The Jazz Gospel

April 16th, 2024 by Dave No comments »

Jazz helps us be sensitive to the whole range of existence. Far from offering us rose-colored glasses … it realistically speaks of sorrow and pain…. Jazz stimulates us to feel deeply and truthfully…. Jazz thunders a mighty “yes.”
—Alvin L. Kershaw, “Religion and Jazz”   

CAC teacher Barbara A. Holmes writes of the spirit of possibility that is present in those creating and listening to jazz:   

When Miles Davis blows the cacophony that can barely be contained by the word song, we come closest to the unimaginable, the potential of the future, and the source of our being. Yet, jazz musicians will tell you that improvisation is risky business. They will also tell you, as [John] Coltrane did, that sometimes they receive their inspiration from divine sources. When you listen to Coltrane, you hear beyond the notes. You hear the old neighborhood and the folks we left behind emerge behind half notes. The straining trumpet blasts away the illusion that our upward mobility will bring peace.  

But while jazz challenges and prods us, it also takes us to church.… [Historian] Martin E. Marty [observed] that the key to understanding links between worship and jazz is subsumed in the word awe. This is an emotion that is accessible to everyone. He says that “jazz can erupt in joy.” [1] Joy infused with the riffs of awe tends to be unspeakable.… 

Art also carves pathways toward our inner isles of spirituality. When we decide to live in our heads only, we become isolated from the God who is closer than our next breath. To subject everything to rational analysis reduces the awe to ashes. The restoration of wonder is the beginning of the inward journey toward a God who people of faith aver is always waiting in the seeker’s heart. For some, the call to worship comes as joy spurts from jazz riffs. [2]  

Jazz pianist and minister William Carter describes how jazz can help us pray:  

I have a high view of instrumental music as a potential spiritual gift for the listener and the musician alike.… A jazz quartet can utter things in the presence of God that mere words fail to say. A saxophone can lament on behalf of those who feel helpless. A piano may offer intercessions for those who are in need. A string bass can affirm the firm foundation of faith. Drums and cymbals may call pilgrims to break into joy.  

Poet Ron Seitz has spoken about how, as a young man, he befriended writer and theologian Thomas Merton…. Seitz tells of the night he went with Merton to a jazz club in Louisville. [3] As the group began to play, Merton leaned over to whisper, “They’re going to start talking to each other now. Listen.” Then he moved closer to the bandstand to get a better look. Later, returning with his eyes wide, he said to Seitz, “Now that’s praying. That’s some kind of prayer! The new liturgy. Really, I’m not kidding.”

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Trading Places
The first body-swap movie was Disney’s Freaky Friday in 1976 starring a teenage Jody Foster who trade bodies with her mother. The success of Freaky Friday resulted in a steady flow of body-swap films ever since. The gimmick may have started as a family comedy, but it has expanded into sci-fi, action, horror, animation, and even dramas. Sometimes the body-switchers are a child and parent, male and female, a human and an animal, or two enemies. Whatever the details, the body-switching genre remains popular because it provides storytellers with a shortcut to empathy. It’s the quickest way to get a character to see life through another’s eyes by having them literally walk in someone else’s shoes.

While technically not a body-switching story, by the end of 2 Kings 5 Naaman and Gehazi did switch bodily afflictions. And a careful reading of the chapter reveals the two men swapped much more. After lying to Naaman to steal his wealth, Gehazi was confronted by Elisha for his treachery. “Is this the time to take money or to accept clothes—or olive groves and vineyards, or flocks and herds, or male and female slaves?” Gehazi only stole Naaman’s silver and clothing. So, why did Elisha mention groves, vineyards, flocks, and slaves?To understand Elisha’s rebuke we must remember the beginning of the story. Naaman was identified as “a great man” and the leader of Syria’s armies. He often invaded and plundered Israel’s territory. He was responsible for taking Israel’s land, flocks, and even its people.

Remember, Naaman first learned about Elisha from an Israelite girl he had captured, trafficked, and enslaved. Throughout the first part of the story, before his healing, Naaman is depicted as an arrogant, powerful, and greedy man.After his healing, however, Naaman was transformed. He was humble and generous. He repeatedly called himself Elisha’s “servant,” and he gave his full allegiance to Israel’s God in gratitude for his mercy. Naaman’s cleansed character was even evident when the scheming Gehazi approached his caravan. Verse 21 says Naaman “got down from the chariot to meet him.” For a general of Naaman’s stature to come down from his chariot was a gesture of deep respect and humility. For Naaman to do this for Gehazi, a lowly servant, and a foreigner was even more impressive.

While Naaman had been cleansed of his arrogance and greed and not merely his leprosy, by the end of the story we see these sins abundantly in Gehazi. His pride and self-righteousness made him think he was entitled to take Naaman’s wealth. He used deceit and manipulation to swindle the Syrian general, and he attempted to cover up his crime by lying to Elisha. By referencing the kind of things Naaman used to plunder in war—olive groves, vineyards, flocks, herds, and slaves—Elisha was indicating that the arrogance and greed that once marked Naaman’s heart had now infected Gehazi’s. Therefore, the prophet declared that the disease that had marked Naaman’s skin would now infect Gehazi’s as well.

In these final verses, we finally discover the real point of the entire chapter—it’s essentially a body-swap story. Naaman and Gehazi traded places. The prideful man was humbled, and the humble servant was prideful. The sick man was healed, and the healthy man was diseased. The gentile honored the name of YHWH, and the Israelite betrayed the name of YHWH. The foreigner was blessed by the prophet, and the Israelite was cursed by the prophet. The Syrian was cured of leprosy, and the Israelite was inflicted with leprosy. God accepted one of Israel’s enemies, and he rejected one of Israel’s sons. As we’ll see in the days ahead, just like body-swap movies, this surprising reversal was intended to challenge the assumptions of God’s people and grow their empathy.

DAILY SCRIPTURE
LUKE 16:19-25 
2 KINGS 5:1-27


WEEKLY PRAYERfrom Basil of Caesarea (330 – 379)

May the Father of the true light—who has adorned day with heavenly light, who has made the fire shine which illuminates us during the night, who reserves for us in the peace of a future age a spiritual and everlasting light—enlighten our hearts in the knowledge of truth, keep us from stumbling, and grant that we may walk honestly as in the day. Thus we will shine as the sun in the midst of the glory of the saints.
Amen.

Art Leads Us to the Depths

April 14th, 2024 by Dave No comments »

Richard Rohr describes how art can serve as a gateway to mystical experience and deeper knowing: 

There must be a way to be both here and in the depth of here. Jesus is the here, Christ is the depth of here. This, in my mind, is the essence of incarnation, and the gift of contemplation. We must learn to love and enjoy things as they are, in their depth, in their soul, and in their fullness. Contemplation is the “second gaze” through which we see something in its particularity and yet also in a much larger frame. We know it by the joy it gives.   

