "Don't go there!  You will get hurt!  Just don't do it!"  Of course I know he is going to do it as he always does, because God wants him to and he trusts God completely and loves us so much that he walks straight down that path.  Do you think it helps him to know that we are trying to go with him, so that he won't be so alone?  Sometimes we don't do such a good job, but still he knows we love him.  I do think that it might be so.  

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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Behold Your King

It was a white Christmas, after all, in every sense of the word, including serene, cleansing, purifying, radiant, and miraculous.  Going to school while working long hours made it impossible for me to prepare for Christmas until school was dismissed for Christmas vacation.  I decided that, instead of fighting exhaustion to shop, clean, decorate, wrap, send, and do Christmas cards, I would just tell everybody I was out of town.  It wasn't really a lie, because everybody knew I was there the whole time -- in Kingman you are tracked at all times by the location of your car.

Whenever you let down after working too hard, it is easy to get a case of the doldrums.  I felt every kind of petty, negative feeling you can feel.  I am sure you must know the kind of wrong thinking that you don't want to admit to anyone because it makes you look so unpleasant, bitter, small-minded, and mean.  I felt jealous, envious of people who have more time and money than I do, and certain that my friends didn't really like me, but were just being nice to me so they wouldn't hurt my feelings.  There are people who have done awful things to me and are continuing to do them, and I was feeling painfully aware of my inability to forgive, which was because I didn't really WANT to because I was afraid of what might happen if I did:  forgiveness is an invitation back into your life of someone you have been keeping at a distance in order to protect yourself.  I knew God wanted me to forgive, as he forgives me, but I really couldn't do it because I didn't want to get hurt any more.

So I prayed about it and went to bed feeling awful and bad and envious and unforgiving.  A year ago Christmas I prayed about the problem of not wanting to give my self-will over to God, and he gave me the finale from Gounod's Faust to learn.  I had to sing it over and over for a week until I could spit out all those fast little words in French.  I'm not so good in the high register either, so I had to shriek them out at the top of my lungs:  Dieu juste, a toi je m'abandonne!  Dieu bon je suis a toi, pardonne!  Well, THIS Christmas I received another answer in music.  This year it was "Be-ho-old your King!"  from O Holy Night, with full orchestra.  It was absolutely wonderful!  I looked up the words, sang the song, and realized that I had never really thought about praying to Christ as the King.  I must tell you it is a very satisfactory and invigorating thing to do!  The euphoria listed through Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Clara Martin and I decorated the church for Christmas:  Roses on the altar, ivy and pine boughs and (battery-powered) "candles" everywhere in the style of an old-fashioned country church.  I have to say it was beautiful.  I got to sing "O Holy Night" on Christmas Eve at Grace Church in Anthony.  Mother Mary Hixson asked me for it, saying it is her favorite carol.  When the Holy Spirit gets to work, things fall into place in amazing ways.

There are twelve days of Christmas, fortunately for me, so I had time to get the packages sent to my children and grandchildren.  On the other hand, this also gave me plenty of time to let the idea of Christ my King percolate.  It occurred to me that if Christ is my King and he tells me to forgive someone, there is no wiggle room.  If he really is my King, I have to do what he tells me to do.  Period.  Great.  If you are praying the daily offices, you end up saying the Lord's Prayer several times a day, so the pressure to forgive others as he forgives us never lets up.  I decided it didn't mean that we are only forgiven if we forgive others; it means that we are to learn to follow his example and forgive others as he does us.  And furthermore, I am sure he would help me do it if he's telling me to do something that's too hard for me to do by myself.  "I will, with God's help" is one of the most helpful phrases in the whole Book of Common Prayer.

So I had a little conference with Warren at Eighth Day Books, and he helped me find a book to read on the subject of forgiveness.  I got right to work on it.  I prayed about it with my spiritual director, and told my Bishop about it.  I talked it over with my   friends, and with my cousin Evelyn and her husband.  I prayed about it -- Jesus and I had several rather difficult chats on the topic of forgiveness, and a few times jealousy and envy and other unpleasant and petty subjects came up, as well.  I could not tell you when it began to happen, but gradually I noticed that the vise-like grip this evil had on my heart had loosened a little.  I'm not saying it's over or that I'm finished, but I am beginning to see something very important -- Here's the surprising thing:  forgiving people who are hurting you does not make you get hurt more.  It's probably true that you are more vulnerable to what they want to do to you, but at the same time, you aren't so hurt by what they do, because it isn't about you any more.  You don't need to try to control them.  They can and will continue to do hurtful things to you, but they don't really hurt you.  When Christ is your King, he protects you from real harm, so that the things they do don't touch you in any way that is important, that is, in any way that harms your immortal soul.  Christ is the King over all suffering and death, as well as King of forgiveness.  Such freedom!  Such joy!  Such purity and radiance!  Behold your King!  Worship and adore him, for he really is your Shield and your Strength and your Rock, your Savior and your Armor of Light!