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.



Friday, July 07, 2017

Vox Peregrini Day Seven Walking into Dublin

The final day of any pilgrimage is the most difficult. Along the way, we find ourselves asking, "Is this the last hill?" Because when I climb that final ascent, I want to capture the moment in a picture, a journal entry, in some way that will indelibly mark this experience into the very essence of my being. And when I reach this pinnacle, instead of words, I find myself bathed in my own silence.

There are two thoughts that dominant most pilgrims as they walk that last day. "Something I've planned for so long, is now over," which is followed by the daunting question, "How do I negotiate with myself how I will now live in the world?" How do I tell my family and friends about something they will most likely not understand? The answer lies in the reality that I don't fully comprehend what has happened to me. I cannot put into words the transmutation that has taken place in my mind, body, soul, and spirit. I have come to realize that the most difficult ascent is the final descent. The walk back into reality, back home, is the walk that begins my new pilgrimage—the return to a new normal, to a world that will never be the same because I am no longer the same person—the one I want to delay as long as possible.

Vox Peregrini's remarkable moment was when the improbable happened. Standing atop Dublin Mountain, looking down on the bustling city nestled against the bay, Vox held silence. They seemed almost afraid to move, for fear they would disturb the air, causing the moment to vanish, as they beg against rationale, knowing it will. There they hold back the rushing wave of the eventual.

Almost by telepathy, John asked the group to sing, "When the Earth Stands Still." Without moving, without a prompt, without a beginning note, they sang, "Come listen in the silence of the moment..." They leaned their weight against the wall of emotion and sang. Their voices were not in circle, but they sang into the forest that held them, "There's a deep sigh int he quiet of the forest..."

While the magic worked, our friend the Chaffinch appeared, dancing at the feet of the baritone. The Irish aviary that sang with Vox at Glendalough Mountain would be mystically present. As the notes carried in the air, the Chaffinch then moved to rest on a large stone by a bass. The song lingered on its final note. Not to go unnoticed, he flew around the group to land in a tree behind the sopranos. There he smiled on their lives. To complete his visit and release the group to walk into their new pilgrimage, he flew into their midst. In picture, John caught witness of the experience, though not needed because the joy is now etched deep into my soul's memory. The ascent of the descent has begun.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Vox Peregrini Day Six

The walk from Roundwood to Knocree is the longest and most arduous day of the Wicklow Way. It is also my favorite day of the pilgrimage. This would be the fifth time I made this trek over White Hill. Twice I've made the climb in torrential wind whipped rain with near zero visibility. But today the Celtic divine would give their blessings and the weather would be brilliant, light winds, white clouds, and a slight mist at needed moments.

Atop White Hill you can peer down on Lough Dann, or more commonly known as Guinness Lake. Looking down on the body of water the lake appears to be a giant pint of Ireland's famous luscious black beer, including a white beach, mirroring Guinness' frothy top. The crawl over the bald mountain is made across a long stretch of railroad ties, needed in order to pass over the bog. Even the sheep walk the ties in order to avoid the sticky black compost of earth. Of course, the sheep leave a natural trail behind them, often unavoidably so. Life is simply a long series of metaphors, is it not.

Vox Peregrini 2017 has made this walk with strength and vigor as they climbed the HIll with the ease of youth; but wisely they paused to take in the view of the Atlantic laying on the other side of the Great Sugar Loaf, chat with grazing sheep, and admire the mist rolling overhead. They picked their way down the narrow rocky back side of the trail, careful not to slip down the slick grassy hill into the rocks below.

Vox moved easily down into the valley in order to cross the Dargle River that feeds the rushing Powerscourt waterfall. And every time you walk down, you have to walk up the opposing steep hill to get into the Crone Woods, home of Knocree. There in the woods along a gentle stream stands the aging Mother Oak. There she has opened herself to grow over a large angular rectangle stone. The willing can crawl inside Mother and listen to her magic. Offerings were left, prayers made, gifts given.

At Knocree Hostel that evening, Vox gathered for a final rehearsal. The two hour rehearsal conducted by Dr John Wiles, appeared to be Master Class, which delighted his singers. They shared ideas, laughed at musician's insider jokes, and stifled yawns. They had walked 18 miles and it was late in the evening and yet their voices were magical.

A hostel guest asked if he could listen in. Pierre from France, who has visited Taize on more than one occasion, compared Vox's music to his spiritual experience in Taize worship. Three other guests dropped in, three inner city youth from Dublin. They were at the hostel for an outdoor experience program. At the end of a particular sacred piece, one of the girls burst out in joy, "You make my skin all tingly." Indeed, she wasn't the only one with who would be viscerally touched by Vox's magical artistry.

Tonight would be filled with archetypal dreams found in the ancient lore of Celtic wonder and myth. Penultimate days can feed the imagination of the pilgrimage and spark the revelation of the unconscious.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Vox Peregrini Day Five

Climbing 1500 feet out of the Glendalough Valley is demanding. But every pause is the opportunity to breathe in the panorama of creation's majesty. The kingdom of the sky lays down a light grey, then a purple, then swirls of cream, and dops of midnight blues with dashes of royals. The portrait of the sky feels permanent until the next time we turn to take another glorious breath. Under the comforting sky reside the vast interwoven mountains, vested in emerald regalia, revealing the rich hues of Mother Earth's resplendent tapestry of greens that only the soul can differentiate. On the hillside around us the ferns move in rhythm with the encouraging breeze. And today's footsteps are softened by a velvet hillside grass that reaches up to caress our feet. At the very peak of our three hour climb we lay down our packs for a well deserved rest.

This is the pilgrim's rest going in and out of the Glendalough Valley. The Mountain Rescue team has build a shelter that invites a day time relief from rain and a home to spend the night. Here we rest. Here the magic of the Way begins to settle into the bones.

John Wiles chooses the Shaker hymn, "Not One Sparrow," for Vox Peregrini to sing. After a few gentle comments, one of the singers offers that this song reminds him of his grandmother's favorite, the "Eye of the Sparrow." Indeed, John says, similar in tone, but different in theology. He offers Vox a line or two about Mother Ann Lee and points to a line in this hymn that makes reference to her. Shakerism, founded in Lee's dualism of the female and male nature of the Divine, created a community of equality. Her gentle teachings convinced her followers that she was the feminine incarnation of brother Jesus. Though the Shakers worship style was a response of spontaneity to the staid Church of England, Lee's hymns are gentle and comforting. "Not one sparrow will be forgotten, even the raven God will feed."

As Vox Peregrini began to sing the hymn again, a small sparrow like Chiffinch landed on the ground in front of me. His brilliant copper chest almost obscured his dark silver helmet. He was curious. He also sung in time with Vox. I imagined he wanted me to throw him a crumb. But he moved to quickly, seeming to be more interested in the singing. He circled the singers, sat in a tree, matched his tone to theirs and announced that he had joined this human choir. Then he returned to the ground in front me, assuring me music was more sustaining that food. For, this sparrow said that he too was the incarnation of the Divine.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Vox Peregrini Day Four and Glendalough

When the sun shines in Ireland the hills sparkle with their silver pines. The grasses twist their heads forward to reveal a glistening sheen of iridescent green. And the bog exposes a reflective onyx. Erie breathes a deep sigh of joy on these rare clear summer days.

With a gentle cool breeze at their back, Vox Peregrini climbed the Glendalough Mountains heading towards the near 2,000 year old monastery of St Kevin. We made the steepest ascent in this point of the Wicklow Way from the south. Leaving a logging road, we started the stairway of shiny grey shale without being able to see the top. Each step had to be carefully chosen, else fearing the loss of balance and the chance of falling backwards down the hill. To the sides of the natural stepping stones was the wet and unstable ebony bog. At some points, hiking sticks caused more risk than aid, either slipping on smooth stones or sticking in an enveloping black goo.