Two pieces of art have given me this incarnational and contemplative insight. The first is called The Ascension of Christ by Hans von Kulmbach (c. 1480–1522). It portrays the two human feet of Jesus at the very top of a large painting of the Ascension. Most of the canvas is taken up by the apostles, who are drawn up with Christ through their eyes, as his feet move off the top of the painting, presumably into the spiritual realms. The image had a wonderful effect on me. I too found myself looking beyond the painting toward the ceiling of the art museum. It was a mystical moment—one that simultaneously took me beyond the painting and right back into the room where I was standing.  

The second piece of art is a small bronze statue of St. Francis, located in the upper basilica of Assisi, Italy. Created by a sculptor whose name is hidden, the statue shows Francis gazing down into the dirt with awe and wonder, which is quite unusual and almost shocking. The Holy Spirit, who is almost always pictured as descending from above, is pictured here as coming from below—even to the point of being hidden in the dirt! God is hidden in the dirt and mud instead of descending from the clouds. This is a major transposition of place. Once we know that the miracle of “Word made flesh” has become the very nature of the universe, we cannot help but be both happy and holy. What we first of all need is here!  

Both these pieces of art put the two worlds together, but from different perspectives. Yet in both images, it is the Divine that takes the lead in changing places. Maybe artists have easier access to this Mystery than many theologians. I doubt if we can see the image of God (imago Dei) in our fellow humans if we cannot first see it in rudimentary form in stones, in plants and flowers, in strange little animals, in bread and wine, and most especially cannot honor this objective divine image in ourselves. It is a full-body tune-up, this spiritual journey. It really ends up being all or nothing, here and then everywhere.   

The Transformative Power of Art

Father Richard shares his contemplative practice of visiting art museums: 

I believe good art has the power to evoke an epiphany. Sometimes, when we can’t take our eyes off a picture or work of art, an epiphany is happening. We don’t yet know what we’re knowing while the wisdom of the unconscious is being ferried across to the conscious mind. Carl Jung said great art presents an “archetypal image.” [1] On one of my very first speaking trips away from Cincinnati, I visited the St. Louis Art Museum. They had an exhibit of Claude Monet’s water lilies; some paintings took up the whole wall. It was a quiet weekday afternoon, and as I went from room to room, I found myself getting quieter and happier, quieter and happier. When I walked out into the sunshine after the exhibit, I felt like I floated home. I wasn’t waiting for an epiphany, but I think I was granted one anyway. I don’t know that I had a new piece of doctrinal information or theological insight, but the experience connected me to something deep and true within. To this day when I’m in a city and have some time free, I go to an art museum. 

Folk artist and Living School alumna Lourdes Bernard writes:  

Art invites audiences to consider the spirituality and transformative power of images. Engaging art offers respite, contemplation, even as it shares powerful, inspiring, or difficult stories. Art images are real and alive and have the power to change us and cause change.… They can shift our perspective on what we thought we knew and understood about a subject. Too often, art is considered decorative, and it is significantly more than that. Engaging with art means we have to slow down to allow a new experience to enter which perhaps cannot be accessed in another way. It can be an expansive experience. [2] 

Richard continues: 

I believe good art, good poetry, and true mythology communicates, without our knowing it, that life is not just a series of insulated, unrelated events. The great truths—when they can be visualized in images—reveal deep patterns, and reveal that we are a part of them. That deeply heals us, and it largely happens beneath our conscious awareness. A great story pulls us inside of a cosmic story. If we’re Christian, our cosmic story is the map of the life of Jesus, the divine conception, ordinary life, betrayal, abandonment, rejection, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. It all comes full circle. We might not really believe it. We might not have surrendered to it or trust it, but if we can, it makes us much happier people. Our happiness is on a surface level, of course, because suffering is everywhere. We don’t close our eyes to the world’s pain, but on a deep, unconscious level, a cosmic story offers us healing and coherence. Good art gives us a sense that we belong in that story, we belong in that world.  

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Second-Guessing God’s Mercy
If Naaman’s story ended in verse 19, we might assume it was included in the Bible to illustrate the superiority of Israel’s God. After all, he healed Naaman’s leprosy when no foreign gods could. Or we might think the story was intended to foreshadow the day when people far beyond Israel’s borders would give the Lord their allegiance and worship. These ideas are certainly present, but it’s the conclusion of Naaman’s story (verses 20-27) that contains a surprising twist and the primary lesson of the chapter.As Naaman’s caravan heads back to Syria, we are introduced to a new character named Gehazi. He was Elisha’s servant. He disagreed with Elisha’s refusal to accept any of Naaman’s gold or silver. “My master was too easy on Naaman, this Syrian, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.”Gehazi’s words reveal that his disagreement with Elisha’s decision not to take Naaman’s wealth was all about identity. He belittles Naaman’s identity and elevates his own. Gehazi is an Israelite, one of God’s chosen, covenant people. He worships YHWH; the God who lives. Naaman, on the other hand, is dismissed as “this Syrian,” an idol-worshipping gentile. In other words, Gehazi believed his status as an Israelite entitled him to take something from this foreigner.Beyond being a gentile, Naaman was introduced at the beginning of the story as the leader of Syria’s armies. In this role, he often invaded and plundered God’s people. Gehazi may have seen Naaman’s offer of gold and silver as an opportunity to take back the wealth that rightfully belonged to Israel. It wasn’t just greed that motivated Gehazi, but vengeance. Why Elisha would pass up the chance to plunder the man who had plundered his people was inconceivable to Gehazi. So, he makes a vow, in YHWH’s name, to “get something from” this Syrian. Gehazi would self-righteously do for his people what Elisha did not.Gehazi fits a pattern we see throughout the Bible of self-righteous characters chafing against God’s mercy. Jonah is a vivid example. When the Lord extended mercy to the city of Nineveh, “it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.” “This is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish,” Jonah complained, “for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Jonah then asked the Lord to take his life: “For it is better for me to die than to live.” The melodramatic prophet was so angry at God’s mercy that he would rather die than live in a world where his enemies are forgiven.And Jesus illustrates this attitude again in his parable about the prodigal son in Luke 15. When the rebellious younger son came home, and the father embraced him and threw a celebration, the older son was livid. “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” (Luke 15:29-30).Like Jonah and the older son, Gehazi carried a sense of superiority because of his identity. I am righteous; he is a sinner. We are God’s chosen people; they are idol-worshipping pagans. Therefore, I am entitled to God’s mercy and blessings; they are not. Interestingly, the outcome of this self-righteous arrogance is not revealed by Jesus in his parable, nor is Jonah’s fate revealed. Both stories end without resolution. But not Gehazi’s. His fate serves as a clear warning to those who would second-guess God’s mercy.

