Friday, October 06, 2017

God is Love in the Margins

God is Love in the margins. I felt that love at our annual convention. Bishop Smith opened the convention with a call to serve with Jesus in the margins. The video “Ministering on the Margins,” highlighted a number of places congregations are doing that work in our diocese.

Then we were inspired by the Rev. Becca Stevens and her ministry to the incarcerated through Thistle Farms. Her talk on Friday and her sermon on Saturday moved many to tears, and more importantly, to action. She created a buzz for ministry to the incarcerated and that was made visible in the outpouring of offering to send children of incarcerated parents to Chapel Rock.

Saturday morning’s worship was the highlight for me. Tears welled up in my soul, listening to two young people read the scripture, one has Downs Syndrome and the other from a Spanish congregation. They represent the marginalized, the very presence of God. For you see, God is disabled, marginalized, wounded, and dying. I left our annual convention elated, feeling I had seen and felt God’s presence in the margins.

Sunday night, that elation turned to horror. In Las Vegas, in a rain of bullets, the God inside 22,000 souls would be wounded and killed. The God that is part of every physical body would become disabled and marginalized. More than five hundred of God’s children would have the life they had known, taken away; some killed, some wounded, some disabled. And their families are now suffering disabling grief that marginalizes people beyond words. Why? Because this country refuses to admit that it has an addiction to guns.

There are an estimated 310 million guns in the US. There are as many guns as people in the US. One in three people in the US, own a gun. Estimates report that in the US there are 86 million shotguns, 114 million handguns, and 110 million rifles, of which 3.5 million are assault rifles. It would cost the US $400 million to repurchase all the assault rifles in the US. I wonder if the families of the people who have died from the 1500 mass shootings since Sandy Hook in 2012 would think that was money well spent?

I, like many of you, have been personally affected by gun violence. Friends and parishioners who have died from mass shootings, random acts of hate, accidents, and suicide. One is too many to count. And any amount of money would be well spent to prevent one more death from gun violence.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to be God’s love in the margins; to be a people of peace, a people who turn the other cheek, a people who take up our cross, which includes action to prevent more gun violence. My wife and I support and contribute regularly to “Americans for Responsible Solutions,” founded by Gabby Giffords, former Congresswoman, fellow Arizonian, and gun violence victim. Her and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, are working hard to bring about responsible gun control. As well, I have written countless letters to our legislators and to three Presidents.

Many of us are grieving. And many of us may be growing weary. But now is not the time to give up—because God is Love in the margins and that’s where we should spend our time, talent, and resources.

You can find more information about the theology behind my remarks in Nancy Eisland’s, The Disabled God and Miguel De La Torre’s, Reading the Bible from the Margins.

You can get more information about Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly’s foundation at their website http://americansforresponsiblesolutions.org/stand-with-gabby/.

And for resources about writing letters and taking peaceful actions, you can find some excellent resources at the Episcopal Peace Foundation’s website http://epfnational.org/.


Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Heaven on Earth in the Strangest Places

One rainy Sunday morning in Ireland, I was enjoying a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. Something I don’t get a chance to do when I’m at home. There was one article that especially caught my attention: “Ireland, A Great Little Country.” The article was a kickoff to a contest asking locals to write about those little tucked away gems of Ireland that few people may know about. The author wrote that sometimes you need to be an outsider to really see the texture of a place. I had just finished walking the hundred miles of the Wicklow Way between Dublin and Clonegal and I knew the exact rare gem to share with others.

Just fifteen miles south of Ireland in the Glencree Valley is an ash tree that sits along the Glencree River. The tree must be two-centuries old. The base diameter is about ten feet, stretching thirty plus feet high into the sky. Over the course of the life of the tree, the base grew around a rectangular stone that is four feet long and two feet high. The tree growing around the stone has created an opening large enough to allow someone to stand on the stone and disappear inside the tree. I’ve stopped at this tree on several occasions. I love spending time sitting on the stone, listening to wind blow through the leaves, and feeling the cool damp safety of being inside the womb of this majestic and magical tree. My experience is that I feel that I have become one with this tree and therefore, one with God. Sitting inside the tree is heaven on earth for me.