Reaching the top was a moment of exhilarating achievement, at least for a guy my age. The younger ones worked their way to the top and were well into enjoying their lunch by the time I arrived out of breath. They smiled kindly at my successful arrival. It's been so long since I was there age, I can't remember what it felt like to pull a hill and not see more of the ground than the sky. But, hey, someone has to bring up the rear and make sure everyone else arrives safely. At least that's what I like telling myself.

After lunch we cross a half mile of railroad ties, allowing us to move easily across the gnarly grass covered bog. The black bog was created when centuries ago an Icelandic volcano erupted and the ash blanketed Ireland, suffocating most of the plant life and creating a fifteen foot thick natural compost. The bog has been a modern source of fuel for the Irish especially during the petrol restricted times of War World II. Harvesting bog is now protected to ensure its historic perseveration. Personally knowing the difficulty of walking across the bog on some western trails in Ireland, I can't imagine the difficulty of cutting and hauling it for miles. But today, we simply walk up a hill across railroad ties laid down by volunteers who love climbing the hills of Ireland while protecting its ancient landscape.

Before descending in the Glendalough valley, Vox Peregrini stopped to rehearse. Two fellow pilgrims sat under the shade of the pines for a breather. They enjoyed their serenaded respite and their applause was acknowledged with appreciative smiles.

Singing in the open forest with a strong breeze seems impossible to me. But Vox Peregrini are never deterred. There voices match their director's expectations and something magical happens in the woods. That magic was translated twice to uninitiated pilgrims in the next twenty-four hours.

Having been in the silence of the forest for four days, the onslaught of tourists can be overwhelming to the soul. Our group bunched together, trying to protect ourselves from those unaware of what it means to walk a pilgrimage. John had decided to take the group immediately to St Kevin's Kitchen, the first ancient monastic worship space of the site. There, he hoped to be able to sing inside the rarely opened chapel. As synchronicity would happen, a man wearing a jacket with the word "Guide" on his back had opened the ten foot by ten foot stone room, complete with stone ceiling. This tiny stone chapel is one of the few remaining with the roof intact.

John quickly moved the group into their now practiced circle. The Guide told them he was going to close the gate to the building and they had to leave. John asked if they could sing one song. The man told them he wouldn't allow any inappropriate such singing. In a few words John told him they were going to sing sacred music. Hesitantly, the Guide said, "Well let's hear a bit."

And then the angels that had been dead for eons joined in with Vox Peregrini. A building that had longed to hear the nature of its purpose, opened its very soul to breathe deeply the sound of these young troubadours. The room quickly filled with amazed tourists. One women in her seventies stood touching the circle and openly wept and the music bathed the essence of her being. When the singing stopped, silence hang in the air like the mystery of birth, and then the child cried out in applause. The Guide gave the Irish understatement, "Well now, how lovely," and then swept the thirty people from the ancient worship space.

The next evening, Vox Peregrini offered their four day old repertoire to a small but extremely appreciative audience at St Kevin's Catholic Church. The beautiful grey stone and acoustically pristine church was built in 1850 by local parishioners. The space held its congregation's love and the singers absorbed the warmth of those present. John mentioned how this was the first time they had performed, which drew a gasp of unbelief from the couple sitting behind me. Indeed, it seems beyond remarkable how this group could knit their voices, and I might suggest souls, together so quickly. Maybe the answer lies somewhere in the mystery and magic of being on pilgrimage? Regardless the multi layers of reasons and circumstances that would allow such a group to crystallize so rapidly; the joyful noise illuminated the sacred space with fresh air for this moment.

Our twenty-four hour relief from the Way gave us time to live in the breath of times past. We gathered at St Mary's, the women's chapel, which lies just outside the monastery walls. There, women would bring their unbaptized children to be buried. And there, women priests would minister to their grief. We were led by a holy woman of the Grandmother's circle this morning. We followed her as she circled the tiny church seven times. We entered in silence. We listened to the prayers. We prayed Our Mother. And we shared in the blessed meal of the fruit of Love and the water of Wisdom; a pilgrim's meal of inclusion. My wife has always been a priest to her tribe and this occasion was no exception. Blessed Be. Now we must leave the Valley of the Lake of Two Angels. On to Roundwood and then to White Hill.

Vox Peregrini Day Three

The fifteen mile hike from Kyle's farm house to Glenmalure is a long slow climb through the Carrickashane Mountain. As the elevation rises the pilgrims have the opportunity to look back on the southern region of Ireland where the farms are demarcated by stone walls; tidy, lush green pastures of restive cows with their calves and the wondering sheep and lambs that blanket the rolling hills and valleys. Today's walk moves the hikers from the grasslands into the forests. The elevation of every hill gives way to the strain of demanding mountains of limestone and quartz.

The miles of the previous two days and the ache of climbing mountains began to show a bit on Vox Peregrini. Instead of walking in small chatty groups, a long silent line formed up every contiguous hill. Just as the burning muscles of one hill eases, the next climb begins. Vox Peregrini is little aware that this will be the pattern for the remainder of their trek along the Wicklow Way.

I have walked the Way from both directions, now my fifth journey along the Wicklow, the second starting from the south. Going from Clonegal to Dublin, I have found, is the most satisfying. The stunning scenery combined with rewarding challenges are to be found more prevalent in the final four days.

The great joy of walking with folks on their first pilgrimage, especially in Ireland, is that I am reminded of the beauty of what I might just walk past. This is the first journey across Ireland for most of Vox Peregrini 2017 and they stop to take pictures of the landscape and one another at points I had forgotten that I, too, had stopped to ponder in awe.

At the halfway point of the day, before the more strenuous part of the walk began, John Wiles, creator of Vox Peregrini and musical director, called his wife, Pastor Amy Wiles, to offer a blessing for us. She had given this blessing to Vox 2015 at this point, and I personally found it most poignant. Her well timed and inspiring words moved the group into a long held silence that allowed the wind to speak through the flowing ancient pines.

This was also a day to recognize that the Irish also farm the forest. The stark reality of deforestation is abrupt to an innocent pilgrim. Even with the evidence of appropriate forest management and replanting, the image of walking where others have made holy pilgrimage is tarnished. Little is lost in the conversation among Vox Peregrini when they gather for a breather, to bandage forming blisters, and treat aching knees.

These are the days where life conversations brew, those revisiting past clouds and those discerning sunny days that could emerge. These long paths of solitude produce the possibility of coming along side a fellow pilgrim for contemplation that I find painfully rewarding.

Day three ends oddly at the Wicklow Way halfway marker. We stop for the obligatory photo taken by a fellow pilgrim from Germany walking in the opposite direction. And such a moment gives Vox the opportunity to sing "Blackbird." To stand among these gifted singers in a privilege, one I don't take for granted, no matter how many times I hear them. Equally, though, I am fascinated to watch the reaction of the sole pilgrim who stands amongst them, being sung to, personally, as if courted by a choir of lovers. Without exception, each solitary soul is visibly moved, some to tears others to great joy, and at some point I heard this young man join in - that was reciprocal love.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Vox Peregrini Day Two

Synchronicity - is that a thing? Random circumstance? Extrapolated hopes? Wishful thinking? I lean toward Carl Jung's understanding; those unplanned situations that defy our attempted explanations, but have profound symbolic meaning for our life.

Early into Vox Peregrini's sixteen mile walk from Shillelagh to Kyle's Farm House in Moyne, they stopped at St Finnian's Catholic Church. The church was empty on this Thursday morning. But the doors were open and inviting.