DAILY SCRIPTURE
JONAH 4:1-4 
2 KINGS 5:1-27


WEEKLY PRAYERfrom Basil of Caesarea (330 – 379)

May the Father of the true light—who has adorned day with heavenly light, who has made the fire shine which illuminates us during the night, who reserves for us in the peace of a future age a spiritual and everlasting light—enlighten our hearts in the knowledge of truth, keep us from stumbling, and grant that we may walk honestly as in the day. Thus we will shine as the sun in the midst of the glory of the saints.
Amen.

A True Encounter

April 12th, 2024 by JDVaughn No comments »

True encounter with Christ liberates something in us, a power we did not know we had, a hope, a capacity for life, a resilience, an ability to bounce back when we thought we were completely defeated, a capacity to grow and change, a power of creative transformation.
—Thomas Merton, He Is Risen 

Father Richard teaches that the essence of contemplative prayer is presence and love: 

Prayer is not primarily saying words or thinking thoughts. It’s an encounter and a life stance. It’s a way of living in the Presence, with awareness of the Presence, and even enjoying the Presence. Fully contemplative people are more than aware of Divine Presence; they trust, allow, and delight in it.  

The contemplative secret is learning to live in the now, which is not as empty as it might appear to be or that we fear it may be. Try to realize that everything is right here, right now and God is in this moment in a non-blaming way. When we’re able to experience that, taste and enjoy it, we don’t need to hold on to it.  

Because most of our moments are not tasted or in the Presence, we are never full. We create artificial fullness and want to hang on to that. But there’s nothing to hold on to when we begin to taste the fullness of now. God is either in this now or God isn’t at all. If the now has never been sufficient, we’ll always be grasping. Here is a litmus test: if we’re pushing ourselves and others around, we haven’t yet found the secret of happiness. This moment is as full of the Divine Presence as it can be.  

The present moment has no competition; it’s not judged in comparison to any other. It has never happened before and will not happen again. But when I’m in competition, I’m not in love. I can’t get to love because I’m looking for a new way to dominate. The way we know this mind is not the truth is that God does not deal with us like this. Mystics, those who really pray, know this. Those who enter deeply into the great mystery do not experience a God who compares, differentiates, and judges. They experience an all-embracing receptor, a receiver who recognizes the divine image in each and every individual. 

For Jesus, prayer seems to be a matter of waiting in love. Returning to love. Trusting that love is the deepest stream of reality. That’s why prayer isn’t primarily words; it’s primarily an attitude, a stance. That’s why Paul could say, “Pray always; pray unceasingly” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). If we read that as requiring words, it’s surely impossible. We’ve got lots of other things to do. We can pray unceasingly, however, if we find the stream and know how to wade in its waters. The stream will flow through us; all we have to do is keep choosing to stay there. 

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5 For Friday: John Chaffee

1.
“I have renounced spirituality to find God.”

  • Thomas Merton, Catholic Monk and Activist
     
    Thomas Merton frequents these Friday newsletters, I know, I know.

You can’t deny it, though, this one is still just golden.  It is almost a Christian version of a Koan…

It is not that someone “gives up faith” to find God, it is more that God is larger than our concepts, frameworks, rites, and rituals.  God is willing to be experienced within them, but at some point, we butt up against the limitations of those things.

For me, there is a season in which it makes sense to “learn” religion, and then to “unlearn” it, to then “relearn” it in a larger, more mysterious sense.  (This might be similar to Brueggemann’s idea of “orientation, disorientation, reorientation”, which Rohr then calls “order, disorder, reorder.”)

It may be the wisdom of the Dark Night of the Soul that first formulated it, but there is a point at which we may need to “repent” of our own limiting understandings of God!

2.
“Individuation is the process of becoming a ‘person,’ a fully integrated and relational being… That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of one’s inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves.”

  • Sr. Ilia Delio, Franciscan Theologian
     
    This quote stopped me in my tracks.  This week I finished reading The Not-Yet God: Carl Jung, Teilhard de Chardin, and the Relational Whole.  It was not exactly an easy read, but it certainly connected some dots for me.

The possibility that all of our external conflict is the result of externalization of internal conflict is striking.  That which we cannot handle within ourselves, we seek to eliminate outside of ourselves.

Every division, every separation, every conflict, and every war is the result of an internal division, separation, conflict, or war we are dealing with.  This means that for there to be world peace that lasts, there must be the teaching of internal peace/shalom.

The book leans heavily into the idea of the Whole and how to be properly “catholic” means to be concerned (kata) with the whole (holos) of everything.

3.
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

  • 1 Corinthians 15:22
     
    Not a few.

Not some.

Not most.

ALL.

4.
I take my cue from Jesus Christ who told me and told all of us to love each other, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and visit those in prison. If you can’t do that, you’re not a believer—I don’t care what church you go to.”

  • James Baldwin, Civil Right Activist
     
    Any “Christianity” that does not lead toward loving one’s neighbor enough that one can’t help but do acts of compassionate justice while respecting the inherent dignity of the other… is not Christianity.

5.
“You’ve made a holy fool of me and I’ve thanked You ever since.”

  • In a Sweater, Poorly Knit by mewithoutYou
     
    I think that this singular line from mewithoutYou completely encapsulates my personal spirituality.

Spirituality as Radical Resilience

April 11th, 2024 by JDVaughn No comments »

Episcopal priest and educator Alice Updike Scannell (1938–2019) considered spirituality to be an essential element of radical resilience.  

Attending to our spirituality is an essential skill for radical resilience. The kinds of challenges and adversities in life that demand radical resilience usually cause pain and suffering. We cannot handle pain and suffering without spiritual support. Much of that spiritual support will come from people—some from those we know and some from strangers who offer a kind word or come forward to help when we need it. We might also find spiritual support through our religious tradition, twelve-step program, or a meditative practice such as tai chi, mindfulness meditation, or yoga.  

However, not all religions or spiritual belief systems are helpful for radical resilience. Any religion or spiritual belief system that is judgmental, punitive, rigid, or exclusive is a potential obstacle to resilience. The kind of spirituality that serves as a radical resilience skill respects the dignity of every human being; understands that all beings, the environment, and the universe are interconnected; views the Higher Power as loving; and holds honesty, self-awareness, compassion, forgiveness, reconciliation, openness, acceptance, and healing as core values.  

Whenever we seek to understand how we can best live our lives with meaning and purpose, through prayer, meditation, or another practice of spiritual discernment, and we pay attention with an open mind to what comes to us in response to that practice, we’re engaging with our spirituality as a radical resilience skill. Over time, engagement with spirituality in this way is transformative. It changes the way we understand ourselves. It opens our hearts to an awareness of gratitude and leads us into greater compassion and a sense of connection with others.  