In Matthew 13:31-52 Jesus is trying to give us his description of heaven on earth. Jesus tells his followers several parables about the kingdom of God of earth. His stories are subversive and require thinking outside the box. He uses the imagery of a mustard seed being planted in a garden, and the tiny seed becomes a tree that attracts all kinds of birds into the garden. On the surface that story doesn’t make much sense, but it gives us a picture of Jesus’ strange image of the kingdom of heaven on earth. All of his examples of the kingdom of heaven, are things on earth, things we can relate to; like the tree in Ireland. The kingdom of God is not something to be experienced in the afterlife—the kingdom of heaven is now, on earth. And sometimes those experiences are hidden and subtle and we have to keep our eyes open to see them.

Jesus quoted the psalmist who says, “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark saying from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us.” (Psalm 722-3) It’s pretty clear that Jesus is speaking about himself. And then he goes to say “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Jesus is taking the words of the ancients and shining a new light of understanding on our relationship with the divine and where we will find the kingdom of heaven. According to Jesus—the kingdom of heaven is being at one with God. To be one with God changes us, changes our interior world; changes our exterior world. To be at one with God in this heavenly kingdom on earth will change our relationship with God, with our family, with our friends, and with our enemies. Jesus tells us that to be one with God will change how we treat the poor. Jesus tells us that to be at one with God will change how we treat immigrants. Jesus tells us that to be one with God will change how we treat people who are different than we are. To be at one with God will change us at the very core of our being.

And how do we become one with God? How do we have this intimate, daily, personal relationship with the divine?

The simple answer is: become like the master, become like Jesus.

He studied the teachings of the ancients, in other words, he knew and understood the scripture.
He spent time alone in prayer, in conversation with God.
He fed the hungry and ministered to the sick.
He spoke truth to power.
He took risks.
And he paid attention to the things around him, those things where he experienced the kingdom of heaven on earth.

If we’re going to experience the kingdom of heaven on earth; if we dare have the courage to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” then we will dare to be like Jesus. And in doing so, like Jesus, we will become one with the Living Spirit of God.

We got home on Sunday night. Tuesday morning I was up before the sunrise, ready to head out on my morning walk. Just outside the front of our house is a straggly old cactus that I had thought about taking down several times. But on Tuesday morning, perched on top of those prickly arms was the most beautiful white flower. I took a few pictures while admiring the paradox of this magnificent flower set against an unattractive cactus. By the time I came back from my walk, the flower had closed. And by the next morning, the flower dropped off the cactus. The kingdom of heaven is like a stunningly beautiful flower that blooms in the most unexpected place and lasts only for a few hours. Amen.



Friday, July 21, 2017

Sacred Cauldron: A Spiritual Retreat in Ireland

My wife and I have been in Glendalough, Ireland leading a retreat for five days, which we call Sacred Cauldron. Our group has been exploring the rich spiritual landscape of Saint Kevin's ancient monastic community. We have wandered and wondered through the rich contours of Celtic Spirituality, both its pre-Christian roots and its current expression that can help us imagine ideas and practices beyond Christianity. Together, we have walked the sacred grounds, prayed ancient prayers and new ones as well, we have placed our hands in holy wells, and shared newly created rituals with one another. Ireland has been the container for our soul's journey. Of course, this island is not the only place we can imagine new possibility for practices and rituals, but it is lovely place to journey that has been home to spiritual pilgrims for Aeons.

The focus of the Sacred Cauldron retreat is to learn how to build personal ritual for our daily spiritual practice and for those momentous events in our lives. Each of our religious traditions offer us tools to use in our daily lives, though sometimes these traditions are the gate keepers of certain rituals like weddings, funerals, and corporate worship. The Sacred Cauldron retreat is a safe space for people to experiment with practice and rituals that might be outside their religious tradition. It is also, and more importantly, a safe circle where we can have open and honest conversations about our lives.

Sacred Cauldron has been the container for creating, developing, and expanding personal spiritual practices like prayer, writing, exploring archetypes through tarot, and the mandala. And it has nurtured rituals for loss, disappointment, love, renewal, covenant, corporate worship, and imagining the future.

Most importantly we have practiced the delicate art of community building by living together at the Tearmann Spirituality Center and sharing the duties of daily life like preparing meals and cleaning the house. We have eaten together, prayed together, laughed together, danced together, and wept together. And in five days we have opened ourselves to the reality of being a spiritual community of love and care for the souls of others.