I had stopped to pray at St Finnians in 2012 and then again with Vox Peregrini in 2015. Nothing would lead a visitor to suspect that this was a dying church. The doors were always open, no matter the day of the week. The yard around the grey flagstone church is beautifully maintained. The inside is simple yet immaculate. The wooden floor and pews were polished. The Renaissance paintings of the Stations of the Cross are prints, but well preserved. The stone altar and altar piece are pure white. The sanctuary for the reserve sacrament is polished gold and rests centered immediately behind the altar. A life size statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus stands to the left of the altar piece and one of Mary the Mother of God stands to the right. Everything visually proclaims that this is a well loved church. But evidently the vibrancy of the congregation is waning.

As the choir was working on a few pieces, I picked up a letter written by the local bishop to the four parishes in the area. Due to declining attendance and a shortage of priests, those parishes would be served by one priest and experience a dramatic reduction in their services, some, including St Finnians, to twice a month. The unspoken expectation would be that this was the first step of many towards closing some of those churches. Some like St Finnian's could become museum pieces to a religion of an ancient past.

The final piece that Vox Peregrini chose to rehearse was Hildegaard of Bingen's medieval chant, "O ignis Spiritus paracliti." The opening lines of the chant voice the cry of a desperate but hopeful soul: "O fire of the Spirit...Holy are you, anointing the critically broken. Holy are you, cleansing the festering wounds." The lyrics demand that the Spirit thrust her holy power into the despair of the dying; places like St Finnians that seem to have no hope, no future.

The magic of the choir and their pristine soprano soloist called forth the dead and evoked the angels to join the ancient chant. My soul was disturbed to joy, yet rattled to sadness at the edges of my imagination. Could it be that this would be the last music to be sung in this church? A church already void of Sunday music or even for special occasions? Could this be the spectral mass for the church itself? I could see the priests of the past whose graves lay just outside the walls, standing round the altar in their vestments, celebrating the Holy Eucharist. All would be well in this moment. But not for the morrow of the living.

Are we witnessing the death of the Church? Most likely. Are we experiencing a post-Christian era? Definitely. Will the Spirit's work of Christianity past fade into obscurity? Not as long as those who understand, love, and celebrate the craft of ancient Spirit filled art continue to open their souls to their imagination and the synchronicity of the moment. Not to conduct art as performance. But in the pure joy of singing to God for the sake of the gifts of God, allowing the music and the Spirit to perform their own mystical magic. That is the pilgrimage of Vox Peregrini. And on this day they sang for themselves, the divine, and the dead. Holiness was resurrected if just for four minutes. And that was enough for a lifetime of generations.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Vox Peregrini -- Day One

The Wicklow Way is a near hundred mile pilgrimage through the mountainous forests along the Ireland's eastern coast. Vox Peregrini is a group of professional musicians under the direction of Dr. John Wiles, professor of choral performance at the University or Northern Iowa. He has gathered twelve highly trained and talented performers who would sing together for the first time the night before the pilgrimage began.

Fourteen pilgrims walking several different pilgrimages simultaneously in the same Irish mist; the pilgrimage of a choir becoming one voice, the pilgrimage of the formation of a community, and fourteen individual pilgrims walking their own soul journey. John and four of this year's group walked and sang together with Vox Peregrini 2015. They are also making a unique pilgrimage; those who walk a familiar path in a new way—while the trail is the basically the same, the pilgrimage is raw in its freshness. And for me, this is my fifth time to walk the Way. Always we begin again, the unknown lies in the subtleties of the familiar. My personal pilgrimage with these people is to be present if needed and unseen at all other times.

We began at the southern end of the trail in Clonegal. An ancient village who has suffered many battles of oppression. In the Irish Confederate wars of 1650, the Englishman Cromwell gathered Catholic monks and murdered them in the village. The ghosts of those souls are a part of any Wicklow pilgrimage. To walk the Way is to know who walks with us, the seen and the unseen, the weight of the past and the present, the tragedy of history, personal and collective.

Vox Peregrini 2107 is a vibrant wave of youthful energy and old souls. They sing with enthusiastic power and walk with a long spirited gait. Nothing seems beyond their possibility. I find it exhilarating to walk with them.

Day one went as it should. The weather was brilliant, cloudy, cool, with a light mist. Vox Peregrini kept an aggressive pace. They sang four pieces beautifully at the midday break. They climbed the major hill with ease. We arrived at our destination on time. Supper was perfect. And their singing was appreciated by the patrons at the golf club where we dined. All is well and that only make me wonder for tomorrow.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Diamond Hill in Connemara Park, the Pilgrimage Lessons Begin

We made our way north of Galway to the Connemara National Park. The tiny road into the park is nestled at the base of stark limestone mountains covered with short grasses. The road travels along a stream that feeds into a series of dark lakes. Sheep make themselves at home along the tarmac, never moved by oncoming traffic. They are often nestled in the tall grass alongside the road or against short rock bridges. The new born lambs are never far from their mothers. One rather large horn adored sheep relaxed in the very middle of the narrow road. He never moved an inch as we slowed to move pass off the far edge of the road.

We traveled past the Elizabethan Kylemore Abbey, now a tourist attraction and home to a Benedictine Community. Our GPS led us to turn off our narrow two lane road onto a gravel road, which took us up to a grey aging building that looked like an old university dormitory. There were a handful of cars parked in front. As we drove up the entrance, Cathy saw some nuns sitting by a window. As we stopped, a nun in full habit came out the door and up the car. I rolled down the window and she asked if we were looking for the Connemara Park Center. She nodded to Cathy who was holding her phone, "The GPS always sending folks our way. We meet them from everywhere." We told her we are from Arizona and then she gave us directions to the park. Their Belgian order was founded in the 16th century and made their way to Ireland after World War I. They moved to their current residence near the Abbey in 1920 and founded a girl's boarding school. In recent years they closed the school and, as many orders, discerning what is the best future for their order.

With our new directions, and without the GPS, we found our way to the entrance of the Connemara National Park. I am always reminded by the free admission to the parks of how important these sites are to the Irish and how much they want to share their life and history with the world.

The Connemara is the world's largest outcropping of limestone. The hills are covered with low grasses and bog and barren of trees. We walked the 5 mile trail up 1500 feet to the peak of Diamond Hill. The trail was made possible by picking our way up the winding limestone wind swept "stairs."

Halfway up the hill, we stopped for a breather and a drink. A young man in his thirties nodded and walked past. Later we passed him as he was facing the mist that was rolling in off the Atlantic with arms outstretched. In broken English, with what sounded like an Italian accent, he said, "The smoke is the best." He moved on passed us again. We would trade spots with him a half a dozen times in our ascent.

As I neared the top, the young man seemed to be waiting for me. When I approached him he said, "Can you give me some advice." He came face to face with me. "How do you handle baby?" I told him we have two adult children and they have grown to be truly wonderful adults. Just be yourself, I told him. "As babies, they were ok?" He asked. "How?"

Be present to the baby with your mind, your heart, your body, all of yourself. "My whole being?" He said. Yes, all of your being. We introduced ourselves. He name was Stephan. I blessed him and told him all will be well. He thanked me and we departed. I didn't see him on the trail again.