Scannell names that our spirituality and faith have to mature in order to be supportive in difficult times: 

If we haven’t paid much attention to deepening our spiritual life as we’ve become adults, we’re likely to lack the spiritual resources we’ll need to be radically resilient. Our childhood understanding of spirituality is usually not adequate when we experience the kind of adversity that changes our life forever. When we search for the meaning in what has happened to us, and we search for an understanding of who we are when we can’t do what we used to do, or be who we used to be, then we need spiritual resources that go deeper….  

Yet even when we have a strong sense of spirituality and relationship with the sacred, we can experience anguish, doubt, despair, misery, and darkness. James Hollis calls these experiences “swampland visitations” and describes how they enrich our lives and help us to grow into a mature spirituality. [1] Encounters with these [painful] experiences in the spiritual framework of resilience ultimately lead to enlargement, not diminishment. “If truth be told, we wish we didn’t have to grow,” writes Hollis, “but life is asking more of us than that.” [2]  

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Sarah Young Jesus Calling

This is the day that I have made. Rejoice and be glad in it. Begin the day with open hands of faith, ready to receive all that I am pouring into this brief portion of your life. Be careful not to complain about anything, even the weather, since I am the Author of your circumstances. The way to handle unwanted situations is to thank Me for them. This act of faith frees you from resentment and frees Me to work My ways into the situation, so that good emerges from it.
     To find Joy in this day, you must live within its boundaries. I knew what I was doing when I divided time into twenty-four-hour segments. I understand human frailty, and I know that you can bear the weight of only one day at a time. Do not worry about tomorrow or get stuck in the past. There is abundant Life in My Presence today.

Psalm 118:24 NLT
24 This is the day the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Philippians 3:13-14 NLT
  13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,
  14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Cultivating a New Heart

April 10th, 2024 by Dave No comments »
 
 
 
Father Richard teaches that the inner flame of contemplation is cultivated through regular spiritual practice: 
Practice is an essential reset button that we must push many times before we can experience any genuine newness. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we are practicing all the time. When we operate by our habituated patterns, we strengthen certain neural pathways, which makes us, as the saying goes, “set in our ways.” But when we stop using old neural grooves, these pathways actually die off! Practice can literally create new responses and allow rigid ones to show themselves. 
It’s strange that we’ve come to understand the importance of practice in sports, in most therapies, in any successful business, and in creative endeavors, but for some reason most of us do not see the need for it in the world of spirituality. Yet it’s probably more important there than in any other area. “New wine demands fresh skins or otherwise we lose both the wine and the container,” as Jesus said (see Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37–38). Practices, more than anything else, create a new container for us, one that will protect the new wine we wish to take in. 
Many are convinced that rituals and “practices” like daily Eucharist, the rosary, processions and pilgrimages, repetitive chants, genuflections and prostrations, physically blessing oneself (as with the sign of the cross), singing, and silence have operated as a kind of body-based rewiring. Such practices allow us to know Reality mystically and contemplatively from a unitive consciousness. But, over time, as these practices turned into repetitive obligations, they degenerated; most people came to understand them magically as divinely required transactions. Instead of inviting people into new consciousness, such practices often froze people in their first infantile understanding of those rituals, and transactions ended up substituting for transformations. 
Mindless repetition of any practice, with no clear goal or clarity of intention, can in fact keep us quite unconscious—unless the practices keep breaking us into new insight, desire, compassion, and an ever-larger notion of God and ourselves. Automatic repetition of anything is a recipe for unconsciousness, the opposite of any genuine consciousness, intentionality, or spiritual maturity. If spirituality does not support real growth in both inner and outer freedom, it is not authentic spirituality. It is such basic unfreedom that makes so many people dislike and mistrust religious people.  
Any fear-based “rattling of beads” reflects the “magical” consciousness that dominated much of the world until it began to widely erode in the 1960s. Yet each of these practices can also be understood in a very mature way. 
It’s a paradox that God’s gifts are totally free and unearned, and yet God does not give them except to people who really want them, choose them, and say “yes” to them. This is the fully symbiotic nature of grace. Divine Loving is so pure that it never manipulates, shames, or forces itself on anyone. Love waits to be invited and desired, and only then rushes in. 

From Cancel Culture to Mercy Culture
In 2022, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt wrote a fascinating article titled, “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid.” In the extensively researched piece, Haidt unpacks the role social media has played in the erosion of institutional and social trust. In one section, he explains the emergence of “cancel culture” and particularly the use of social media to target and silence opponents. Referring to social media posts as “dart guns,” Haidt says they “give more power and voice to the political extremes while reducing the power and voice of the moderate majority.” This is because studies show “political extremists don’t just shoot darts at their enemies; they spend a lot of their ammunition targeting dissenters or nuanced thinkers on their own team.”Haidt’s observation fits my own experience. While there are plenty of shots fired at political or cultural opponents, there is nothing like the social media fury unleashed on a member of one’s own group who is suspected of being a “squish.” Dare to question one’s side, or introduce a degree of nuance or complexity to the debate, and you’ll flee social media faster than Indiana Jones ran from the poison darts of the Hovitos. The threat of being “canceled” for being insufficiently certain and close-minded by a vocal faction of one’s own community has led wiser voices to abandon public discourse resulting in, according to Haidt, the growing stupidity of American life.The kind of certainty and inflexibility demanded by cancel culture betrays the incredible diversity and complexity of the world we now occupy. It sees only black and white and condemns those who dare admit the existence of any gray. And yet, I understand its appeal. With so many options in belief and values to choose between, and so many divergent groups to navigate, our pluralistic society can be exhausting. As Kierkegaard said, anxiety is the dizzying effect of unlimited freedom. Some try to silence the anxiety with an artificial certainty. They demand a black-and-white vision of the world and silence those who speak in shades of gray.Rather than producing more harmony, however, cancel culture only creates more fear and judgment. There is a better way—one we see extended to, and practiced by, Naaman. We can trade the cancel culture for a mercy culture.After giving his full allegiance to the Lord, Naaman recognized the difficulties that awaited him back in Syria where no one shared his new faith. He would still be required to enter pagan temples, and even assist the king with his worship of other gods. Therefore, Naaman humbly asked Elisha for understanding. In response, Elisha did not condemn or cancel Naaman. He did not rebuke him for being a “squish” or call down God’s wrath because Naaman was willing to compromise with sinners. Instead, Elisha offered him peace.Elisha’s merciful response reminds us that the world is infinitely complicated, and life is endlessly difficult. Loving God with all of our mind, heart, soul, and strength isn’t a simple paint-by-number process. It takes wisdom, nuance, discernment, and a significant amount of grace. And sometimes—perhaps many times—we will get it wrong. Elisha understood this. He recognized there were no clear black-and-white rules for following the God of Israel in a foreign, pagan country. Therefore, he extended mercy to Naaman just as the Lord had when he healed the arrogant man from Syria.This mercy from God and now extended by his prophet would also be carried by Naaman back to Syria. By his request for pardon, it’s clear that Naaman understood he could not demand that his Syrian neighbors accept or accommodate his new allegiance to Israel’s God. He would also have to extend patience and understanding to his pagan culture and his pagan king, even as he turned away from paganism himself.Elisha and Naaman display the kind of compassionate wisdom God’s people desperately need today. Of course, like Naaman, we will carry different ideas and values from others in our culture, and even among Christians, there are divergent beliefs about what faithfulness looks like today. But these challenges provide us with a choice. We may either assume the worst about our Christian sisters and brothers who think differently, condemn them as heretics, cancel them on social media, and mock them. Or, we may pursue a culture of mercy that practices patience, withholds judgment, and offers peace.