The Sacred Cauldron Retreat is an extension of the Wisdom School that Cathy and I have founded in Phoenix, Arizona. The Wisdom School is a two year program created to foster an Interfaith Spirituality within a small community. If you are interested in exploring these kinds of experience please check out our website at 2wisdomsway.com.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Sacred Cauldron: Day Three of the Wicklow Way

Pilgrims carry a heavy paradox in their packs on the final day of any walking pilgrimage; the celebration of having completed a planned journey mired with the grief that the community has come to an end. Bonds form quickly among those who spend hours together walking the mountains and rugged terrain. Being openly vulnerable about one's aches and pains, sharing the stories of a blistered soul, and acknowledging living with the reality that the only privy is behind the next tree, builds community that comes with the cauldron's heat of walking. Pilgrimage creates fire that transmutes.

We were given a special blessing this particular day—an Irishman walked with us. He was an acquaintance of one of our group and wanted to join us for the ten miles from Roundwood to Glendalough. It would be half of his day because he would travel on to Glenmalure, another ten miles. His gentle brogue, Irish whit, and lovely stories made the miles pass too quickly

It was a perfect day to walk through the Wicklows. There was a high soft grey cloud cover, a gentle breeze, and even a slight mist at just the needed moment. After a brief climb through the forest, the Way opened onto a sweeping fern covered hill. The soft light green leaves hide the harsh and thorny grose, whose razor stickers leave a burning cut on exposed skin. Hidden away from the path was an odd circle I was familiar with, where the unaware might walk by. But there, among the ferns, was an open space, twenty-five feet in diameter where a stone circle once stood. The four directional stones are still in place, the others have fallen to the side. One of our pilgrims ventured into the vortex of Irish lore and there discovered the thin place. Moving among the stones, the imagination opens and time stands still—everything is "different."

Leaving the top of the Wicklows, we dropped down into the forest again preparing to cross a bridge over the bubbling river fit for a postcard. The pause is necessary because there is one last climb to the eastern ridge of the Glendough Mountain. There we can see down into the picturesque Valley of the Two Lakes, home to St Kevin's Kitchen and 1500 years of ancient ruins and graves. To this day, the dead are still are being buried in this sacred ground.

As we dropped down onto the hill, the ruins disappeared among the thick forest. Dark alley ways, pine covered paths, and stones covered with green moss bring all the senses alive. Here in the world of the Irish mythology the symbolic unconscious speaks to the soul. The pace of the walkers almost comes to a halt, as if by leaving the forest, life would end. Without care, tears are wiped away from quivering lips. Souls has been altered but only silence can announce the tune of the next unknown hymn. To leave the forest is to begin living into a new normal; one the world and our families may not understand. The tune might sound familiar but the words have all changed.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sacred Cauldron: Day Two of the Wicklow Way

The sixteen mile trek from the Glencree Valley to the village of Roundwood is my favorite day of the Wicklow Way. The day begins walking through tall luscious grass along the gentle Glencree River. Just over a mile into the walk stands my favorite tree in all of Ireland.The tree must be a few hundred years old and still produces lush green leaves. I'm not good at distinguishing trees, but I imagine she must be one of the variety of Mountain Ash that can grow as tall as a 120 feet and can live to be 300 years old. This ancient tree is nearly ten feet in diameter at the base and has grown around a rectangular stone that is four feet long and two feet high. The growth of the tree around the stone has created a womb within the Great Mother tree which extends high into the structure. Crawling up on the stone, I can stand inside the opening and still not reach the top.

For me, this tree creates a sense of mystery; a desire for more knowledge; allowing me to experience something magical—all while sitting on the stone and listening to the wisdom of the past. Here, resting in the heart of majestic presence, I feel the soul of the Great Mother Tree pouring through me—archetypal images bursting forth with words by which to live my life. She says I can't stay there forever, and bids me on, sending me off like a child on my next adventure.

A few more miles up the path that winds through Crone forest, there resides a grove of trees that must be the ancient women of wisdom that holds the name of these woods. In this cathedral of trees, we enter the unconscious of the forest for a thousand yards. There in the darkness, stand two dozen trees as pillars of the community of the interior world. These crone trees have grown through, and consumed, a stone wall. The root systems have intertwined with one another, creating an eco-system of fibrous microbes, moss, stones, and roots that share nutrients of sunlight, soil, and matter. What one abounds in, it shares with those in need. This stand of ancient trees has created a community that lives, moves, and has its being under the dome of the Great Wisdom of the Universe. All who walk this way and know of their presence and all those who would not imagine that such a place exists, benefit from this living Mind. Our group spent time smelling the trees, tasting the bark, touching roots, listening to the stories, and seeing what mystery abounds. We were bathed by the wisdom of the Crones.