This day started out simply as the desire to take a bit of adventure to see some new landscape and walk an unfamiliar trail. But it wasn't long before I was gently reminded that everyday is day of pilgrimage. Every step, every hill, every stone, every animal, every person on the pilgrimage is a guidebook with tiny maps for the way of life. The opportunities and markers are often subtle and easy to miss. Other times, they just step out and confront me face to face. And today's journey has made me happy to imagine what tomorrow will bring.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Walking those Unwanted Painful Pilgrimages

The last few weeks people have been asking me if I’m excited about our trip to Ireland. That question usually is followed with, “are you packed?” A few will ask me if I’m ready to walk the 150 miles. And a few have asked me how have I prepared myself. The answer to those questions lie somewhere in the process of paying to attention to the mind, body, soul, and spirit.

I know I’m headed to Ireland. I know I’m going to walk the Wicklow Way with two groups. I’ve walked the Wicklow Way before; I know the terrain, and I know that the weather is unpredictable. But I don’t know how my body will hold up this time. I am walking with people who will be on their first walking pilgrimage. I don’t know how they will respond to the pounding of the trail. And for sure, I don’t know what will bubble up from deep within my psyche, nor do I know what the Spirit of God will bring my way. The power of the uncertain far out ways the familiar.

But pilgrimages come in many forms, those we intend to take, as well as those that are thrust upon us. I am always talking with people who are sharing their stories about dealing with life pilgrimages; the anxiety, the fear, and the unknown. The question invariably comes about how to prepare for the uncertain.

How do we prepare for a pilgrimage into the uncertain—the pilgrimage of health issues, the pilgrimage of life transitions, the pilgrimage of disappointments, and the pilgrimage of delving into the unknown realm of the spiritual world?

To find some answers to these questions, let’s take a look at the story of Abraham and Sarah, the founders of our faith and the original pilgrims. (Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7) How was Abraham prepared to go on what seemed to be an impossible pilgrimage?

First, Abraham listened. He used his six senses to hear what God was saying to him. To go on any kind of pilgrimage—those we intend to go on and those we do not want to traveled— we have to prepare ourselves by listening. Typically, our first response is to do something; make plans, buy tickets, buy new boots. We want to rush around and do things; all good things, all things we eventually need to do.

The same usually happens when we get thrust into a pilgrimage we don’t want to take, things like illness, divorce, loss of a job, death of a loved one.

We want to do something, get on the internet, do research, read a book about how to solve our problem, talk to our friends. All things are good, but they are distractions from the reality of how to start a pilgrimage. The first thing we must do is listen—to take information using all our senses. Look around and see what’s happening. Smell the air. Taste the situation. Touch the circumstances. Listen.

Abraham listened. What he heard was awfully challenging. God told him to leave his home. God told him he would be traveling to some unknown place. And when he arrived at this promised land it would be occupied by another tribe who wouldn’t want to give up their land. And God told him that one day, in the far away future, he and his wife, though seventy-five and childless, would bear a son, and Abraham would become the father of many nations.
Before we head out on one of life’s pilgrimages we first have to listen to the Divine, realizing that what we might hear could be irrational and not make sense. It’s often those callings that are truly the voice of the One Holy Living God. By listening, we are then able to make intentions for our pilgrimage. By listening, I have set a specific pattern of spiritual practices that I intend to follow each day. I bought a red journal for the journey. I intend to follow the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius. I am going to read the poetry of W.B. Yeats and the prose of James Joyce. And I intend to be open to what the Spirit of God presents to me along the way.

Second, Abraham and Sarah traveled by stages; they took time to think about what they were doing. A pilgrimage has many parts. The preparation, the travel, the walking, the reflection, and then adjusting to the changes the pilgrimage has brought about in our life.

Abraham went through several wild experiences on his pilgrimage. At times, he didn’t know where he was or where he was going. He put his wife’s life at risk. His own life was threatened. His plans had not worked out very well. But he was still on his pilgrimage.

The pilgrimage of life can leave us feeling frustrated, angry, and confused. The most difficult thing to accept about the pilgrimage of life is that more often than not we really don’t know what the outcome will be. We have to let go of our need to control. And from that point, we must simply follow where the Spirit of God is calling us to go. If we avoid the calling, if we deny what is happening in our life, if we refuse to embrace what lies ahead, if we refuse to walk, then we will not be able to fully experience the gift of life. We must journey by stages and think through the process in order to experience the pilgrimage.

Third, Abraham rested under the oak; he checked in with his feelings. When you’re on a walking pilgrimage you can’t walk 24-hours a day, seven days a week. At some point, you have to sit down, take off your pack, rest, and reflect on your experience.

Abraham sat down under an oak, which became known as the Tree of Abraham, synonymous with the Tree of Life. It was there that Abraham reflected upon his pilgrimage. I have a favorite tree on the Wicklow Way. It’s a giant oak that has grown around a rectangular stone about six feet long and two feet high. By growing around the stone, the oak has created an opening to itself, which, when climbing onto the stone, you can fully stand up inside the tree. Sitting on the stone, inside the tree is a beautiful place to check in with my feelings.

And now, when I’m not in Ireland, I can sit on the ground an imagine myself inside the great oak. In the pilgrimage of life, we need those quiet, safe places, where we can check in with our feelings and reflect about our journey.

Finally, having gone through the process the comes with being on pilgrimage, Abraham imagined; he had a vision. And not only did Abraham have one vision, he lived his life in a state of visioning. In other words, his pilgrimage work effected how he lived his life; what he sensed, what he thought, what he felt, and how he imagined living the remainder of his life.

We are all on the pilgrimage of life. Some of the pilgrimages are wonderful and filled with joy—and some are not. The painful journeys maybe are where we learn the most. What we learn from the life of Abraham is that a full complete mature life will have both types of pilgrimages. The key is how we process them. Do we listen? Do we process the pilgrimages by stages? Do we set aside time for reflection? Are we willing to imagine a new way of living? Such is the work of living life as a pilgrim.








Thursday, June 08, 2017

When the Trinity Becomes Four

Being the week of Pentecost, Deacon Gay and I were talking about the difficulty of trying to explain the work of the Spirit of God. The explanation, she said, is found in the story. She said that this week she was with one of our parishioners during the final days of her life. On her visit to this person’s home, the family unexpectedly gathered around the bed for communion. Gay said she could feel the presence of the Spirit of God as she shared the bread and wine with these people. It was a mystical moment that defied words, but the experience was shaping her life in such a way that it demanded she tell the story. Later, Deacon Gay had the opportunity to tell this story to the women at Perryville. In the context of a life of so many deaths and so few resurrections, the women of Perryville were deeply touched by the movement of the Spirit of God in Gay’s life.

Within a few days, the person Gay had visited, died. As I talked with the family, one of them recounted the story of sharing communion. With tears in their eyes, they told me how meaningful this experience had been for them. The Spirit of God seems to be at work in those moments when we are the most vulnerable and willing to take the greatest risks; when the veil between life and death are the thinnest.

Deacon Gay’s story made me reflect on my own encounters with the Spirit. I thought of those times when I’ve sat with parents who were grieving the loss of a child; those times when words are meaningless and only tears have voice in the conversation of silence. I thought of those times when I was discerning a life changing decision; those times when the mere thought of the options brought on a migraine. I thought of those times when I had to sit with my own grief and I couldn’t distinguish between the waves of anger, depression, and honest grief. In each of those times, the Spirit of God appeared in a variety of ways—a singing wind chime, a subtle breeze, the innocent question from a child, a voice spoken from the dead. The Spirit of God speaks in the ways we are open to hear; but only if we are willing to listen and then act.

The Spirit of God is the interplay, between God the Creator and Jesus the Christ. To use Richard Rohr’s words—the Creator, the Christ, and the Spirit are involved in an ongoing Divine Dance into which we are invited to participate.