DAILY SCRIPTURE

ROMANS 14:13-19 
Romans 14:13-19
13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
2 KINGS 5:1-27


WEEKLY PRAYERfrom Thomas Aquinas (1225 -1275)

Give us, O Lord, a steadfast heart, which no selfish desires may drag downwards;
give us an unconquered heart, which no troubles can wear out;
give us an upright heart, which no unworthy ambitions may tempt aside.
Give us also, O Lord our God, understanding to know you, perseverance to seek you, wisdom to find you, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Practicing Sabbath

April 9th, 2024 by Dave No comments »

For many practicing Jews and Christians, Sabbath rest is an essential practice to “tend the fire within.” Biblical scholar Renita J. Weems recalls the Sabbath of her childhood: 

Once upon a time Sunday was a special day, a holy day, a day different from the other six days of the week…. This was a time when [Black] people like those I grew up with still believed that it was enough to spend six days a week trying to eke out a living, … fretting over the future, despairing over whether life would ever get better for [us]. Six days of worrying were enough. The Sabbath was the Lord’s Day, a momentary cease-fire in our ongoing struggle to survive and an opportunity to surrender ourselves to the rest only God offered. Come Sunday, we set aside our worries about the mundane and renewed our love affair with eternity….  

Our working-class hearts were ultimately fixed on one thing alone. Sunday held out to us the promise that we might enter our tiny rough-hewn sanctuary and find sanctity and blessing from a week of loss and indignities. Remembering the Sabbath where I grew up involved delighting oneself for a full twenty-four hours, ultimately in good company, with fine clothes and choice meals. The Sabbath allowed us to mend our tattered lives and restore dignity to our souls. We rested by removing ourselves from the mundane sphere of secular toil and giving ourselves over fully to the divine dimension, where in God’s presence one found “rest” (paradoxically) not in stillness and in repose but in more labor—a different kind of labor, however. We sang, waved, cried, shouted, and when we felt led to do so, danced as a way of restoring dignity to our bodies as well. We used our bodies to help celebrate God’s gift of the Sabbath. For the Sabbath meant more than withdrawal from labor and activity. It meant to consciously enter into a realm of tranquility and praise.  

After a week of the body toiling away in inane work and the spirit being assaulted with insult and loss, Sunday was set aside to recultivate the soul’s appreciation for beauty, truth, love, and eternity. 

Weems acknowledges that Sabbath is difficult to maintain, but can be a healing balm if practiced: 

The Lord’s Day allows us to bring our souls, our emotions, our senses, our vision, and even our bodies back to God so that God might remember our tattered, broken selves and put our priorities back in order. The Sabbath makes sure we have the time to do what’s really important and be with those we really care about.  

I miss the Sabbath of my childhood. I miss believing in the holiness of time. I miss believing there was a day when time stood still. There’s virtually little in this culture, and hardly anything in my adult comings and goings, to serve as a timely reminder of how precious time really is, to remind me of sacred moments. 

========================

Neither Separation Nor Domination
A significant number of our cultural and social challenges arise from a simple fact—diversity. The United States is one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse societies the world has ever seen, and despite the warped history believed by some Americans, the country’s pluralism is what its founders intended. George Washington said, “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and Respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions, whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges” (emphasis added).In many ways, America’s diversity is a great strength, but it’s not without some significant difficulties. After all, with diversity comes disagreement. Over the last 50 years, the number of Americans who attend church has declined dramatically, and only a minority of Americans remain committed to orthodox Christian doctrines about sex and marriage. Often overlooked, but perhaps more bewildering, is the plummeting biblical literacy among self-identified, churchgoing Christians, and the corresponding rise in the number of Christians who dismiss basic public virtues like honesty, humility, and mercy.Some Christians look at these changes and long for the past. They romanticize an earlier era they never experienced assuming it was more hospitable to their faith and values. Unfortunately, this sentimentality for the past can easily become antipathy toward their non-Christian neighbors. Today, we are witnessing the rise of powerful religious and political movements predicated on blaming immigrants, non-Christians, and ethnic or sexual minorities for all the country’s problems. For the Christians swept up in these movements, America’s heritage of welcoming and embracing diversity is a curse rather than a blessing. For them, tolerance is seen as the enemy of truth.The challenges of faithfully following Christ in a religiously and morally diverse society help explain the rise of two trends. First, Christian voices are calling for cultural separation. Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option is a vivid example. He calls for a “strategic withdrawal” of Christians from America’s public life and institutions to protect themselves, their children, and their churches from the corrupting influence of secularism. Second, other Christians are calling for cultural domination. Stephen Wolfe’s book, The Case for Christian Nationalism, articulates this view. He advocates for the takeover of America’s public life and institutions by Christian leaders and the imposition of Christian values upon non-believing citizens.Domination and separation represent the “fight or flight” instincts of a threatened animal. They are both born from fear and ignore our higher calling in Christ to seek a wisdom from above. As Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom isn’t the sort that comes from here” (N.T. Wright’s translation of John 18:36). Unlike the kingdoms of the world that are rooted in fear and must use violence, coercion, or segregation to maintain their power, Christ’s kingdom is built on no such insecurity. Therefore, it is sustained by neither fear nor force. It is a kingdom that can thrive even where it is opposed.We see a glimpse of this reality in Naaman’s story. Facing the challenge of maintaining his allegiance to God upon returning to his homeland, Elisha does not tell Naaman to flee Syria to live among God’s people. Nor is he commanded to impose his religious convictions upon his pagan neighbors. Instead, Naaman is told to simply “Go in peace.” Elisha’s words reveal that Israel’s God is not threatened by the pagan deities of Syria, and therefore Naaman does not have to fight nor flee those who oppose his faith. He may, with God’s blessing, live among them.

DAILY SCRIPTURE
JOHN 18:33-37 
2 KINGS 5:1-27


WEEKLY PRAYERfrom Thomas Aquinas (1225 -1275)

Give us, O Lord, a steadfast heart, which no selfish desires may drag downwards;
give us an unconquered heart, which no troubles can wear out;
give us an upright heart, which no unworthy ambitions may tempt aside.
Give us also, O Lord our God, understanding to know you, perseverance to seek you, wisdom to find you, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

A Moment of Divine Fire

April 8th, 2024 by Dave No comments »

In this video, CAC teacher James Finley reflects upon the theme of “tending the fire within” as a way to build capacity for radical resilience.  

