Friday, December 15, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Fifteen -- "A Child will be our King."


Prophets

Once in the Advent season
When I was walking down
A narrow street

I met a flock of children
Who all came running up to me
Saying that they were prophets
And for a penny they
Would prophesy

I gave them each a penny

They started out
By rummaging in trash-cans
Until they found
A ragged piece of silk

It’s blue, they said
Blue is a holy color
Blue is the color that
The mountains are
When they are far away

They laid the rag
On a small fire
Of newspaper and shavings
And burned it in the street

They scraped up all the ashes
And with them decorated
Each other’s faces

Then they ran back to me
And stood
In a circle ‘round me

We stood that way
In a solemn silence
Until
One of the children spoke

It was the prophecy!

He said that long before
The pear tree blossoms
Or sparrows in the hedges
Begin to sing

A Child will be our King.

--by Anne Porter

Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life). 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Fourteen -- "Dear Jesus, I have to give you something"

As often as I look at the place where the Lord is born, my heart enters into a wondrous conversation with the Child Jesus. And I say, “Dear Lord Jesus, how you are shivering; how hard you lie for my sake, for the sake of my redemption. How can I repay you?”

Then I seem to hear the Child’s answer, “Dear Jerome, I desire nothing but that you shall sing ‘Glory to God in the highest’ and be content. I shall be even poorer in the Garden of Olives and on the Holy Cross.”

I speak again, “Dear Jesus, I have to give you something. I will give you all my money.”

The Child answers, “Heaven and earth already belong to me. I do not need your money; give it to the poor, and I will accept it as if it were given to me.”

By Jerome
Source: Cries from the Heart


Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Thirteen -- The Temptation of St. Joseph

The Temptation of St. Joseph
by W.H. Auden
 
JOSEPH
My shoes were shined, my pants were cleaned and pressed,
And I was hurrying to meet
My own true Love:
But a great crowd grew and grew
Till I could not push my way through,
Because
A star had fallen down the street;
When they saw who I was,
The police tried to do their best.
CHORUS [off]
Joseph, you have heard
What Mary says occurred;
Yes, it may be so.
Is it likely? No.
JOSEPH
The bar was gay, the lighting well-designed,
And I was sitting down to wait
My own true Love:
A voice I’d heard before, I think,
Cried: “This is on the House. I drink
To him
Who does not know it is too late;”
When I asked for the time,
Everyone was very kind.
CHORUS [off]
Mary may be pure,
But, Joseph, are you sure?
How is one to tell?
Suppose, for instance. . . Well. . .
JOSEPH
Through cracks, up ladders, into waters deep,
I squeezed, I climbed, I swam to save
My own true Love:
Under a dead apple tree
I saw an ass; when it saw me
It brayed;
A hermit sat in the mouth of a cave:
When I asked him the way,
He pretended to be asleep.
CHORUS [off]
Maybe, maybe not.
But, Joseph, you know what
Your world, of course, will say
About you anyway.
JOSEPH
Where are you, Father, where?
Caught in the jealous trap
Of an empty house I hear
As I sit alone in the dark
Everything, everything,
The drip of the bathroom tap,
The creak of the sofa spring,
The wind in the air-shaft, all
Making the same remark
Stupidly, stupidly,
Over and over again.
Father, what have I done?
Answer me. Father, how
Can I answer the tactless wall
Or the pompous furniture now?
Answer them. . .
GABRIEL
No, you must.
JOSEPH
How then am I to know,
Father, that you are just?
Give me one reason.
GABRIEL
No.
JOSEPH
All I ask is one
Important and elegant proof
That what my Love had done
Was really at your will
And that your will is Love.
GABRIEL
No, you must believe;
Be silent, and sit still.

  
Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Twelve -- Chipmunk

Chipmunk

In the sheltered south corner of my doorway where the sun has kissed away the snow I hear a chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp, pointed as a metronome. Ticking items off some list, a chipmunk sits up tall on the warming cement slab. I try, peanut offering in hand, to ease the latch open soundlessly, but the chipmunk jerks, spins, and vanishes down his hole.

The cement slab is sinking on the side fronting the door, thanks to this burrower. His tunnelworks clearly start at my door, but who can tell where they go from there? With forefeet half the size of paperclips, he’s dug down maybe four or five times the length of his body and out as far as a two-story house is tall—though not that straight. Up in the wide bright world this morning, he’s taking what’s apt to be his last sunbath for a while. Winter is about to settle in its cold bulk for a three-month stay, banishing the chipmunk to his basement. Unlike his cousins, squirrels at home in the trees, he would freeze above ground. Even in the insulated earth he survives only by careful calculation.

Compulsively all fall he packed his cheek pouches with nuts and seeds and sped to rooms he’d hollowed out along the sides of his tunnel—pantries holding altogether up to a bushel of winter provisions. He keeps inventory, working for variety. If one sort of seed spoils, he wants plenty of other sorts. Such a well stocked pantry, though, is a magnet for thieves in the beneath, and so above
ground he’s stored more reserves, hiding them from hungry thieves there, too.

He will keep up his gathering, storing, inventorying—above ground, below ground, relentless, never sure of enough—until, finally, the cold says: Stop. Or die. Then he’ll slip down through his tunnel to a leaf-lined sleeping chamber and ball up. His restless heart slows from 350 beats per minute to fifteen. He barely breathes. His body cools.

If a weasel should find him so, he will be dead before he knows what bit him. Awake, he can likely escape. So he sleeps in snatches—a few days, a couple of weeks—pulling himself up out of torpor to inspect the tunnel, the exits, the pantries, and to eat. If provisions seem low, he might pick a warm day and pop up briefly to raid a bird feeder or find one of his above-ground stashes. Which means risking a hawk or cat watching for dark stripes against snow. So he considers staying put and saving food by sleeping a longer stretch. But that gives the weasel better odds. Also, he has to consider how long this winter might last and how to save food for spring—whenever that comes—so he’ll be strong enough then to pursue a mate.

A tiny master of risk assessment, he calculates and recalculates all winter long. There’s no formula, no group-think to fall back on. Flexibility is all. Each chipmunk must, for and by himself, consider which of several choices will most likely bring him through the cold dark days to the other side of winter, strong. He must do this continually, with no guarantees. Today, heart beating fast, he makes today’s choice.

by Gayle Boss
illustrations by David G. Klein

From: All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings (used with permission of Paraclete Press).