Cynthia Bourgeault expanded Rohr’s idea of the Divine Dance with her explanation of the “Law of Three.” This law of the Universe states that the interweaving of three agencies always produces a fourth, which is then displayed in a new dimension. In other words, when God the Creator, Jesus the Christ, and the Spirit of God are harmoniously at work in our lives, something new, a fourth, will emerge in an unimaginable way, the new dimension.

Let’s use Deacon Gay’s story as an example. There was some backstory to the event. Gay told me that on the way to visit the person, she got lost. She was running thirty minutes late and worried about finding her way. The spouse of the dying person called to ask if she was still going to come to their house. Gay could have gotten embarrassed, or frustrated, or given up, or tried to reschedule, but she didn’t—she trusted that this was “the time” she needed to be at this person’s home. Arriving late, she was told that most of the family had left in order to provide some private time for Gay to visit the dying person. But because she had been late, the family returned within a few minutes.
This window of vulnerability opened the way for the Spirit of God to engage everyone present in a deeply spiritual experience. The interweaving of God the Creator’s call on Gay’s life as a deacon, her willingness to follow Jesus the Christ even though she was embarrassed about being late, and the Spirit’s movement in the life of this family who were open to share communion across their various denominational differences, produced a fourth agency in a new dimension—that fourth was a healing experience in the life of a family that was facing death and now grief.

This story is a microcosm of the biblical story; a story about God being in relationship with all of creation. The biblical story of Jesus reveals to us that this relationship between God and creation is oddly reliant upon human interaction. The Spirit of God, then, is the provocateur, the straw that stirs the drink, the bag that holds the tea in the hot water, the pot that keeps the soup on the stove, the needle that weaves the fabric of the interaction between God the Creator, Jesus the Christ, and us.

You and I are capable of being in the Divine Dance with the Holy Trinity. But to be in the dance, we have to be willing to participate and be consciously aware of the opportunities as they present themselves to us.

Jesus is the model for how to live our life this way. He was the most consciously aware human being to walk the earth. In his consciousness, he knew that death to the ego would create a resurrected new True Self, which will be lived in unity with God.

To model Jesus, we must take up our own cross in order to find our own moment of resurrection. Death to our ego, death to our agenda, death to our embarrassment, death to our expectations, death to our demands, death to our beliefs, death to our illusion of being in control—these deaths must happen on our own cross in order for us to be open to the resurrection movement of the Spirit of God in our life.

God will not force the way of Jesus on us. God will not operate unilaterally. The Spirit of God will not make something happen singularly. We must be willing to participate in the Divine Dance. Jesus the Christ’s power in death was resurrected in the life of his disciples, who willingly became his agents in the world. He breathed the power of the Spirit into their lives. And they took that breath deep into their souls.

The breath of the Spirit of God brings a power so great that the disciples could hold the raw naked fire of forgiveness. But, being given the agency of the Spirit of God comes with a warning: Danger, you might find yourself holding someone else’s demonic snake and it will only let go of you if you grant both the person and the demon forgiveness. The only way to activate the Spirit of God is to love so much that you can let go of control; to forgive so much you’ve forgotten the sin; to empty yourself so much you’ve crawled up on your own cross to die to your ego. The fire of the Spirit of God does not move accidentally nor without purpose and not without a human agent that is willing to follow the path of the Christ.

To be actively involved in the Divine Dance we must open ourselves to the difficult process of becoming spiritually mature human beings. We must work toward becoming as consciously awake as was Jesus. How? By, opening our spiritual eyes to see the creative action of God that is still taking place in the world today. By opening our spiritual hands to receive the nail prints of the Christ when we risk being his servants. And by opening our mouths to receive the breath of Spirit of God into our very souls. By living into these spiritual actions, we will find ourselves involved in the intoxicating dance with the One Holy Living Trinitarian God, where three will become four.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Transmutation of the Dying

During the course of my ministry as an Episcopal priest, I’ve spent a lot time with the dying. I consider it a deep privilege to be with people as they walk through the final days of their life. Their stories are often the legacy of their soul. The dying fill every word of every story with a heavy weight that leave a lasting imprint on my mind, body, soul, and spirit; the transmutation of the dying.

Such are the final of words of Jesus that we have been reading in the Gospel of John chapter 13-17. The Gospel of John is set apart from Matthew, Mark, and Luke as a very different look at who Jesus might have been and what he taught. The Gospel of John was written thirty to forty years after the other gospels. Its focus was not on telling Jesus’ life story. There isn’t a birth narrative in the Gospel of John. There aren’t any parables in this gospel. Instead, the Gospel of John was written to reveal the wisdom of Jesus’ teachings, which are often hidden in the poetic nature of John’s writing. In one line in the gospel, it even suggests that Jesus’ teachings were done in “secret.” (7:10) In the Gospel of John we hear Jesus’ seven mystical “I am” statements and we are told about his magical seven signs. A great deal of the wisdom literature discovered in the Nag Hammadi text, found in an Egyptian cave in 1945, were based on the Gospel of John. And the mysteries of Celtic Spirituality have drawn deeply from the Gospel of John as its primary source of understanding Jesus’ wisdom and his relationship to God.

In John 14:15-21, Jesus gives his followers a very straight-forward statement about how they are live once he is gone from the earth. “If you love me,” Jesus says, “you will keep my commandments.” The temptation here is to start listing all the commandments of Jesus that we can find in each of the four gospels. The problem with this is that each gospel was written for a different community. And most likely these small house churches only had access to the gospel written especially for them, and not the other three.

That’s why, in this little study, I want to keep our focus on the Gospel of John, on Jesus’ wisdom teachings.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus gives us three simple commandments, or expectations, for his followers:

1) Love one another as Jesus has loved us. (John 15:12)
2) Abide in Jesus’s love, which is the same as abiding in the Spirit of God’s love. (John 14:17)
3) And wash one another’s feet. (John 13:14)

First, Jesus tells us that our society will know that we are the followers of Jesus when we love one another. (John 13:34-35) Jesus’ teaching sounds so easy, just love everybody. But the reality is, we have a hard-enough time loving ourselves, and our family, much less those in our church community. It’s hard to love people we don’t know; much less love the ones with which we share deep relationships. The love Jesus is talking about is an intimate love—the kind of love that reaches us in the most vulnerable hidden places deep within our souls. And this kind of love, Jesus’ love, is transformative—it changes the very essence of the core of our being.

I remember so well when our son told us we were going to be grandparents. We were so excited and could hardly wait for the day Cole would be born. All my friends told me that having a grandchild would change my life like nothing else. I believed them, but I just didn’t have any context for what they were saying. And then Cole arrived; the holy grandchild. The next day we went to meet our grandson.


Within minutes of our arrival our daughter-in-law slipped Cole into my arms. When I peered into his eyes I knew I was looking in the eyes of God; and my heart was forever changed. In that mystical moment, I knew my life would never be the same. For the first time, I was beginning to understand what it was like to be loved by God, to feel what Jesus felt like when he told us that “God is love.” (I John 4:16) The experience of holding my grandson for the very first time opened a whole new understanding to me about what it means to love one another as Jesus has loved us. Jesus’ love is intimate and his love is transformative. Now when I am challenged to love those around me who are difficult to love, I am moved to see the God that I see in my grandson’s eyes, in the eyes of the person I struggle to love.

Second, Jesus teaches us to abide in his love. Jesus tells us that we can abide in the same love that he and God share. To abide means to remain permanently, to stay in the space of their love forever.

When I go hiking, I love to pick up stones. I’ve found myself attracted to the rough, jagged, and sharp edged stones. In pondering why I’m attracted to such stones, I’ve come realize that these oddly shaped stones represent how I see my soul. To abide means to place the rough stone of our soul into the river of God and leave it there until it becomes smooth, a process that will take more than a lifetime.