I’m using the word “fire” as a metaphor for certain moments in our life where we’re graced with a heightened sense of communal presence. They have about them the feeling of that-which-never-ends.  

In our day-by-day life, most of the things we’re aware of, we’re aware of them while we’re passing by on our way to something else. But every so often, something catches our eye and gives us reason to pause. For example, we pause to see a tree. We’ve seen many trees before, we’re going to see many more, and it’s just a tree. But there’s a certain moment where we’re called to pause and ponder and be present to the tree. In that pausing, we experience ourselves undergoing a kind of a descent. It’s very subtle—a deeper, more interior dimension of the mystery of our own presence….  

We have the sense that in this deepening communal oneness with the tree, we’re dropping down together into an abyss-like depth that’s welling up and giving itself to us unexplainably as this moment of oneness with the tree. This depth of presence has no name, but we give it a name. In our tradition, it’s God. We experience the generosity of God, welling up and giving the infinity of God away as the mystery of this moment. We are being awakened to the divinity of the tree and ourselves and our communal, shared nothingness without God. There’s a sense of sacredness about this. This is the fire we want to attend to.  

We could make the same observation about every foundational dimension of our life: intimacy with another person, being in the presence of a child, a path of long-suffering patience, a moment of prayer, the quiet hour at day’s end, lying awake at night in the dark. From time to time the divine grants itself with this kind of fire, a quiet luminosity that has great depth and intimacy to it. 

These moments are quite intense sometimes, in the aftermath of which something is never quite the same. But usually it’s not that way at all. Such moments are so subtle that if we aren’t careful, we would miss them. They also tend to be very fleeting. We return to day-by-day life, go off to our next meeting, turn the TV up a little louder, or whatever it is we’re doing. 

But if we’re committed to a contemplative stance, little by little we start to see our day-by-day life from the standpoint of these moments of awakening. We notice that they have about them the feeling of effulgence or fullness or homecoming. In the light of those moments, we get this sense that in the momentum of the day’s demands, we’re skimming over the depths of our own life. We’re suffering from depth deprivation. What’s regrettable is that God’s unexplainable oneness with us is hidden in the depths over which we’re skimming. 

Choosing a Contemplative Path

James Finley continues to reflect on how, once we notice the “fire within,” we can commit to the life-changing practice of attending to it. 

Once we acknowledge this “depth deprivation,” we get an insight into life. The essential, that which is given to us in the metaphorical fire of this quiet oneness, never imposes itself on us, while the unessential is constantly imposing itself on us. We begin to wonder, “How can I learn not to get so caught up in the complexities of the day-to-day that I keep losing my sense of connectedness with this depth, this fire, which alone is ultimately real?” Thomas Merton says it beats in our very blood whether we want it to or not.  

It doesn’t lie in our power to make these insights happen, but here’s the key. We can freely choose to assume the stance that offers the least resistance to being overtaken by the fire that we cannot make happen. This is our daily rendezvous, and the key is that it’s personal. We have to find those acts, those persons, those modes of service, those moments of creative unfolding, those moments where we feel something is being asked of us….  

When I was in the monastery, the whole monastic life was carefully designed to protect us from distractions and enable us to experience what I’m talking about. But the world we live in isn’t like that, so we have to create a contemplative culture in our heart. We must vow to ourselves: I will not play the cynic. I will not break faith with my awakened heart. I know that in my most childlike hour, the cutting edge of the pain, the sweetness of the glance, the smell of the flower, I was graced by what transcends and permeates every moment of my life.  

Therefore, we want to set aside a quiet time of availability to this. We have to stay with it. We have to be patient and be calm. We have to be receptively open to this way of being. And at the end of each rendezvous with the deeper place, we ask for the grace not to break the thread of that sensitivity as we go through the rest of our day. Although the thread breaks many times from our end, it never breaks from God’s end….  

We don’t live in a monastery but out here in the world, and I think that’s what contemplative programs like the Living School are about. I think it’s what the Daily Meditations are about. It’s what centering prayer is about. We have to look for the thread of sensitivity to such insights and decide that we’re going to live this way. It’s a kind of obediential fidelity that nobody can see but it matters more than everything. We try to live out of it with integrity with people because it changes the way we see everybody. Everyone’s an infinitely loved, broken person in a fleeting, often not-so-fair, gorgeous, lovely, unexplainable world.  

Naaman’s Dilemma and Ours
The Lord had given the Israelites extensive instructions about the proper way to honor, worship, and obey him. In fact, the entire structure of Israelite culture and law was shaped by their covenant with YHWH, and foreigners from pagan lands were invited to join them in this way of life. But after giving his allegiance to YHWH alone, Naaman was not able to say in Israel. He was returning to Syria where he would be immersed in a pagan society where no one shared his devotion to Israel’s God.This is a dilemma worth exploring because it’s not unlike our situation as followers of Jesus in an increasingly post-Christian, post-religious culture. How do we navigate giving our total allegiance to Jesus Christ while living among, working with, and serving neighbors who do not share our faith, and very often celebrate values and behaviors directly opposed by Christian doctrine?First, we must recognize that Naaman’s devotion to Israel’s God was real. He even asked to take dirt from Israel back to Syria in order to build a proper altar to YHWH. But the Lord had given no instructions about how to properly worship and honor him in any context outside of Israel, and certainly not in a foreign land devoted to idols and pagan gods. Naaman feared the sincerity of his vow would be questioned, and his worship of the Lord rejected, because of his obligations to his non-Israelite neighbors and king. Therefore, Naaman explained his dilemma to Elisha and asked for understanding.Naaman said, “When my master [Syria’s king] enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”Biblical scholars don’t all agree on the exact meaning of the phrase “leaning on my arm.” Some argue the king of Syria was old and weak, and he would literally lean on Naaman’s arm in order to bow in worship. In this interpretation, Naaman would have no active role in the worship of a pagan god. He was just physically helping an old man kneel. Others say “leaning on my arm” is an idiom meaning Naaman was the king’s right-hand man. In this case, as a top-ranking government official, Naaman would have a role in official state functions—including the honoring of Syria’s gods alongside the king.In either case, Naaman was telling Elisha that when he returned to Syria his presence in the temple of a pagan god would be required, and in some way—either passively or actively—he would be assisting others in their worship of a god other than YHWH. Despite how this may appear, he wanted to assure Elisha that his actions should not be misunderstood as his own act of worship, because Naaman’s loyalty belonged to Israel’s God. In response, Elisha gave a simple, stunning reply: “Go in peace.”It’s difficult to imagine Elisha giving such a pardon to an Israelite, or even to a convert like Naaman who remained in Israel. God’s law was abundantly clear—idolatry and the worship of other gods was absolutely forbidden. According to God’s covenant, there was no reason for a pagan temple to ever exist anywhere in Israel, let alone for an Israelite to enter it and assist others in their worship. Therefore, for someone to request a pardon like Naaman does would have been absurd. And yet Elisha grants it anyway.Naaman represented an unprecedented case; a situation that the Torah never addressed or imagined—a foreigner, living in an unholy land, devoted to the worship of Israel’s God. Elisha’s blessing of Naaman’s request is a reminder that the Old Testament law, although God-given, good, and full of wisdom, is not comprehensive and does not anticipate every possible scenario. It speaks about how to organize an ancient, theocratic community where everyone is devoted to the Lord, and not to a modern, pluralistic community where very few are committed to God’s ways.In the coming days, we’ll look more closely at Naaman’s request, and what wisdom it may offer for how we may both give our full allegiance to Jesus Christ while loving and serving our neighbors who do not.