To read my review of All Creation Waits, just click here.

Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Eleven

The Christmas Star in the night sky, the shining of the Christmas light in the night – all this is the sign that light breaks into the darkness. Though we see about us the darkness of unrest, of family discord, of class struggle, of competitive jealousy and of national hatred, the light shall shine and drive it out.…Wherever the Christmas Child is born in a heart, wherever Jesus begins his earthly life anew – that is where the life of God’s love and of God’s peace dawns again.

Emmy Arnold
Source: Watch for the Light

*****************

When the Song of the Angels Is Stilled
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Ten

Advent
by Mary Jo Salter


Wind whistling, as it does
in winter, and I think
nothing of it until

it snaps a shutter off
her bedroom window, spins
it over the roof and down

to crash on the deck in back,
like something out of Oz.
We look up, stunned—then glad

to be safe and have a story,
characters in a fable
we only half-believe.

Look, in my surprise
I somehow split a wall,
the last one in the house

we're making of gingerbread.
We'll have to improvise:
prop the two halves forward

like an open double door
and with a tube of icing
cement them to the floor.

Five days until Christmas,
and the house cannot be closed.
When she peers into the cold

interior we've exposed,
she half-expects to find
three magi in the manger,

a mother and her child.
She half-expects to read
on tablets of gingerbread

a line or two of Scripture,
as she has every morning
inside a dated shutter

on her Advent calendar.
She takes it from the mantel
and coaxes one fingertip

under the perforation,
as if her future hinges
on not tearing off the flap

under which a thumbnail picture
by Raphael or Giorgione,
Hans Memling or David

of apses, niches, archways,
cradles a smaller scene
of a mother and her child,

of the lidded jewel-box
of Mary's downcast eyes.
Flee into Egypt, cries

the angel of the Lord
to Joseph in a dream,
for Herod will seek the young

child to destroy him. While
she works to tile the roof
with shingled peppermints,

I wash my sugared hands
and step out to the deck
to lug the shutter in,

a page torn from a book
still blank for the two of us,
a mother and her child.

from Open Shutters. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. 

Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Nine

Guarding the World at Advent – And Other Times

Though Quakers aren't known for celebrating liturgical seasons, it's hard not to be aware that the season of Advent has begun. Especially since Nancy is playing Christmas music and decorating the farm for the holidays. And Advent angels are everywhere. The latter reminded me of a a short story by Alan Gurganus. Title “It Had Wings,” Gurganus tells the story of a woman pushing eighty, dressed in a robe and slippers, doing the dishes, who finds an angel in her backyard. The angel is lying in the grass and the woman stretches out an arthritic hand to touch it – and that hand is healed. “A practical person,” Gurganus writes, “she quickly cures her other hand. The angel grunts, but sounds pleased.” She continues to touch him and as she does “a thirty eight year pain leaves her,” “liver sports are lightening,” and “all stiffness leaves hear.” “Bolder,” Gurganus relates, “she whispers private woes… those woes seem ended.” She feels limber now, as limber as a twenty year old – but she is frightened. She’s afraid he’s about to take her to heaven. “The house is finally paid off,” she tells the angel. “Not just yet.” And then the angel zooms into heaven. As she heads inside, she notices her slippers and thinks, Got to wash these next week. And then she muses, Can a person who’s just sighted her first angel already be mulling about laundry? Yes, the world is like that.

By suppertime her aches and pains return. Still, there is something new and different about her. Gurganus asks, “Can you guess why this old woman’s chin is lifted? Why does she breathe as if to show exactly how it’s done. Why should both her shoulders, usually quite bent, brace so square just now?”

“She is guarding the world. Only, nobody knows.”

When I read that story at this time of the year, I am reminded of the shepherds of the Christmas story. They were the first to hear the news of the baby savior’s birth. And like the old woman of Gurganus’ story, their lives are changed while they remain the same – one of the paradoxes of faith.

Like the woman in the story, the shepherds weren’t the sort of men whom the general populace expected would receive angelic announcements. God, perhaps as a way of showing that faith is best grounded in real life, sends the heavenly singers to the shepherds – men who consult no books, study the skies for nothing except clues to the weather, and have no social standing.
These men, huddled on the foresty hillsides of Palestine, warm beneath their ramskins, eyes vigilant, on guard against roaming wolves, were of low station. Shepherds of that ime were considered generally untrustworthy (which makes Jesus’ later stories centering around the shepherd’s role in the life of faith all the more remarkable).

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’”

The shepherds are amazed – and afraid. Who wouldn’t be? To be witness to an angelic herald is a wonderful thing – but is frightening, too. Perhaps like Gurganus’ old woman, they are awed by their angel, but they’re not quite ready to go up into heaven.

“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’”

Awestruck, amazed, mystified and more, the shepherds go in search of this babe. After encountering the child in the manger, they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the thing they had heard and seen.” The shepherds are not transported into some new place and increased social standing. No, they go back to their sheep and their jobs. Like the old woman who notices her slippers need washing, they return to normalcy.

Except that they are different. I dare say that people seeing them, like people seeing Gurganus’s woman, noticed their chins lifted, their breathing precise and their shoulders braced so square now. And that’s because, for all their return to outward normalcy, they, like her, were “guarding the world. Only, nobody knows.”

Therein, I think, is a lesson for us this Advent season. Not that angels are going to appear on hillsides or in backyards seen through kitchen windows – though they might. No, the lesson is that any of our encounters with the Divine do not necessarily lift us out of the everyday workaday world. We will find ourselves changed, but changed on the inside, not the outside. An encounter with God is not like winning some celestial lottery where riches untold fall upon us, erasing all pain and sorrow and sadness forever.

There may be times that we are so in touch with the life of the Spirit that this life seems to fade away. We forget our aches and pains, spiritual and physical. We feel transported into the very presence of God. We feel made new and renewed. We see things with a clarity of thought and heart that we wish we had all the time. And are slightly scared by that feeling. But we do not seem to be able to sustain that experience. Which is not to downplay the experience, but rather acknowledges that we are not quite ready to live in that other world. We are human – flesh and blood and spirit and mind and soul. We are not, not yet anyway, quite ready to live completely in the spiritual realm. Like the shepherds, like the woman in the story, we return to constantly to our everyday lives.