In our Baptismal Covenant (found in the Book of Common Prayer, 304) we are asked five questions about our commitment to the teachings of Jesus. In each case, we respond, “I will, with God’s help.” What we are saying is that we are work in progress. We will do everything we can to stay permanently in the river of God, allow the rushing waters of God to transform us; smoothing out our rough edges. It’s not always easy to abide in the river of God. Sometimes the waters are rough. Sometimes the waters are freezing cold. Sometimes the waters are muddy.

But it is at those times that we know we must abide; we must keep our stone in God’s river, so that the transformation can happen. It’s the good times that we remember; but it’s the bad times that have made us what we are.

Finally, in Jesus’ wisdom teachings he asks us to follow his example by washing other people’s feet; in other words, to minister to others hidden needs. Recently, the Episcopal Church has passed a new regulation that will require all our volunteers to participate in a training course. The Church’s meaning has good intent. The only problem is that St Peter’s has so many volunteers, we not sure how to even count them all. This past week we started gathering lists and in our earliest guess, we might have more than 250 people volunteering for one or more ministries. St Peter’s people know how to “wash other people’s feet,” by being servants.

More often than not, I hear people tell me that when they serve in one of these ministries that it does more for them than the people they are serving. In washing another person’s feet, we humble ourselves in the most vulnerable way to the most vulnerable people in need. The act of serving others changes the core of our being. It’s a reciprocal act. An act that creates within us what Thomas Merton calls a “Resurrection Consciousness.” In other words, the world is turned upside down as we begin to see everything through the eyes of Jesus.

In Jesus’ final words he told us to love one another, abide in God’s love, and to wash feet. His final commandments change the way we live, move, and have our being in the world; they transmute us. Living as Jesus has taught us can be our legacy that we leave to our family and friends. Jesus’ way of living can indeed change us and our community.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Singing to the Weary Soul

In June, Cathy and I will be going to Ireland again for another pilgrimage. I will be walking with two groups. The first pilgrimage will be with Vox Peregrini 2017, a group of twelve professional singers who will be walking and singing their way along the 100 miles of the Wicklow Way. The second group includes people from our Wisdom School, St Peter’s, and a few other close friends. This group will walk three days of the Wicklow Way and then spend five days on a retreat led by Cathy and I that we call Sacred Cauldron.

We have walked the Wicklow Way and led these types of pilgrimages before. Our experience has taught us that a community forms rapidly among those who are walking the Wicklow Mountains. Walking fifteen miles a day for eight days through, sometimes rough terrain, leaves the pilgrims exposed and vulnerable. Exhausted and sometimes in pain, the best and the worst of us comes to the surface for everyone else to see.

Like all communities, the spectrum of each member’s involvement in the community is often dependent upon their maturity. Those who are more mature and experienced have a tendency to carry a heavier load of leadership. A few walk in the front, a few at the back, most in the middle. And while each person has to carry their own pack, everyone eventually will carry some spiritual and emotional weight for the entire group.

Walking together is Ireland is like walking in a mist of Celtic Spirituality that naturally fosters a form of community development. Celtic Spirituality is monastic by its very nature. It is built upon the idea that small groups can learn best how to pray, work and live together. These small groups share the central ideals; that God is present in all of creation; that Christ is the model of personal development; and that individuals are collectively responsible for the well-being of the community. Celtic Spirituality is a perfect blend of Franciscan, Benedictine, and Ignatian Spirituality.

Franciscan in its nature-centered theology. Benedictine in its hospitality-centered theology. And Ignatian in its imaginative-centered theology. By combining these three spiritualties, there seems to be a possibility for almost anyone to find their way in the Celtic community.

Of course, this method of community building comes from the teachings of the apostles found in Acts 2:42-47. In this text, we find five components upon which we can weave the web of the spiritual community. Together, the community will 1) study the scriptures, 2) fellowship, 3) worship and pray, 4) serve others, and 5) share their time, talent, and treasure with the group. Without all five of these connecting points holding the community together, it will eventually collapse in on itself.

Let’s take a closer look at these five connecting points of community development.

First, we must study the scriptures and other wisdom texts together. What that means from Anglican tradition is that the God is still speaking and reveling Godself to the community. We can learn to hear the Voice of God and discern what God is saying to the community when we study together. Without studying together, we can get lost.

On one of my pilgrimages across Ireland, we spent a lot of time in the rain. One of the worst rain and windstorms we encountered was crossing White Hill in the Wicklow Mountains. Everything we carried was drenched, including my map.
The following day was another hilly climb from Roundwood to Glendalough. We endured another day of steady Irish downpour. With a trashed map, the inevitable happened. We got lost and I was feeling very anxious.
We came across a couple sitting by the side of the road. They were having a cup of tea.
“Are you walking the Way?” I asked.
“Aye,” the man said.
“We are walking the Way as well, but I think we’re lost,” I told him.
“Where are you coming from?” he asked.
“Roundwood.”
“Indeed, you’re going in the wrong direction,” he said, “Where’s your map laddie?”
I pulled out what was left of my map. It was a useless wad of soaked paper, an indistinguishable mess.
“That’s not a map laddie,” as he reached in his bag. “This is a map.” He produced a detailed topographical map sealed in zip lock bag. As a kind pilgrim, he proceeded to tell us that not only had we walked in the wrong direction, but that we had walked about two miles past the turnoff point to Glendalough. On his map, he showed us where we should have turned and what markers would guide us. We thanked him and started to walk back the way we had just come.
“Laddies, we’ll walk with you a bit,” he said.” just to make sure you don’t get lost again.” The couple walked the next two miles with us explaining, in detail, how to make our way to Glendalough. Studying the together is like walking together with a good map. At St Peter’s we have seven study groups going on right now. We study together to keep us from getting lost on our way.

Second, spending time in fellowship together is critical to the community’s spiritual growth. If we don’t eat together we won’t get to know each other. On our walking pilgrimages, we eat most of our meals together. This gives us time to talk about lives, our pains and our joys. In the same way, spiritual communities must make time to fellowship together. John Wiles, who founded Vox Peregrini, wrote a song about how the potluck dinner can be as powerful a sacrament as the Eucharistic meal. In many ways, I believe he is right.

Third, when we worship together, when we break the Holy Bread together, our souls will be woven together. We have different tastes in music. We all like one preacher better than another. We like a particular style of liturgy better than another. But the one singular thing that holds us together is the very Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving Feast. That is why, here at St Peter’s, we say that the Lord’s Table is open to everyone; no matter where you are on your spiritual pilgrimage, you are welcome to receive the Holy Meal, the Body and Blood of Christ.

Fourth, as a community, we must serve together—serve those in need, both in and outside our community. Not a week goes by when I don’t hear multiple stories about the ministry that is happening at St Peter’s—stories that bring tears of joy to our lives. Ministries abound in this community, for those in the community and those outside our doors. St Peter’s, I believe, is a model parish for other communities on how to serve.

And finally, in the Acts of the Apostles, we hear how everyone in the community contributed their time, talent, and treasure for the sake of others. We are called to faithful stewards of what has been bestowed upon us. There are countless ways in which all us can participate in this community. By volunteering our time, offering our skills, and yes being faithful in giving regularly to the complete ministry of the church. Giving of our time, talent, and treasure is a spiritual practice, a discipline. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, there is “cost” that accompanies “discipleship.” No one can tell us what that cost is, but we will know when God places that call on our heart to share of our time, talent, and treasure.