From there we climbed through the Djouce Woods, which over looks the Powerscourt Waterfalls. The Dargle River falls 1500 feet, evidence of how high we have climbed. Above the falls, we walked down to the river that is the source of the falls; a treacherous shale covered 400 feet, to cross a foot bridge. And then we trudged back up the sharp "V" canyon another 600 feet. The steep descent and quick ascent stretches for almost two miles. The reward for all this effort is a vista that expands past the Liffey tributary far below, into the Dublin Bay, and deep into the Irish Sea. Only the imagination limits seeing the coast of Wales. And we still have yet to climb over the bog covered White Hill. Over the last twelve years I've walked this trail six times and every step has taught me something new about myself, reminding me particularly this time that I am rapidly approaching sixty-four. But the lesson exceeded my physical limitations. The unconscious was demanding that I stay present, to take in what the Earth had to speak. Emerging from the black soggy bog glistened the "Eye of God" quartz, stones of the spiritual soul for aeons. Gifts and treasures singing praise to the Wisdom of the Universe—some voices for healing, some for ritual, some for transmutation.

In the past, my joy of completing White Hill had left feeling the mundane re-entry of the remaining four miles. This time, however, with the voices in chorus moving around me, I found the opportunity for reflection, a space for imagination. My fellow pilgrims walked on, alternating their success of finishing the longest day with their frustration at creeping blisters. Every light of joy is only achieved with the accompanying darkness of pain. Such is living life as a pilgrimage. Still yet, I could see in their faces a sense of having communed with the Great Otherness, of being at one with that which is greater than ourselves—such which nourishes our souls. For that, I am thankfully humbled to walk with this deep souled community of pilgrims.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Sacred Cauldron Day One of the Wicklow Way

Seven of us gathered in Marley Park to walk three days from Dublin to Glendalough, roughly 45 miles of the Wicklow Way. Two of the people had not met anyone in the group and even those who had met, knew each other only from a couple of evenings of dinner. This small band was preparing to share three days of hiking before the beginning of the Sacred Cauldron retreat in Glendalough. The purpose of the retreat is to facilitate the development and practice of rituals in our lives; rituals that we create in order to foster a deeper experience with the spiritual. The walking pilgrimage is the fire that heats the cauldron of sacred transmutation.

This is my sixth walk along the Wicklow Way. Each pilgrimage has built on the previous experience while spiraling the spaces of life in between into a helix of ever emerging mystery. The knowledge of each experience has exposed new levels of vulnerability, creating thin spaces in the spiritual maturation of the soul. The trepidation, uncertainty, dis-ease, disturbing nature of walking pilgrimage creates the heat needed to reconfigure, even transmute, the essence of one's inner being. To quote Carl Jung, "There is no inner journey without an outer pilgrimage." Or if like Nietzsche better, "No great idea has been formulated without first taking a long walk." While walking alone is indeed a pilgrimage experience unto itself, to walk with others adds elements to the cauldron of possibility.

Walking pilgrimage together is a microcosm of the art of community development. Walking fifteen miles affords the time to slow down enough to listen to one another's story. Traveling over rocky paths, up and down several rugged hills, through dark forests, creates the hotspots of vulnerability, opening the unconscious to expand our consciousness. Walking as a group, watching one another personally struggle with the challenging elements, illuminates the compassionate soul within us and creates an egalitarian community rather rapidly. And while community emerges, individual identity is nurtured.

Ireland and the Wicklow Way are itself the cauldron in which we place the elements of our pilgrimage intentions. The lush green sheep strewn hillsides, the dark forests, the rich loamy bog, the singing birds touch each of our six senses in way we might not have imagined, evoking a mandala of imagination.