The lesson for us from the shepherds and the old woman is to treasure those things in our hearts. And to live life with chins lifted, breathing to show exactly how it’s done, and shoulders no longer bent, but "braced so square just now.” For we, like all people who have encountered the Divine in this Advent, or any other season, are guarding the world. Whether or not anybody knows.

--Brent

Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).

Friday, December 08, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Eight

"O Simplicatas"
by Madeleine L’Engle


An angel came to me
and I was unprepared
to be what God was using.
Mother I was to be.
A moment I despaired,
thought briefly of refusing.
The angel knew I heard.
According to God’s Word
I bowed to this strange choosing.

A palace should have been
the birthplace of a king
(I had no way of knowing).
We went to Bethlehem;
it was so strange a thing.
The wind was cold, and blowing,
my cloak was old, and thin.
They turned us from the inn;
the town was overflowing.

God’s Word, a child so small
who still must learn to speak
lay in humiliation.
Joseph stood, strong and tall.
The beasts were warm and meek
and moved with hesitation.
The Child born in a stall?
I understood it: all.
Kings came in adoration.

Perhaps it was absurd;
a stable set apart,
the sleepy cattle lowing;
and the incarnate Word
resting against my heart.
My joy was overflowing.
The shepherds came, adored
the folly of the Lord,
wiser than all men’s knowing.

********************
"The Canticle of Mary"

My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His name;
And His mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear Him.
He has shown might with His arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of His mercy
Even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever



Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).  

Thursday, December 07, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Seven

"The Annunciation"
by Edwin Muir

The angel and the girl are met.
Earth was the only meeting place.
For the embodied never yet
Travelled beyond the shore of space.

The eternal spirits in freedom go.
See, they have come together, see,
While the destroying minutes flow,
Each reflects the other’s face
Till heaven in hers and earth in his
Shine steady there. He’s come to her
From far beyond the farthest star,
Feathered through time. Immediacy
Of strangest strangeness is the bliss
That from their limbs all movement takes.
Yet the increasing rapture brings
So great a wonder that it makes
Each feather tremble on his wings.

Outside the window footsteps fall
Into the ordinary day
And with the sun along the wall
Pursue their unreturning way.
Sound’s perpetual roundabout
Rolls its numbered octaves out
And hoarsely grinds its battered tune.

But through the endless afternoon
These neither speak nor movement make,
But stare into their deepening trance
As if their gaze would never break.

*************************

“The House of Christmas”
by G. K. Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honor and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam,
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost - how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

“The House of Christmas”


Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life). 

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Six

"Mary's Poem"
by Mary Wakefield

When she heard infinity
whispered in her ear, did the flashing
scissors in her fingers fall
to the wooden floor and the spool unravel,
the spider's sly cradle
tremble with love? Imagine

How the dry fields leaned
toward the news and she heard, for a moment,
the households of crickets –
When she answered, all things shifted, the moon
in its river of milk.

And when she wanted to pluck
her heart from her breast, did she remember
a commotion of wings, or the stirring
of dust?


"Mary's Poem" by Kathleen Wakefield from Divine Inspiration: The Life of Jesus in World Poetry

 ***********************

The direction to which our wills must be put is, like Mary, in obedience to God’s will. Then something decisive happens for this earth. In place of the confusion of injustice, strife, open war, and treachery, there is revealed a path of the most lively unity and clarity. We are released from the servitude of our own wants and desires, our selfish hopes and fears – we are redeemed, we become free.

Philip Britts
Source: Watch for the Light


Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life). 

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Five

"Too much to ask "
by Luci Shaw

it seemed too much to ask
of one small virgin
that she should stake shame
against the will of God.
all she had to hold to
were those soft, inward
flutterings
and the remembered sting
of a brief junction--spirit
with flesh.
who would think it
more than a dream wish?
an implausible, laughable
defence.

and it seems much
too much to ask me
to be part of the
different thing--
God's shocking, unorthodox,
unheard of Thing
to further heaven's hopes
and summon God's glory.

From The Risk of Birth: A Gift Book of Christ Poems (Harold Shaw Publishers, 1974).

***********

"We humans contribute to the world’s gloom, like dark shadows on a dark landscape.…But now this man from Nazareth comes to us and invites us to mirror God’s image, and shows us how. He says: you too can become light, as God is light. What is all around you is not hell, but rather a world waiting to be filled with hope and faith."

by Jörg Zink 
Doors to the Feast

Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).

Monday, December 04, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Four

From the beginning, writers of the Christmas story have been bothered by the inn, with the stable and manger close at hand. That is where we find ourselves: not by the shepherds, whose poverty and simplicity we lack; and not by the wise men, whose watchfulness and decisiveness we lack. We are, at best, guests at the inn. We sleep, we follow our own plans and dreams. Can we be awakened by the angels’ news? That is the question.

-- Rudolf Otto Wiemer
Source: from the foreword to the play “The End of the Night”

Sunday, December 03, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Three

"Winter Grace"
by Patricia Fargnoli

If you have seen the snow
under the lamppost
piled up like a white beaver hat on the picnic table
or somewhere slowly falling
into the brook
to be swallowed by water,
then you have seen beauty
and know it for its transience.
And if you have gone out in the snow
for only the pleasure
of walking barely protected
from the galaxies,
the flakes settling on your parka
like the dust from just-born stars,
the cold waking you
as if from long sleeping,
then you can understand
how, more often than not,
truth is found in silence,
how the natural world comes to you
if you go out to meet it,
its icy ditches filled with dead weeds,
its vacant birdhouses, and dens
full of the sleeping.
But this is the slowed-down season
held fast by darkness
and if no one comes to keep you company
then keep watch over your own solitude.
In that stillness, you will learn
with your whole body
the significance of cold
and the night,
which is otherwise always eluding you.

“Winter Grace” by Patricia Fargnoli from Hallowed. © Tupelo Press, 2017

************

The frightened shepherds become God’s messengers. They organize, make haste, find others, and speak with them. Do we not all want to become shepherds and catch sight of the angel? I think so. Without the perspective of the poor, we see nothing, not even an angel. When we approach the poor, our values and goals change. The child appears in many other children. Mary also seeks sanctuary among us. Because the angels sing, the shepherds rise, leave their fears behind, and set out for Bethlehem, wherever it is situated these days.