St Peter’s is a spiritual community that is on its own particular spiritual pilgrimage—one that will continue to develop our strength and resilience. The kind of journey that we are on, however, will require everyone to carry some of the load. It will take all of us working together: in our studies, our fellowship, our worship, our service, and our giving. When we work together to strengthen our community, we will see “wonders and signs” done in our midst.

When the Vox Peregrini 2015 finished its 100-mile walk, they were scheduled to perform two concerts. The first was at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. That concert went fine but the group seemed a bit off. I had listened to them sing for eight days and every time I was moved at the core in my being. Maybe that day they were just too exhausted to sing or I was too tired to listen. The next day they performed at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. That day the music was pristine, rich, and filled with emotion. I asked a few of the singers what made the difference between the two concerts. One person said it was because they had another day of rest.
Another person said they sounded different because John, the director, had told them to sing like they were standing in the forest, to match their voices to the sound of the wind blowing through the trees. One person said it was because he had stopped looking at the audience and instead looked at his fellow pilgrims; seeing them not dressed in their performance clothes but instead as they looked while hiking through the forest, weary and worn but at peace. He said when he saw them this way he was seeing their souls. He could sing to their souls.

Wonders and signs don’t happen in our community by accident. They happen when we are willing to walk together as a community, everyone carrying their own pack and supporting one another along the pilgrimage. And when we look at one another in our weary pain we be able to sing to the soul we see.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Wisdom Walking: Pilgrimage is a Way of Life

My latest book is now available from Church Publishing and other book sellers. Here's the promotional cover.

Let’s go for walk. A very long walk. A journey down the pilgrim’s path. Traipsing through the forest of life. Climbing over the mountains of adversity. Enduring the climate of challenge. Over the course of countless miles and numerous days, we will mine the golden wisdom hidden within our pilgrimage experience.

“Wisdom Walking is a deeply satisfying and beautifully written journey of the transformation of the soul on pilgrimage. This lively and widely accessible book will feed the mind and spirit of experienced and novice pilgrims. Gil Stafford›s candor and humor will inspire those drawn to both spiritual and secular journeys. An excellent introduction to pilgrimage as an archetypal spiritual practice.”
—Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook, Claremont School of Theology

“Gil Stafford shows us how to take up the art of pilgrimage as a long work of transformation, one which demands an unflinching journey into the dark night of the soul. The compensations for this difficult work, as Wisdom Walking movingly illustrates, are immense: if we are willing to walk into the fires of pilgrimage, we may yet transform the stuff of our everyday lives into the gold of spiritual wisdom.”
—Gaymon Bennett, Arizona State University


Gil Stafford, PhD, DMin, is Canon Theologian for the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona and a priest at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Litchfield Park, Arizona. Prior to being ordained a priest, he was the President of Grand Canyon University. He also had been the head baseball coach at the university for twenty years, winning three national titles. Life is a pilgrimage, and he has taken many, including walking Ireland coast-to-coast. Gil and his wife Cathy are co-founders of 2Wisdom’s Way. He blogs at http://4peregrini.blogspot.com.

9780819233493 | $20.00
paper | 6 x 9 | 208 pages
April 2017
Church Publishing

Monday, April 03, 2017

Grief is Love's Suffering

A few weeks ago, was the fifth anniversary of my mother’s death. When I went to visit her grave and put out fresh flowers, I was immediately taken back to the events that surrounded those days of raw grief.

My sister Dinah and I were having lunch three months after our mother passed away. It was the first time just the two of us were able to be alone. Dinah is Prader-Willi. She is mentally and physically handicapped with a measurable IQ of maybe forty-five. Despite her measurable intelligence, she has the wisdom of a crone and a connection to God of a mystical saint.

Conversations with my sister are slow. She starts by asking how my children are doing. She simply names them and I know she wants to hear what is happening in their lives. Dinah is most interested in our grandsons and my dog, Jesus. She loves dogs, and if she could have one in her house she would, but she can’t, for now anyway. She lives in a single care home, taken care of by two angelic women.

On the day, we had lunch she was unusually chatty. She worked her best to tell me her stories, stringing three or four words together, and then silence. Dinah says a word or two. I ask a question. More silence. Then she ponders the next word needed to find a different way to help me understand.

Lunch was delivered to our table. Dinah is very intent on eating so there is little conversation during the meal. I kind of idly offer a few rambling stories. When the plates were taken away. She resumed her questions about the dog.

Somewhere in the little strands of conversation she told me that she had washed her hair that day.
“Do you wash your hair every day,” I asked.
She nodded an affirmative yes, as if to yes, you idiot, don’t you?
I smiled the older brother grin. “Do you blow dry and style your own hair. It looks nice.”

I was trying to make up for my previously stupid question.
“No, Joey,” she said making reference to her beloved caregiver.
“You have beautiful silver hair Dinah,” I said in truth.
She said without hesitation, “My momma’s hair.”
I wanted to cry, but I held my emotions in check.
Then she said to no one in particular except herself, “My momma’s hair.”
Silence was the best I could afford.
After a minute or two she said, “Momma no more.”

I nodded to affirm that our mother was indeed no more. We sat there in pristine silence. It was at if the entire restaurant, the outside world, and God herself had stopped breathing in communal grief waiting to hear what Dinah would say next.


Grief is the suffering of love. Grief is the complex emotion of love’s pain. And we carry this suffering of love within our minds, our bodies, and our souls for a lifetime. It takes a lifetime to process grief. Every individual experience of grief weaves another pattern of grief into all our previous experiences of grief. Every time we have a new experience of grief it pulls out all the grief of our past and then the new grief weaves itself into the cloth of the old grief, making it weigh heavier than before. That’s why our grief can be triggered by sad movies, a certain fragrance, a particular location, and sometimes random unrelated events can bring us to our knees.

The weight of grief is always present. That’s why denial and avoidance don’t work as a technique for diminishing grief’s effects on us. Unprocessed grief will eventually expose itself at the most inopportune moments as impotent anger. In other words, we get angry about the grief, angry at someone else, even angry at the dead, but no amount of anger will bring back what we’ve lost.

But our grief isn’t confined to our loss of loved ones. We grieve almost every time something in our life changes, good or bad. Because change reminds us that we are not in control.

And grief is not just an individual emotion; grief can also be something held within the body of a community.

The story of Lazarus is a perfect example (John 11:1-45). The Gospel of John was written seventy years after Jesus had died on the cross and thirty years after the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were grieving the loss of their beloved Temple, the place where they had gathered to connect with God. The gospel writer had written the story of Lazarus as a way of encouraging the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem to come to grips with the reality that while the Temple had been destroyed, they, as a community, had been resurrected to be the new Temple of Christ. Yes, they were suffering grief from their loss but something unexpected would arise out of their pain.

Everyone in the story of Lazarus is suffering from grief. The disciples were grieving the anticipated fear of Jesus’ death. Martha, Mary, their friends, and Jesus were grieving over their loss of their beloved Lazarus.

Martha is the one who first displays her anger. “If only you had been here, Jesus, Lazarus wouldn’t have died.” We all play the “if only” game. If only they would have taken better care of themselves. If only they had caught the cancer sooner. If only I had paid closer attention to the signs of depression. If only… But being angry at the dead, other people, or ourselves, never brings back the dead. That’s why it’s called impotent anger—it serves no purpose. What serves a purpose is to process the grief, the reality of death, and the potential for new life.

Mary is the one who is hiding her grief and depression. Martha has to call Mary out of the house and tell her that Jesus wanted to see her. It’s when Mary sees Jesus that she too displays her anger with “only if you had been here.” But that anger quickly gives way to a wave of grief so profound that Jesus breaks down and weeps. Mary’s grief triggered Jesus’ grief. And that triggered the grief of everyone around them. The community was collectively grieving.