Dinner after a walk fills the ravenous canyon of spent energy, while nourishing the desire for authentic soul conversations. My pilgrimage experience has taught me to anticipate these conversations, yet each time I am freshly awestruck by them as much as I am by the landscape of Ireland I've witnessed so many times.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Vox Peregrini 2017 Being Vox

Walking a hundred miles in seven days through the Wicklow Way takes an exacted toll on all who dare the adventure, even the young and able. The pilgrims of Vox Peregrini 2017 were not spared the price. And neither were they excused the cost of admission; the commitment to perform within hours of finishing the Way. They arrived in Marley Park about four on Wednesday afternoon and performed at eleven the next morning at St James Chapel, then two hours later at St Patrick's Cathedral. Added to these concerts was a three hour recording session Friday afternoon. Muscles are muscles and the will carries tired legs as well as exhausted voices and Vox 2017 delivered with superb style on both accounts.

St James Chapel rests along the walls of the Guinness empire. The exquisite Roman church is as esthetically appealing as any Cathedral in Ireland. The long gothic white arches are etched in lines of red that lead to a golden roof. Behind the marble white altar is a stunningly ornate wall piece complete with gold crucifix. The back wall of liturgical blue and red arises out of the marble altar piece, ascending into the golden heaven. Marking gospel and church history is the life size crucifix that has hung near the altar since 1759.

Vox opened the performance with Hildegaard Bingen's "O Ignis Spiritus Paracliti." The small audience was held in awe. Their profound silence, held back no longer, erupted into appreciative applause. At the conclusion of each piece the teary-eyes parishioners of St James could barely contain themselves and when the performance was finished they rushed to embrace the Vox singers. The strength and skill of these young musicians under the guidance of their master conductor was on display at its finest. And they had only been singing together for eight days.

The concert at St Patrick's was no less perfect—but still more powerful, given it was performed amongst the whim of unsuspecting tourists. Vox Peregrini 2017 carried magic dust that it spread freely over anyone who dared pause for a moment. An unusually large number gathered around to listen for several pieces. Twenty-something's, who stumbled in on the event, sat mesmerized. Tourists, who had paid the price of admission to the historic cathedral, were unsuspectingly drawn into what they did not understand. And a few family and friends who came to be the audience were enraptured. Not one sound of applause came after not one song. I imagined that those listening were experiencing a worship that they had neither expected nor knew how to sort, so they offered what they intuited most precious—pure silence.

When the concert was over, the applause came. With the final note, Vox Peregrini 2017 could no longer hold back the emotions they had kept contained for fear they could not sing. Strong embrace wrapped in tears poured into the cruciform of their love for one another.

In that witness, I was drawn to reflect on something I had overheard earlier that day. After the morning performance at St James, the docent, who was responsible for hosting Vox, had shared a bit of her history with a few willing listeners. She had spent most of her eighty plus years in that congregation. Her life had been one of volunteering in several key ministries. She was proud of her parish. Subtlety and without remorse, she simply stated, "Religion is dead, but the people need community and that's why I'm here." The rapid decline of every religion in Ireland, the UK, and Europe, is a foretaste of the diminishing global religious economy, of which America is not being spared. For what hope could there be?

Somewhere along the Vox Peregrini pilgrimage, musical director and creative genius, John Wiles started calling the entirety of the project and everyone involved in it, Vox. The once brilliant idea of imagination was given birth in 2015 and has now begun stretching its legs into a burgeoning maturity. The individuals of Vox and the Vox Peregrini 2015 and 2017 have become a part of something bigger than themselves. Now Vox, that larger entity, has itself, evolved into a part of the universal self, entering the cycle and process of the alchemy of life. Such is the birth of an achievement that rests primarily on the feet, backs, and voices of John and the individuals who have walked and sung with him. To you, I lift my pint and say, "Cheers."

The last time I saw Vox Peregrini 2017 was at the Church. Not St James, nor St Patrick's, but at the church where Handel regularly used the organ to practice his masterpiece "The Messiah." That church was St Mary's, Church of Ireland. It is now The Church Restaurant and Bar, one of the hot spots of Dublin. Vox sang, danced, and celebrated the short life of their charismatic community and their successful participation in Vox. They had given themselves as an offering of body, voice, soul, and love. Their oblations were received and magically, mystically, converted into the sacrament of the fire of the spirit, "O ignis Spiritus paracliti." As priests and priestesses of the Vox, they distributed communion to all who receive. And each communicant was transmuted as they would hear. Indeed, religion is dead, and its institutions are dying. But the Spirit lives in the hearts and lives of those who have ears to hear.