-- Dorothee Soelle
Source: Watch for the Light

Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).

Saturday, December 02, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Two

Although we sing, “All glory to God on High and on the earth be peace,” there seems to be today neither glory to God nor peace on earth. As long as it remains a hunger still unsatisfied, as long as Christ is not yet born, we have to look forward to him. When real peace is established, we will not need demonstrations, but it will be echoed in our life, not only in individual life, but in corporate life. Then we shall say Christ is born.…Then we will not think of a particular day in the year as that of the birth of the Christ, but as an ever-recurring event which can be enacted in every life.

-- Mahatma Gandhi
Source: from a talk given on Christmas Day, 1931

Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).

Friday, December 01, 2017

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day One



Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it – because he is out of place in it, and yet must be in it – his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected because they are regarded as weak; and with those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, and are tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst.

Thomas Merton
Source: Watch for the Light 

Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).

Thursday, November 30, 2017

"All Creation Waits" - An Advent Book Recommendation



Though we Quakers normally eschew recognizing "holy-days," believing as we do, that no day is more holy than any other, I must confess that Advent is my favorite of the liturgical seasons. I love the poetry, songs, art, and anticipation of this special time -- the hope that it embodies.

Still, as a Friend, I remain fully rooted in the sacramental potential that each day's quotidian activities afford. Hence the title of my blog -- "Holy Ordinary." So I was delighted to receive a copy of All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings.

In this delightful book by Gayle Boss (illustrated by David G. Klein) the wonder of advent is unveiled in a fresh way through the most natural life of this world -- that of God's humblest creatures.  Boss takes us into the very heart of humble words of Romans 8:22 that "the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." We humans far too often make Christian faith all about us -- seeing ourselves as the pinnacle of life on earth. Boss's book reminds that we are a part of the "whole creation" and that advent is a "mystery of new beginnings."

Instead of wise men, shepherds, or even sanitized sheep of most congregational Christmastime crèches, we are invited into the world of chipmunks, raccoons, wild turkeys, lake trout, and even snakes (who often get little respect from Christians who have a memory of a certain serpent in Eden).  Boss opens her introduction with a quote from Meister Eckhart:

Every single creature is full of God
and is a book about God.

Every creature is a word of God.

If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature–
even a caterpillar–
I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God
is every creature.

She then takes us into worlds of burrowy, hibernating, downy anticipation of new creation.  Her short meditations reveal the peace and grace of the wild things that are as surely a part of God's creation as are we. Boss presents us with stories of hope amidst the animals' realities of cold, predators, and privation of the season. Realities that many of us, wrapped in a warm houses filled with food and family, forget. Our biggest discomforts rarely amount to first world inconveniences.  Yet, much of the world identifies with realities faced by our animal friends. We would do well to do so, as well. They remind us that many of us live in a consumer society that has us dangling a hair's breadth from economic disaster -- and that death and despair can stalk even we comfortable middle class Americans. And yet, there is still a hope that is eternal. Advent and Boss's meditations remind us of that.

Wendell Berry once wrote:
When despair for the world grows in me
 and I wake in the night at the least sound
 in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be, 
I go and lie down where the wood drake 
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. 
I come into the peace of wild things 
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water. 
And I feel above me the day-blind stars 
waiting with their light. For a time 
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

All Creation Waits takes us into the peace -- and grace and hope -- of wild things and the mystery and blessing of Advent. You'll want to get a copy for you, your family, and others you love.


© Wendell Berry. "The Peace of Wild Things" is excerpted from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

More Guns -- Fewer Gun Laws: Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

I agree with this reasoned defense by JP Sears against the need for tougher gun laws.



After all, the 2nd Amendment reads: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

The Las Vegas shooter only had 42 guns (23 in the hotel alone!!) along with a many loaded high-capacity magazines. Surely that's what the framers of the 2nd Amendment had in mind.

I've got to do something about the fact that I only have 1 old single shot .22 Marlin (used to scare off raccoons who eat the cats' food), 1 old 10 gauge shotgun (used to scare off coyotes who eat the cats), and one 19th century double barreled shotgun that would blow up if I tried to fire it. Woefully under-gunned here at Ploughshares Farm.

I cry "foul" to a study published by the American Journal of Medicine which says, "Compared to 22 other high-income nations, the United States' gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher. And, even though the United States' suicide rate is similar to other countries, the nation's gun-related suicide rate is eight times higher than other high-income countries."

I can't believe that the study was allowed to publish non-sense such as "Even though it has half the population of the other 22 nations combined, the United States accounted for 82 percent of all gun deaths. The United States also accounted for 90 percent of all women killed by guns, the study found. Ninety-one percent of children under 14 who died by gun violence were in the United States. And 92 percent of young people between ages 15 and 24 killed by guns were in the United States, the study found."

Also our cities just aren't keeping up with other countries' gun deaths. 


We need to try harder.
 
JP Sears is right -- we need more guns, not fewer, in more, not fewer, peoples' hands. Law enforcement officers cannot be trusted -- we must rise up and protect ourselves.

Watch out coyotes -- I'm in the market for an assault weapon. Or better yet -- a tank!



"Lord, have mercy" -- indeed.

(PS Lest anybody be silly enough to quote any part of this post in defense of more weaponry or private arsenals or against gun control... it's called satire)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Donald Trump and The Boy Scouts of America: "Who the hell wants to speak about politics?"

Here are some of the low-lights from Donald Trump's speech -- from opening with "Fake News" and cursing in front of young leaders to talking partisan politics almost constantly. He had a chance to be uplifting and inspiring and instead chose to disparage others, act vulgarly, and talk about himself instead of the Boy Scouts. Are you who are his supporters really okay with this kind of behavior in front of our youth? Would you be happy to have your children in the audiences and hearing this speech? I'm serious when I ask those questions.
"Who the hell...."

************
Tonight we put aside all of the policy fights in Washington, D.C. you've been hearing about with the fake news and all of that. We're going to put that...

We're going to put that aside. And instead we're going to talk about success, about how all of you amazing young Scouts can achieve your dreams, what to think of, what I've been thinking about. You want to achieve your dreams, I said, who the hell wants to speak about politics when I'm in front of the Boy Scouts? Right?