Then Jesus goes to the tomb and there raises Lazarus from the dead. The point of the story, however, is not that Jesus resurrected Lazarus from the dead. If that was the point, then Lazarus would still be alive today. The point of the story is that out of death comes life. Lazarus was buried in a cave; the symbol of the womb of God. Out of the empty womb comes new life. The story is repeated over and over in the Bible; out of the empty womb of Sarah, Israel is born; out of the empty womb of Elizabeth, John the Baptist is born; out of the empty womb of Mary, God is born; out of the empty tomb of Jesus, the Christ is born. The marriage of life and death breeds the resurrection of new life. If we deny living life, or if we deny suffering the grief of death, resurrection of new life cannot be born.

Just eight weeks ago, Pastor Gae departed from St Peter’s. Her leaving was a loss. She had been here seventeen years and built deep relationships. Grieving her loss will take time; a different length of time for every person. But honestly, some were grieving before she left—they were grieving something else—something they had lost. And that loss will take time to grieve. Whatever you are grieving that is related to Pastor Gae, is compounded by your own particular history of grief. And all the weight of that grief is being held within the body of the community. Some have acted out in the anger of “if only.” Some are hiding their grief from the community. And some are openly weeping. Someone asked me why it will take two years for St Peter’s to have a new rector. In the tradition of our old ways, we would celebrate a Mass on the first anniversary of someone’s death. It was a ritual that signified that the time of mourning was officially over. Grief, no matter what kind, takes time. And while we will never get over our loss, we must find a way forward, which takes patience.

There are two things I hope that you can hear:

1) First, as a community, we must be lovingly patient with one another’s grief. Whether we understand the other person’s grief or not, we must continue to love them and be patient with what we do not understand.
2) And, second, we must trust what Jesus the Christ taught us; that the marriage of life and death will bring the resurrection of new life. We may not be able to see it right now, or want to see it, or be ready to see it. But this is the hope of the resurrection of the Christ—death is not the end.




Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How to Avoid Those Annoying Little Blisters

On this third Sunday of Lent we encounter two readings that focus our attention on life’s pilgrimage. The first reading (Exodus 17:1-7) reminds us that our journey through the wilderness of life is done in stages. The second reading (John 4:5-42) is a story about the spiritual pilgrimage of Jesus, a Samaritan woman, her friends, and the disciples. Everyone in this story was at different stage on their life’s pilgrimage.

Thirteen years ago, as I prepared for my first walking pilgrimage in Ireland, I asked three young friends, who had walked their own pilgrimages, for some advice.

I asked the first one what was the most important thing she thought I needed to know about going on a pilgrimage. “Well,” she said. “You’re not going “on a” pilgrimage. You’re already “on” pilgrimage. The moment you decided to be intentional about pilgrimage was the moment your pilgrimage began. Life is “the” pilgrimage,” she said. “Walking Ireland is just one stretch of the journey.”

I asked the second young friend what advice he could give me about hiking. He said, “Buy the best leather boots you can find. And don’t be cheap. Good boots will cost you something but in the end, worth every penny you spend.”

I asked my third young friend what was the most important piece of equipment I should take with me. “Silk sock liners,” she said without hesitation. “They don’t cost much but they’ll save you from getting blisters.”

Wisdom from three wise souls. Not only for walking my many pilgrimages, but also for gaining wisdom from the metaphors about walking the pilgrimage of life.

My first young friend taught me that on life’s pilgrimage, I will need spiritual guides. It doesn’t matter what age the guide is—what matters is that they’ve walked the way before. In the story of the Samaritan woman, we understand that Jesus will be our spiritual guide. But also in the story, the woman would become a spiritual guide for many of her friends. They followed the way of Jesus because she pointed them to the path.

I’m not very fond of being called a Christian. But I do want to be known as a person who is following the way of Jesus. So, I look for guides, mentors, teachers who know the way. People who will hold me accountable. Who won’t let me hide or avoid things in life. Six weeks ago, when my pilgrimage took a dramatic turn, I called some friends who I know are experienced at leading churches through similar situations. During this time, I need their guidance and wisdom to keep me on the path.

Regarding my second young friend’s advice, I did buy an expensive pair of leather boots and I haven’t been sorry one step of the way. What he also taught me was that there will be a significant cost that accompanies my spiritual pilgrimage. In the story of the Samaritan woman almost everyone in the story took some significant risk. Jesus risked his reputation as a rabbi by talking to the woman. The woman risked humiliation by telling her friends that she had met the Messiah. And the people that followed her back to Jesus risked their time. The disciples, however, didn’t risk anything. They took the safe route. Instead of asking Jesus why he had been talking to the woman, they asked Jesus if he was hungry. There wasn’t anything wrong with their well-meaning question. But without taking a risk that would cost them something they weren’t going to grow spiritually.

Jung said that if there isn’t an outward journey, there will never be an inner journey. A spiritual pilgrimage requires the risk of going somewhere and doing something. We may not go to Ireland and walk the Wicklow Way or go to Spain and walk the Camino, but by being involved in a ministry that makes us uncomfortable and that costs us something, there we will be on pilgrimage and growing spiritually.

And I also followed my third friend’s advice; I bought sock liners. The thin silk socks cost less than three dollars. But I’ve hiked a thousand miles since that point and I’ve only had one tiny blister. What I learned from her advice was that I need to pay attention to the small details that will be important in my spiritual growth. Jesus told the disciples, “One person reaps and one person sows.” Often times, I tell my spiritual director that I’m overwhelmed. He typically tells me, “Gil, say your prayers and do your little bit.” As Anglicans, people of the Prayer Book, we understand that our prayers shape our belief. In other words, how we pray effects how we act. By focusing our attention on our prayer life, we trust that we will actually live a life of prayer; meaning we will naturally be doing God’s work in the world; feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison, and embracing the stranger in our country (Matthew 25:35). Our prayer life will guide us into living a life of service. To paraphrase Jesus, one person does one ministry and someone else does another. We all do our little bit.

I don’t want to skip over this important detail and make the assumption that we all understand what a life of prayer looks like. We all will be drawn to a different way of praying. Some will take the Prayer Book and follow the pattern of praying morning prayer, noon day prayer, evening prayer, and compline. Some will pray just one of those services of prayer.

Some will pray one of the small prayers at the back of the Prayer Book. Some will pray the rosary, which includes the Our Father and the Hail Mary. Some will pray the Eastern Orthodox Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me a sinner.” Some will pray extemporaneously. The point is not so much the form of prayer. The point is that we pray with the intention that the prayer shapes the way we act. There’s a subtle but important difference here, prayer shapes the way we believe and act, not the reverse, which is belief shapes the prayer.

I was in Canterbury Cathedral in England several years ago. We happened to be there at noon when someone said over the intercom that it was the custom of the cathedral that everyone stop for a moment and say the Lord’s Prayer in their own language. I was in the undercroft standing near a tiny side chapel just large enough for four people to kneel at the rail. As I knelt and began praying the Lord’s Prayer, I realized I was kneeling on a stone kneeler, where the prayers of people for over a thousand years had worn out the stone. The prayers of the people shaped the stone. And that’s what our prayers do to our mind, body, soul, and spirt. We are shaped by our prayer. While this life of prayer will protect the tenderness of our soul from the burden of life’s blisters, it will also activate us to live a life of service.

Wise words from my young pilgrim friends. Listen to our spiritual guides. Be willing to pay the price of spiritual growth. And pay attention to the small details of life’s pilgrimage. Life is a pilgrimage. How we walk it will make a difference in our life as well as everyone around us.