Tuesday, September 22, 2015

God is Weird and that Changes Everything

I’m writer. I do a lot of research and some I do on the Internet. In researching for this series of sermons on the Beatitudes I got a pop up add for this T-shirt I bought. Which reads, “Blessed are the weird people, the writers, the artists, the dreamers, the outsiders, for they force us to see the world differently.”

Twelve years ago, as part of my training to become a priest, I worked as a hospital chaplain. I worked nights and weekends. One night, sometime after mid-night, I received a page from the psychiatric ward. Actually, because I worked nights, I spent most of my time between ER, ICU, and the psychiatric ward. When I arrived at the front desk to the unit, the nurse told me the room number. She also asked me not turn on the lights in the room. She said the lights really upset the patient.

I taped on the door. There was no answer. I eased into the room without opening the door very wide. I taped on the inside of the door. “Hello. I’m the chaplain. My name is Gil.” A voice from the dark said, “Sit down.”

I slid down the wall and sat on the floor. The only light in the room was from the smoke alarm in the center of the ceiling. I had hoped my eyes would eventually adjust to the darkness. “Is there something you would like to talk about?” I asked. I sat in silence for quiet a long time.

Then the person sitting somewhere in the room said, “God is weird.”

I said, “Yeah, I know.” We sat in silence. And that changes everything.

I’ve thought about that exchange so much my head hurts. God is weird and that changes everything.

I was created in the image of God. I was created to be a unique and authentic person. That means no one is like me. Therefore, I am weird. You were created in the image of God. You were created to be a unique and authentic person. That means no one is like you. Therefore, you are weird. God created us in God’s image. No one is like God, but everyone is like God. That’s weird. That changes everything.

My sister is mentally and physically handicapped. She’s the most spiritual person I know. That’s weird. That changes everything.

My grandson is three and half years old. He was outside with my wife a few months ago. He and my wife were sitting on lawn chair swing for two people. He was lying on the seat with his head in Cathy’s lap. She asked him if he wanted a snack. “No, Gaga. I just want to lay here and look up at God’s beautiful world.” That’s weird. That changes everything.

Did you know that ravens can talk? I met one in Ireland who talked to me. That’s weird. That changes everything.

You have atoms in you that are13 million years old? That’s weird. That changes everything.

We’re breathing the same molecules of air that the dinosaurs, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus breathed. That’s weird. That changes everything.

There was a recent discovery in a cave in southern Africa. Fifteen remains of a human-like creature, part ape/part man. Scientist believe because of the way the remains were placed in the cave that those people, who lived 3 million years ago, were capable of ritual behavior. That’s weird. That changes everything.

The Book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew bible was written over 2,500 years ago. The book is about Ezekiel’s vision of a chariot coming down out of the sky. The chariot held four creatures, each with four faces, one a human, one a lion, one an ox, one an eagle. Some scholar’s think Ezekiel might have been mentally ill or at least taking some psychedelic drugs. That’s weird. That changes everything.

Owen Barfield (one of the Inklings) said that words have souls—those words carry the consciousness of the ancients from the past into the future. The writer of the Gospel of John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and Word was God.” Someone told me that in the Spanish translation of this verse it reads, “In the beginning was the Verb and the Verb was with God, and the Verb was God.” That’s weird. That changes everything.

Jesus told people to love God. Jesus told his followers to love each other. Religious people said he was a heretic. Political people said he was dangerous. So, they killed him. That’s weird. That changes everything.

Matthew Bellamy, lead singer for the band Muse wrote, “Love is our resistance.” That sounds like Jesus. That’s weird. That changes everything.

Jesus said, “Follow me.” He never said worship me. That’s weird. That changes everything.

If you want to follow Jesus, then you’ll have to love God with same intensity Jesus loved God. And you’ll have to love other people with the intensity that Jesus loves us. When you do that, people will think you’re weird. And that will change everything.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The More I Experience, the Less I Believe

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

I’ve walked four pilgrimages in Ireland—once I walked across Ireland almost 400 miles. The mountains of Ireland can be daunting; at times the weather can be harsh. I’ve walked alone. I’ve walked with groups of twelve. I’ve walked a twenty-three mile day. I’ve fasted during eight-hour walks. My pilgrimages have built on one another. I’ve encountered the mystical and the magical.

Before going on a walking pilgrimage I had to spend significant time preparing. I bought good boots. I took the time and walked the miles to break in my boots properly. For every 100 miles of pilgrimage, I walked 400 to get ready; that’s twenty-five miles a week for four months.

Still, after all this walking, I have a constant ache to walk another pilgrimage. I hunger to be on a perpetual pilgrimage. I’ve come to realize my life has been a series of one pilgrimage after another. Life is a spiral of what is above and what is below. Every event is connected, becoming integrated—mind, body, soul interwoven with nature and the Divine.

Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes is about a spiritual pilgrimage; a hunger for righteousness and purity. The English definitions of righteousness and purity can make us feel that Jesus’ goals are impossible to achieve. I feel that I can never be righteous and pure.

But in the Greek, the word righteousness, in this context, means we hunger and thirst for a ‘second chance.’ And the word purity is a chemical term, meaning a ‘heart of gold.’ Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for a second chance for they will be filled with a heart of gold and they will see God.