You know, I go to Washington and I see all these politicians, and I see the swamp, and it's not a good place. In fact, today, I said we ought to change it from the word "swamp" to the word "cesspool" or perhaps to the word "sewer."

Secretary Tom Price is also here today. Dr. Price still lives the Scout oath, helping to keep millions of Americans strong and healthy as our secretary of Health and Human Services. And he's doing a great job. And hopefully he's going to gets the votes tomorrow to start our path toward killing this horrible thing known as Obamacare that's really hurting us.

The fake media will say, "President Trump spoke" -- you know what is -- "President Trump spoke before a small crowd of Boy Scouts today." That's some -- that is some crowd. Fake media. Fake news.

By the way, just a question, did President Obama ever come to a Jamboree?

Do you remember that famous night on television, November 8th where they said, these dishonest people, where they said, there is no path to victory for Donald Trump.

But you remember that incredible night with the maps, and the Republicans are red and the Democrats are blue, and that map was so red it was unbelievable. And they didn't know what to say.

And you know, we have a tremendous disadvantage in the Electoral College. Popular vote is much easier. We have -- because New York, California, Illinois, you have to practically run the East Coast. And we did. We won Florida. We won South Carolina. We won North Carolina. We won Pennsylvania. 


The above does not include comments about what goes on below decks on yachts or cocktail parties.

Shameful.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Loving Story: Myra and Howard

Yesterday, whilst Facebooking, I was alerted to a wonderful, yet bittersweet, story. Two of my school friends (Myra and I went from first grade through high school together) from the West High School class of 1969 were featured in The Columbus Dispatch (my hometown paper).

The article tells the story of Howard Foster and Myra Clark and how racism drove them apart 45 years ago. It's a wrenching story -- but ultimately one of the power of love. It's a tale of how, as Quaker William Penn said, "Force subdues, but love gains."

Their pictures in the 1969 edition of the West High School Occident yearbook show two young
people with most of their lives ahead of them. As the article notes, parts of our time at West were rocked at times by racial violence and demonstrations. On February 24, 1969, 74 West High students were arrested for refusing to end a sit-in. They were protesting the administration's refusal to allow a public address announcement of the fourth anniversary of Malcom X's assassination.

The sit-in was in the gym. Hardly disrupting anything. But the administration called the police and had students arrested. Which sparked even more racial tension than we'd experienced before.

I thought that move was stupid then. I think it was even dumber today. And it was just sad. It is still sad.

Little did Myra and Howard probably know that this was a harbinger of their future.

What is also sad is the racism Howard faced following high school. Those experiences were the reason he broke up with Myra -- “Society wasn’t going to let us be together and she be happy. ... She’d get tired of the stares; I just thought it was unfair to her,” Howard says in the article. “Her happiness was the most important thing.”

What's most sad -- and frustrating -- about this is that in many ways the issues faced by Howard are still with us today. While some things are better, we who live in the United States have a long way to go healing our racial divide. And when I say "we" I mean the white majority. White like me. 

I've been thinking a lot about that after reading Howard and Myra's story. And how we can't ask those who are oppressed to solve the issue for us. Then, ironically, I opened my email this morning and found this poem as today's "Poem-A Day":


Hope by Ali Liebegott

always the hopeless asked to give others hope
the ones pushed up against wall after wall

when you’re done unpinning yourself
from the wall, please give hope

those who work twice as hard to seem half as good
being asked to do one more thing

we need to be seen
because things are not going well
and the crows are up to no good

About writing this poem, Liebegott says "I often think of the expression, ‘You have to work twice as hard to be viewed half as good,’ used for women and people of color. Marginalized people are often asked to be the patient educators to non-marginalized people. I think this poem wrestles with the intrinsic unfairness of that."

Yet, Howard and Myra, despite the "intrinsic unfairness of that," continue to be "patient educators" to us all. They remind me to be ever vigilant and active in working against the entrenched racism in contemporary American society. They do give hope.

Earlier in this piece, I quoted William Penn. As I read Myra and Howard's story, I was reminded by another Penn quote: "Never marry but for love; but see that thou lovest what is lovely." Myra and Howard saw what is lovely in each other in high school -- and today. May we see what they saw -- and may it call us to work for a world where love rules and "gains."

Thank you, Howard and Myra.





Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Feral: A Book Recommendation

As I write this, I'm looking out my office window here at Ploughshares Farm. In 2003, most of our fifty acres was pasture or crop land. Today it is primarily tall grass prairie and native Hoosier hardwoods. With help from various foresters and conservation folks, we have -- what I just learned thanks to this week's QuakerBooks & More selection -- "rewilded" this "tamed" piece of Indiana.

Now I grew up a city boy so the idea of doing all this was, in Quaker parlance, "not a thought that would have occurred to me." Until, that is, until Nancy and I began building our home here. We began walking the land and both realized that we were called to steward it in the best sense of that word. And the best way to live up to that spiritual call was to restore -- or rewild -- it. Today we are blessed by an abundance of bunnies, butterflies, bald eagles, deer, wild turkey, and more. Hopefully the Earth is a bit better for all this work, too. I know my soul is.

So please take a look Feral (and other Earth stewardship books) at QuakerBooks & More. It will feed your spirit.
Ploughshares Sunset

Thursday, May 25, 2017

In Praise of "Loafing" -- and Retirement

As I read this morning's featured poem on "The Writer's Almanac," it seemed a good way to announce my upcoming retirement and time for more"loafing."

Loafing
by Raymond Carver

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I looked into the room a moment ago,
and this is what I saw —
my chair in its place by the window,
the book turned facedown on the table.
And on the sill, the cigarette
left burning in its ashtray.
Malingerer! my uncle yelled at me
so long ago. He was right.
I’ve set aside time today,
same as every day,
for doing nothing at all.

"Loafing" by Raymond Carver from All of Us. © Knopf, 1998.  (buy now)

Despite my dad's joking that I wasn't afraid of hard work -- "Brent can watch me do it all day" -- since I began working at Sears in June 1970, I've been pretty much working full time ever since. That will end on October 31 when I retire from my present position at Friends General Conference.