DAILY SCRIPTURE

JOHN 17:13-19 
2 KINGS 5:1-27


WEEKLY PRAYER from Thomas Aquinas (1225 -1275)

Give us, O Lord, a steadfast heart, which no selfish desires may drag downwards;
give us an unconquered heart, which no troubles can wear out;
give us an upright heart, which no unworthy ambitions may tempt aside.
Give us also, O Lord our God, understanding to know you, perseverance to seek you, wisdom to find you, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Resurrection Through Connection

April 5th, 2024 by JDVaughn No comments »

Father Richard describes how it’s possible to experience resurrection before we die: 

We don’t need to wait for death to experience resurrection. We can begin resurrection today by living connected to God. Resurrection happens every time we love someone even though they were not very loving to us. At that moment we have been brought to new life. Every time we decide to trust and begin again, even after repeated failures, at that moment we’ve been resurrected. Every time we refuse to become negative, cynical, hopeless, we have experienced the Risen Christ. We don’t have to wait for it later. Resurrection is always possible now.  

The resurrection is not Jesus’ private miracle; it’s the new shape of reality. It’s the new shape of the world. It’s filled with grace. It’s filled with possibility. It’s filled with newness.  

The resurrection is not a miracle story to prove the divinity of Christ, something that makes him the winner. It’s a storyline that allows us all to be winners. ALL! No exceptions! There’s no eternal death for anybody: ALL are invited to draw upon this infinite Source, this infinite Mystery, this infinite Love, this infinite Possibility. Spiritually speaking, we live in a world of abundance, of infinity. But most of us walk around as if it were not true, operating in a world of scarcity where there’s never enough. There’s not enough for me, there’s not enough for you, there’s not enough for everybody.  

And so we hoard it—Spirit, Love, Life—to ourselves. We hoard grace, we hoard mercy. We don’t allow ourselves to be conduits through which it pours into the world. Truly, the only way we can hold onto grace, mercy, love, joy—any spiritual gift—is to give them away consciously and intentionally. Once we stop acting as a conduit, we lose them ourselves. That’s why there are so many sad, bitter, and angry people. Disconnected from God, we choose death. We ourselves contribute to negativity, cynicism, anger, and even to the oppression of other races and religions. In that state, it’s always other people who are wrong.  

In a homily from the second century of the church offered on Holy Saturday, this is what we hear Jesus say: 

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell [usually a hell of our own making —RR]. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. [1] 

____________________________________________________________

Sarah Young Jesus Calling

Jesus Calling: April 5th
    Let Me fill you with My Love, Joy, and Peace. There are Glory-gifts, flowing from my living Presence. Though you are an earthen vessel, I designed you to be filled with heavenly contents. Your weakness is not a deterrent to being filled with My Spirit; on the contrary, it provides an opportunity for My Power to shine forth more brightly.
    As you go through this day, trust Me to provide the strength that you need moment by moment. Don’t waste energy wondering whether you are adequate for today’s journey. My Spirit within you is more than sufficient to handle whatever this day may bring. That is the basis for your confidence! In quietness (spending time alone with Me) and confident trust (relying on My sufficiency) is your strength.

RELATED SCRIPTURE:

2nd Corinthians 4:7 (NIV)
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)
15 This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it.
Additional insight regarding Isaiah 30:15: God warned Judah that turning to Egypt and other nations for military might could not save them. Only God could do that. They must wait for him “in quietness and confidence.” No amount of fast-talking or hasty activity could speed up God’s grand design. We have nothing to say to God but thank you. Salvation comes from God alone. Because he has saved us, we can trust him and be peacefully confident that he will give us the strength to face our difficulties. We should lay aside our well-laid plans and allow him to act.



Today’s Prayer:

Dear Lord, fill me with Your love, joy, and peace today and all days. Though I am but a vessel of clay, let Your glory shine through me. Strengthen me with Your Spirit moment by moment, day by day, for in my weakness, Your power is made perfect. Help me trust in Your sufficiency, finding strength in quiet communion with You. In your Son’s perfect name, Amen.

Dawn’s Radiant Light

April 4th, 2024 by JDVaughn No comments »

Wake up from your sleep,  
rise from the dead,  
and Christ will shine on you.  
—Ephesians 5:14, Jerusalem Bible  

Father Richard reflects on the presence of light at the resurrection: 

At the resurrection, Jesus was revealed as the eternal and deathless Christ in embodied form. Basically, one circumscribed body of Jesus morphed into ubiquitous Light.Light is perhaps the best metaphor for Christ or God.  Anything exposed by the light will be illuminated and anything illuminated turns into light (Ephesians 5:13–14). 

During the first six centuries of Christianity, the moment of Jesus’ resurrection was mostly deemed unpaintable or uncarvable. [1] The event is not even directly described in the New Testament. All we’re given are the aftermath stories—stunned guards, seated angels, visiting women, and other resurrections: “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of those who had fallen asleep were raised up” (see Matthew 27:51–53). Note how resurrection was already corporately understood in this telling verse. 

Most of us, if we are paying attention, also have such resurrection moments in the middle of our lives, when “the veil parts” now and then. Jesus says, “Believe in the light so that you also may become children of the light” (John 12:36), letting us know that we participate in the same mystery, and he is here to aid the process. [2] 

Episcopal priest Becca Stevens writes of the hopeful message of the dawn’s light: 

The orange globe peeks above the horizon in bursts of resurrection each morning…. We can walk with the sunrise preaching, “Walk with hope in faith because love lives.” It’s not that we are more faithful than we are in the dark of night; it’s just that our pace is lighter. This translucent moment of clarity and hope is possible each day we do our work under that rising yellow force, or walk down a path at dawn humming a love song whose words are rising from our hearts…. When we walk with this pace, we have the shadow of the sun before us like a benediction with an aftertaste of joy that is true gratitude for every day we have been given….   