The point of Jesus’ teaching is that if we make the best of our second chance the process will lead to heart of gold. The second chance is walking another pilgrimage with God in order to create a heart of gold within us.

So, what does walking a pilgrimage with God look like? In our Book of Common Prayer, on page 236, there is this beautiful prayer of how to live a life walking with God. “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scripture to be written for our learning; Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life…” To spend our time immersed in the scripture is to walk with God.

In 1960 I was seven-years-old. My parents gave me this bible as a Christmas gift. As a child I made notes in the bible. Then, in 1967, my grandmother gave me this bible as a Christmas gift. There’s lot of underlining in this bible and more notes. At some point I had to tape the back on the bible to hold it together. In 1974, my sister-in-law gave me this bible for Christmas. (There seems to be a pattern forming.) This bible is filled with notes, underlining and colored highlights. In 1993, I bought a Harper Study Bible. I used this bible so much I had to tape the cover on it—the back broke and the pages started falling out. Then, ten years ago, at my ordination, the bishop presented me with this bible. It is also filled with notes and marking and the cover has fallen off this bible as well.

These bibles mark the progression of my spiritual pilgrimage with God; they are the symbols of the process of the spiral of my spiritual work. The first bible, I was a child—I thought like a child, talked like a child, and acted like a child. The second bible was during my teenage years. It was a period of stretching, testing, rebelling, and growing. The third bible was my young adult years. I was conforming to the way of world in which I lived. Cathy and I had young children. It was the first half of my life and I needed boundaries and guidelines. The Harper’s Bible is the symbol of moving from the first half of life to the second half—leaving the answers behind, to instead search for the questions that lead to more questions. The bible I’ve carried for the last ten years is a symbol of the pilgrimage of life. This bible is a symbol of the great paradox I’m experiencing. For the more liberal my theology becomes, the more mystically deep it goes. Honestly, I don’t believe anything anymore—however I continually have deep mystical magical knowledge filled experiences with the Divine. The less I know and believe, the more I experience. I’m starting to wonder if it’s time for a new bible?

A dear friend of mine told me a story about her dad. At the beginning of every year he would buy a new bible. He read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested that bible throughout the year. At the end of the year he would look back over the previous year’s bible to see if he’d changed his thinking in any way, which he often did. Even in retirement he kept up the practice of buying a new bible at the beginning of every year. Finally, near the end of his life, he couldn’t see very well nor hold his bible. It was then my friend would go see her dad everyday. And everyday she would read his bible to him. And regularly, he would stop her and say, “Ruth, underline that, make a note in the margin.”

This experience of spiritual pilgrimage is not unique. Everyone can walk this path with God—it never too late in life to begin spiraling above and below. You only need three things, a bible, a prayer book, and a pencil. In the back of the BCP are the daily readings. Ten minutes a day is all it takes to go on this mystical, knowledge filled, magical pilgrimage. Listen, read, mark, learn, inwardly digest—start walking.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Ode to William Rhodes

The Reverend Canon William Rhodes has slipped through the veil that shadows the world of the unseen from our eyes. His presence has moved beyond our vision but not from our hearts. His enchanting smile, though missed, will remain. His words, though not heard, will still remind. His beckoning of the saints to the Table will now be ours to fetch him to come.

Bill Rhodes was a living poem; he was wise, encouraging, an exact enigma. He was the master of the Table, keeper of the High Way. His theology was precise. His ethics made the margins as wide as the love of Christ he followed and as narrow as the path He walked.

Many of us have our favorite Father Bill story. Those remembrances will inspire us towards his path of courage and endurance. Bill Rhodes walked that dusty road, which was often filled with pain, pointing us to look at the redeemer and healer, God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We when hear those words, we will also hear the Sanctus Bells, smell the incense, see the fine vestments, taste the transmuted bread and wine, but we will only touch the priest in our souls. Grief can be as heavy as the aroma of years of frankincense. Let our tears mingle in the wine.

As was typical of Bill, just last week he gathered with his colleagues to discuss the challenging works of Franciscan Richard Rohr. The opinions in the room were as wide as the Anglican Communion. Some quoted scripture in defense of their position. Others referred to their experience of the Divine as the basis for their understanding. Bill Rhodes recited lines from the Eucharistic Prayer. His life of service to others was enmeshed in the liturgy he enveloped at the Table. Bill Rhodes had become the liturgy.

W.B. Yeats wrote, “Have not poetry and music arisen out of the sounds the enchanters made to help their imagination, to enchant, to charm, to bind with a spell themselves and the passers by? And just as the musicians or the poet enchants and charms and binds with a spell his own mind when he would enchant the mind of others, so did the enchanter create or reveal for himself as well as for others the supernatural artist or genius.”

William Rhodes was a living poem, the genius artist of the supernatural. He was an enchanter who invited us into the mystery of the Table. William Rhodes intimately knew the Triune God he so passionately celebrated as he opened the window for us to share a glimpse.

The poet may be hidden from our eyes, but his charm lingers in our hearts.

This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.
“The Elixir,” George Herbert