I have been blessed, for the most part, with worthy work, including my current position at FGC; years at United Ways in Henry, Franklin, Jennings, and Scott counties; at the Indianapolis Center for Congregations; pastoring at Jericho Friends, Friends Memorial, and 1st United Methodist in Hillsboro, Ohio; teaching at Earlham School of Religion; being on Central Ohio Young Life staff, and much more (a truly itinerant -- or easily bored, perhaps -- minister).

But over the past year it's become clear to me that it's now time to step away from full-time employment. Time to putz around the farm, spend time with my family and friends, pray with my camera, write a bit more, read a lot more, and to "set aside time today,/ same as every day,/ for doing nothing at all." And to explore what God has in store for this next chapter in my life -- maybe leading writing, photography, or other spiritual retreats here at the farm. Or maybe "doing nothing at all." Whichever, whatever -- received in gratitude.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints: "Me And God"

I have stumbled a bit on my "hymnal" project in conjunction with my "Life Lessons from a Bad Quaker" book. This suggestion comes from Lauren Miller. She suggested "Me and God" by the Avett Brothers.  It's a perfect addition to this "hymnal."

These are not "hymns" in the traditional sense. Rather they're songs that have spoken to my soul in a spiritual sense -- even if they are not "spiritual songs" per se. Though my bias is that that our hearts hunger for beauty and meaning and when artists create something that sings deep in our souls, well, they've created a "hymn," even if it was unintentional.

You can listen to the who list on Spotify -- "Humble Stumble: Hymns for Imperfect Saints."

Suggestions of songs that have spoken deeply to you are welcome!

I'll also post lyrics and video (when available) here.

"Me And God"

Well I know a preacher he's a real good man
He speaks from The Good Book and his hand
And helps all people when he can
But me and God don't need a middle man

Well I found God in a soft woman's hair
A long days work and a good sittin' chair
The ups and downs of the treble clef lines
And five miles ago on an interstate sign
My God, my God and I don't need a middle man
My God, my God and I don't need a middle man

Now I don't doubt that The Good Book is true
What's right for me may not be right for you
To church on Sunday I'll stand beside
All the hurtin' people with the fear in their eyes
And I thank the Lord for the country land
Just like Paul I thank him for my hands
And I don't know if my soul is safe
Sometimes I use curse words when I pray


My God, my God and I don't need a middle man
My God, my God and I don't need a middle man
My God, my God and I don't need a middle man
My God, my God and I don't need a middle man

Writer(s): Robert William Crawford, Scott Yancey Avett, Timothy Seth Avett 



The Avett Brother's website is http://www.theavettbrothers.com/

Monday, April 10, 2017

So What I Said Was: It's Already Late

"When Jesus sent two disciples to fetch a donkey’s colt on Palm Sunday, they had no other task in the whole world more important than fetching it. If someone had said to them, “You are called to greater things; anyone can fetch a donkey,” and they had not done it, they would have been disobedient. But there was nothing greater for them at that moment than to fetch the donkey for Christ. I wish that we all might do every task, great or small, in this obedience." -- J. Heinrich Arnold


The roads approaching Jerusalem were jammed, as were the suburbs. After all, the main city, the site of the pilgrims’ travels for high holy days, was only about 1,200 yards wide by 1,500 yards.. Traveling the same roads as Jesus and his of disciples almost 2 million other pilgrims, coming to celebrate Passover in the holy city. Passover was one of three high holy times in the Jewish faith and the entire nation of Israel tried to squeeze within the walls surrounding the Temple. Some came from faraway lands, where the previous year they celebrated Passover with the words “This year here, next year in Jerusalem.” This year they were in Jerusalem.

Along the way Jesus continued his teaching. His opponents continued their plotting. By this time Jesus is a marked man. There’s a bounty on his head placed by those who fear him. They are afraid of him for any number of reasons. The religious leaders fear his heresy; they find his words blasphemous. The politicians worry that he has the people worked up into such a state that they will riot – thereby leading Rome to send in more soldiers to put down the ensuing insurrection. Still others just find Jesus unsettling to their comfortable way of living. All of them agree – it’s better than one man die than an entire nation.

At this time, Jesus still has the support of the populace, though. However, that support was like it is for all popular causes – it may have run the seventeen miles from Jericho to Jerusalem, but it was only about an inch deep.

He sends two disciples ahead to a village by the Mount of Olives. The Mount is in sight of the gates through the Temple walls. The two men are instructed to find a colt, whose owners will let them have it when they say the pre-arranged words “The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.”

They bring the colt back to Jesus. Instead of sneaking safely into the city, certainly the most prudent move a man in his position should make, he, a marked man, an outlaw, climbs upon it and begins his ride to the city – prominent visible to all, supporters and enemies alike. What a courageous act!

The people respond to this. They cheer and call out the words of the Psalms – praising God for sending the Messiah, the one they assume will free them from the power of Rome and restore Israel to its rightful place as premier among the nations. They chant the equivalent of “God save the King,” their words coming directly from Psalms used in Passover rituals. The specific Psalm they use is the 118th, which is known as the conqueror’s Psalm and signifies their hope that it will only be a matter of time until Jesus sounds the trumpet and their victorious battle against the infidels is joined. They wave their palm branches before him and shout their support.

His shallow supporters see in him the fulfillment of all their personal ideas about the Messiah. His disciples are feeling that, at long last, their time has arrived. Everyone is shouting, except Jesus.

He heads for the temple. Evidently he goes there with just his disciples – there is no mention of the crowd that had been hailing him. And then, “since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”

That phrase, “since it was already late,” is fraught with meaning. Of the surface, of course, it merely means it was late in the day. The sun was setting and lamps would be lit all over Jerusalem. The time for work was over.

And, as we now know from 2000 years of hindsight, it was “already late” at another level – the end of Jesus’ life, as the end of the day, was fast approaching. His earthly ministry was about over. The end of his personal appeal to the masses was about over. The end to the plotting was about over. The angel of death was about to steal over the city as the sun set – “it was already late.”

On Palm Sunday we celebrate what is known as Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday. Yet, as we examine the text, we see that triumphant, as the world understands it, is hardly the right word. Yes, Jesus may have rode into Jerusalem hailed as the conquering hero, but it was a triumph that would be of the most unexpected kind. Part of the challenge of this Lenten season and Palm Sunday is for us to re-examine our own views of who Jesus is. If we believe, as the Bible and our own experience tell us, that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, then his message is unchanging also. The question is what might that message be for us today? Do we take time to do that, or will we, as the morning ends, and the noon hour approaches, decide that “it is already late” and head for our comfortable lunches and afternoon activities.