Sunrise calls women with grieving hearts to sing; it enables priests to be present for decades at the same altar, and paints each morning in colors so tender they turn stone hearts to flesh. Light means that we can live in hope, dedicated to justice and truth, knowing the light will never leave us. The light is ours for the beholding and allows us to make our song even at our own Easter morning, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”…   Sunrise in the story of Easter is not just a time of day; it is a state of the heart. Sunrise is the space where nighttime fears move aside for hope, where we feel peace about our mortality in the scope of the universal truth that love abides and where we feel light crest the dark horizons of hearts we have kept barricaded. [3]  

________________________________________________________________

Sarah Young Jesus Calling

I meet you in the stillness of your soul. It is there that I seek to commune with you. A person who is open to My Presence is exceedingly precious to Me. My eyes search to and fro throughout the earth, looking for one whose heart is seeking Me. I see you trying to find Me; our mutual search results in joyful fulfillment.
    Stillness of soul is increasingly rare in this world addicted to speed and noise. I am pleased with your desire to create space where you and I can meet. Don’t be discouraged by the difficulty of achieving this goal. I monitor all your efforts and am blessed by each of your attempts to seek My Face.

RELATED SCRIPTURE: 
Zechariah 2:13 (NIV)
13 Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”

2nd Chronicles 16:9 (NIV)
9 For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.”
Psalm 23:2-3 (NIV)
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3     he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.

Today’s Prayer:

Lord Jesus, in the quiet depths of my soul, I seek Your presence. Amidst life’s noise and haste, help me carve out moments of stillness to commune with You and You alone. Strengthen my heart as I strive to seek Your face. Guide me to green pastures and quiet waters, refreshing my soul and leading me in Your ways. Amen.

Resurrection and Incarnation

April 3rd, 2024 by Dave No comments »

Father Richard writes of resurrection as an inherent aspect of incarnation:  

We all want resurrection in some form. Jesus’ resurrection is a potent, focused, and compelling statement about what God is still and forever doing with the universe and with humanity. Science strongly confirms this statement using its own terms: metamorphosis, condensation, evaporation, seasonal changes, and the life cycles of everything from butterflies to stars. The natural world is constantly dying and being reborn in different forms. God appears to be resurrecting everything all the time and everywhere. It is not something to “believe in” as much as it is something to observe and be taught by.  

I choose to believe in Jesus’ bodily resurrection because it localizes the whole Mystery in this material and earthly world and in our own bodies too—the only world we know and the world that God created and loves and in which God chose to incarnate. (Read all of 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul keeps saying this in many ways.) [1] 

Theologian Elizabeth Johnson considers the embodied nature of Jesus’ resurrection:  

Given the dualism [regarding body and spirit] that remains in Christian thinking, it is important to emphasize that [the resurrection] is not simply a case of the immortality of the soul. Jesus does not shuck off his bodiliness like a suit of clothes and rise heavenward, so to speak, as a purely spiritual being. Resurrection affirms new life of the whole enfleshed person Jesus, transfigured beyond death. In a deeply material way, the Easter appearances disclose the divine depth-dimension undergirding all flesh, which opens novel possibilities for the body itself….  

The resurrection starts on earth with Jesus dead and buried, and ends up in God with Jesus the Living One transformed by the power of the Spirit. Alive in God, his presence is no longer bound by earth’s limits but partakes of the omnipresence of God’s own love. Christ is now present in word and sacrament and wherever two or three gather in his name. True to the pattern of his ministry, he also approaches, mysteriously revealed and concealed, in the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the homeless, those in prison, the very least of those in need. Ultimately, through the power of the Spirit, Jesus is with the whole community of disciples, indeed with the whole community of creation, through every hour, until the end of time. Is this true? All explanations aside, it has to be a lived truth, seen in the lives of those who are participants in Christ’s ongoing work in the world. [2] 

Richard concludes: 

If the original divine incarnation was and is true, then resurrection is both inevitable and irreversible. If the Big Bang was the external starting point of the eternal Christ Mystery, then we know this eternal logos is leading creation somewhere good, and the universe is not chaotic or meaningless. Alpha and Omega are in fact one and the same. [3] ====================

No More Sacred Hot Spots
Naaman asked to carry dirt from Israel back to his home in Syria because, like most ancient people, he believed that gods could only be properly worshipped in their own land. Therefore, to fulfill his vow to only worship the God of Israel, Naaman assumed he needed to take a small bit of Israel with him.In his book about pagan beliefs, Strange Religion, New Testament scholar Nijay Gupta elaborated on this territorial assumption. “Sure, you could pray anywhere and everywhere, but you couldn’t really be sure that your message was going to get through. It was best to find a spiritual hot spot, as it were.” These “hot spots” included temples, altars, and other sacred sites. In Naaman’s case, he thought having dirt from Israel would increase the likelihood that Israel’s God would accept his worship.This emphasis on sacred “hot spots” remained a common belief in the ancient world through the time of the Roman Empire and until the emergence of Christianity.

The followers of Jesus were odd for many reasons, but chief among them was the mobility of their worship. Unlike every other religious sect, the Christians had no temples, no altars, no monuments, or idols. Instead, they worshiped and prayed in homes, along rivers, or anyplace where two or three could gather. As Gupta says: “The Christians had this crazy idea: you could connect [with God] anywhere at any time. No one place was geographically required or inherently better. It was as if they had moved from a landline to a mobile phone.”Gupta’s metaphor is helpful. Some of us are old enough to remember phone booths and wired telephones. In college, for example, I would pull the phone cord from my dorm room into the hallway and shut the door so I could talk to my girlfriend without my roommate listening. In a sense, that’s what Naaman was doing by taking soil from Israel to Syria. The dirt was his landline to communicate to Israel’s God—literally. Most religious traditions—both ancient and modern—still employ this approach to spirituality by insisting certain places and times are more sacred. And it is the duty of the devout to rearrange their circumstances in order to connect with God in one of these locations.New Testament spirituality is different. The presence of the Holy Spirit within each person redeemed by Jesus essentially “cuts the cord.” Instead, Christian spirituality functions more like a mobile phone rather than a landline because communion with God may occur anytime, anywhere. This unlimited, unmediated, and unstationary form of religion was seen as dangerous to the established norms of ancient Roman society, and it remains threatening to religious leaders today. After all, a faith that does not need pagan temples, priests, or offerings does not require Christian temples, priests, or offerings either.

DAILY SCRIPTURE

JOHN 4:19-24 
2 KINGS 5:1-27


WEEKLY PRAYERHippolytus of Rome (190 – 236)Christ is risen:

The world below lies desolate.
Christ is risen:
The spirits of evil are fallen.
Christ is risen:
The angels of God are rejoicing.
Christ is risen:
The tombs of the dead are empty.
Christ is risen indeed from the dead,
the first of the sleepers.
Glory and power are his forever and ever.
Amen.