The message that Jesus was showing to those who had eyes and hearts to see that Palm Sunday long ago, was that, while he claimed his royal nature, his kingdom was one of spiritual peace and love. He rode into strife-riven Jerusalem as the Prince of Peace.

He rides on today – son of the high king of Heaven, with the armies of that kingdom riding behind him and his banner of peace. He rides on today to bring peace to us – in our lives, our families and in our world.

The world was not ready for the message that day almost two thousand years ago. Nor were his disciples. It may not be ready for the message today. The question for us is, are we? As a people who call ourselves his “Friends,” are we ready to lay down our notions about who our friend Jesus is and what his message is about? Dare we take a fresh look, with newly opened spiritual eyes, at what this son of God has to say to us? Are we willing to open our ears and hear? Or is it “already late.”

What a mixture of pain and sorrow that day must have been for Jesus. The tumult of popular acclaim had to feel good at first, and yet the closer he rode to Jerusalem, the more he must have realized how shallow that popular acclaim was. By the time he reaches the temple, he is alone with his fearful band of disciples. Instead of reigning in royal purple with a gold crown upon his head, he knows he will wear a crown of thorns and blood soaked purple robe. The hardest part must have been knowing that the very ones who acclaim him this day will call for his crucifixion by the end of the week. All because “it was already late.”

As we celebrate this day, let us pray that, though it is “already late,” we will have our spirits opened. Let us see this one who we call our Friend with new eyes and spiritual depth. Let us pledge anew our devotion to him and his cause – while realizing that to follow him will lead us ultimately to the foot of a cross.

It is already late.

Monday, March 27, 2017

So What I Said Was: Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, Racism, Sexism, Empathy, and Lent

The past two weeks, in two different places (Village Chapel of Bald Head Island and West Newton Friends) I spoke on the familiar story of Jesus and the Samaritan women. So what I said (sorta) was:


Compared to the width and breadth of the mighty Roman empire, Palestine at the time of Jesus was just a tiny speck. A mere 120 miles from its northern tip to its southern border. But even within this tiny plot of geography which Jesus and the disciples found themselves walking, were three major divisions of territory – and belief. In the north, where they started their journey, was Galilee.

The most direct route to Jerusalem from Galilee was through Samaria. However, many devout Jews arranged for extra travel time to skirt the whole territory. Those who didn’t, traveled at their own peril. Samaritans attacked pilgrims on their way to the holy city. Jews led assaults on Samaria, destroying their temple on their holy mount, where they held that Moses had received the 10 commandments.

It was into this that Jesus walked this day.

Now, most of the time when we hear this familiar story, we focus on the woman at the well. And her story is a fascinating one. But today I want us to look at what this story tells us about Jesus and his nature.

It’s noon. The middle of the Jewish day of that era, which runs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s also the hottest time of the day. Jesus is weary and thirsty. The disciples go ahead to town to buy some food. Some major attitude change must be occurring in them, for them even to go buy food from Samaritans. A Jewish truism held that to eat with a Samaritan was as eating “swine’s flesh.”

As Jesus sits there, at a well on the land Jacob had given to his son Joseph, whose body had been buried there after the Exodus from Egypt, he’s approached by the familiar woman of the story. His dealings with her give us insight into three important aspects of Jesus’ personality.

The first is that it shows us, in its fullness, the humanity of Jesus. Here is no man free from the demands of our common life. He’s been walking a long way, he’s hungry, thirsty and tired. His life, his walk, was an effort for him, the same as it is for us. And so Jesus, in his humanity, shares in ours.

A second thing it shows is the depth of his empathy. From any other religious leader of the opposition of the day, the woman most likely would have fled. She would fear such a person as condemning and hostile – because of her race and her lifestyle. But she talks to Jesus and it is he who begins the conversation. We have only the barest record of what was said – the Bible never pretends to be a stenographer’s record. What we have is what the gospel writer thinks we need to know. One has to wonder what else was said. Whatever it was, the woman opens to Jesus – a friend who came not to criticize or condemn, even though many might say she deserved criticism and condemnation. Jesus does not even give her his quite common command to “go and sin no more.” He lets her be. In his empathy he sees she has need of his grace, not judgment, for the judgment she’s laid on herself over her lifetime has been probably almost more than she can bear. He lets her off “Scot free.”

That’s good news to us today. Not that it gives us license to behave any which way, but it shows us that God looks on the inner person and sees the heart. A person may act outwardly contrite and yet have a heart of stone. That’s what Jesus often got on the Pharisees about. Or a person may not seem to have “paid for his or her sins” and yet grieve over them in the very deepest part of his or her being. And that is the man or woman to whom Jesus extends his love and sympathy.

Finally, the story shows Jesus as a breaker of barriers. In this case the barriers of racism and sexism. The hatred between the Jews and Samaritans ran deep and wide. Jesus would have nothing to do with it. He made the Samaritans heroes of some of his stories and conversed freely with them – as he did the woman at the well. It’s no wonder, with the history of hatred, the woman was surprised he would speak to her – a Samaritan. But speak he did. And indeed he stayed with the Samaritans for two days after this encounter.

He also broke the barrier of sexism. Some of the Pharisees of this time were known as the bruised and bleeding Pharisees. That’s because their interpretation of the Law forbid them from speaking to a woman in public, even their sisters, mothers, or daughters. Yet Jesus sits and talks with this woman as if she was as capable of understanding as any Jewish man. This is highly unusual, for many Jews (as did other religions of the day) believed that a woman was incapable of understanding the things of God and so such talk would be wasted. Some doubted women even had souls.

Jesus dealings with this woman, as well as many others, show that the faith he established is one of equality of all people. Thus in Galatians, Paul can write, “I Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

If Jesus’ was a breaker of barriers, how can we, his followers, be any less? We need, as part of the gospel message, to show a church that welcomes all regardless of race, gender or any other distinction and to work to eliminate such distinctions in our community.

To a Jew of Jesus time, this encounter was an amazing one. It should be so for us today. Here came the Son of God dusty, thirsty, and tired. He breaks through the barriers of race, religion and gender to love everyone in his and their humanity. He invites us today, as he did that Samaritan woman 2,000 years ago, to drink from his well, a draught of water that will quench our every thirst.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"What a wonder I was/ when I was young..."

VII. 
Ben and me in woods, 1977

by Wendell Berry

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What a wonder I was
when I was young, as I learn
by the stern privilege
of being old: how regardlessly
I stepped the rough pathways
of the hillside woods,
treaded hardly thinking
the tumbled stairways
of the steep streams, and worked
unaching hard days
thoughtful only of the work,
the passing light, the heat, the cool
water I gladly drank.
"VII." by Wendell Berry from A Small Porch. © Counterpoint, 2016.  (buy now)

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Wisdom of the Body -- A Guest Post by Christine Valters Paintner

As someone who's written about using our five physical senses as doors into a deeper spiritual life (
Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God), it is my pleasure to welcome Christine Valters Paintner as a guest blogger this week. She's penned a number of my favorite books and her newest one, The Wisdom of the Body: A Contemplative Journey to Wholeness for Women, has just been released. For Holy Ordinary, she's written a piece titled "Sacrament of the Senses." I'm sure you'll be blessed by it. I know I was.

*********************

As the twelfth- century teacher Hildegard of Bingen says, “God has a burning love for the flesh.” And there are four stages, she says, in the ascent of holy knowing: “seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting.” --J. Philip Newell, A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth, and the Human Soul


The Catholic Mass, which is my own home tradition, is often described as “smells and bells.” A full liturgy will often meet and inspire every one of our senses: the scent of incense rising, bells ringing, stained glass windows, singing songs, embracing another at the kiss of peace, eating the bread and drinking wine.

I have always loved the Catholic idea of sacramentality, which means that physical things participate in and reveal the presence of the holy. The liturgy with all of its sensual dimensions is sacramental, the marriage union between two lovers is sacramental, the holy oil of anointing used in healing is sacramental, this bread and wine become flesh and blood is sacramental.

And then there are of course the more ordinary everyday sacraments. The sacramentality of our own flesh which allows us to be present in this world and receive its gifts through our senses.

If we ponder the monastery setting, we might imagine the soaring arches of the cloisters, the fragrant garden in the center providing herbs and medicine for healing and a taste of Eden in their midst, and the songs rising at the Hours for prayer. There is a profound honoring of the way these sensual delights can bring us closer to God.

To have a sacramental spirituality is to honor that our senses are doorways into the holy. When we bring ourselves intentionally to an experience and let ourselves receive it through our senses, the richness of it and the multi-dimensionality of it shimmers forth.

There is even a tradition in Christian spirituality of what are called the “spiritual senses.” The senses were seen as so essential to receiving the gift of the sacred in the world, that there was believed to be parallel interior senses to the exterior ones. There was spiritual vision which was the ability to see God beneath the surface of things. There was spiritual hearing which was the capacity to hear God underneath the noises and distractions. Each sense, including taste, smell, and touch, were imagined as having these inner counterparts, and when cultivated, offered us the ability to encounter God in the flesh and blood reality of the world.

The root of the word savor comes from the Latin word saporem which means to taste and is also the root of sapient which is the word for wisdom. Another definition I love is "to give oneself over to the enjoyment of something." When I give myself over to the experience of savoring, wisdom emerges. Savoring calls for a kind of surrender. We have all kinds of stories in our minds about why we perhaps shouldn’t give ourselves over to enjoyment, whether out of guilt or shame or a sense of fear out of what might happen. Yet we are called to yield to the goodness of life, to bask in it. It is an affirmation and celebration of God’s creation and an echo of “that’s good” from Genesis.

Savoring calls me to slowness: I can't savor quickly.

Savoring calls me to spaciousness: I can't savor everything at once.

Savoring calls me to mindfulness: I can't savor without being fully present.

It also calls for a fierce and wise discernment about how I spend my time and energy. Now that I know deep in my bones the limits of my life breaths, how do I choose to spend those dazzling hours? What are the experiences ripening within me that long for exploration? Do I want to waste my time skating on the surface of things, in a breathless rush to get everything done when all I need is here in this moment?

There is also a seasonal quality to savoring – this season, what is right before me, right now, is to be savored. It will rise and fall, come into fullness and then slip away. When I savor I pay attention to all the moments of that experience without trying to change it.

And finally, there is a tremendous sweetness to this open-hearted way of being in the world. Everything becomes grace because I recognize it could all be different, it could all be gone. Rather than grasp at how I think this moment should be, I savor the way things are.

(excerpted and adapted from The Wisdom of the Body)



Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE is the online Abbess at AbbeyoftheArts.com, a virtual global monastery offering resources in contemplative practice and creative expression. She is the author of ten books including her newest, The Wisdom of the Body: A Contemplative Journey to Wholeness for Women. Christine lives on the wild edges of Ireland with her husband where they lead pilgrimages and retreats.

Friday, January 06, 2017

"They take Alfonso/ And no one stands up..." What Canst -- or Will -- Thou Say?


Today, after reading Kaminksy's poem below, I was thinking of Martin Niemöller. He was a prominent German Lutheran pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. He is perhaps best remembered for the quotation which seems timely to me:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I've been thinking:

First they came for the Mexicans, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Mexican.

Then they came for the African Americans, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a African American.

Then they came for the other non-Europeans, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a non-European.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me

While I am a Quaker who loves silence (and have even written a book about it's importance!), as the writer of Ecclesiastes says:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
...a time to be silent and a time to speak...

This is not the time for public silence. It is a time to -- with discernment, but not necessarily caution -- to speak.

Town Watches Them Take Alfonso

by Ilya Kaminsky

Now each of us is
a witness stand:

Vasenka watches us watch four soldiers throw Alfonso Barabinski on the sidewalk.
We let them take him, all of us cowards.

What we don’t say
we carry in our suitcases, coat pockets, our nostrils.

Across the street they wash him with fire hoses. First he screams,
then he stops.

So much sunlight—
a t-shirt falls off a clothes line and an old man stops, picks it up, presses it to his face.

Neighbors line up to watch him thrown on a sidewalk like a vaudeville act: Ta Da.
In so much sunlight—

how each of us
is a witness stand:

They take Alfonso
And no one stands up. Our silence stands up for us.

"Our silence stands up for us."  What canst -- or will -- thou say?