Archive for October, 2013

(re)Imagine Halloween

Posted in Uncategorized on October 28, 2013 by yhcreligiouslife

halloweenJust in time for Halloween, I offer Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”.  Have a wonderful week and see you at Vespers.

“The Raven”

    Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door-

Only this, and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,

And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

Eagerly I wished the morrow;- vainly I had sought to borrow

From my books surcease of sorrow- sorrow for the lost Lenore-

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore-

Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me- filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;

So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,

“‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door-

Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;-

This it is, and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,

“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;

But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,

And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,

That I scarce was sure I heard you”- here I opened wide the door;-

Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering,

fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;

But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,

And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore!”

This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”-

Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,

Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.

“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice:

Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore-

Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;-

‘Tis the wind and nothing more.”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and

flutter,

In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore;

Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed

he;

But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door-

Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door-

Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.

“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no

craven,

Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore-

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,

Though its answer little meaning- little relevancy bore;

For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being

Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door-

Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,

With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only

That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.

Nothing further then he uttered- not a feather then he fluttered-

Till I scarcely more than muttered, “other friends have flown

before-

On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”

Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,

“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store,

Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster

Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore-

Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore

Of ‘Never- nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,

Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and

door;

Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking

Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore-

What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore

Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing

To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;

This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining

On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o’er,

But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o’er,

She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer

Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.

“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee- by these angels he

hath sent thee

Respite- respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore!

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!- prophet still, if bird or

devil!-

Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,

Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted-

On this home by horror haunted- tell me truly, I implore-

Is there- is there balm in Gilead?- tell me- tell me, I implore!”

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil- prophet still, if bird or

devil!

By that Heaven that bends above us- by that God we both adore-

Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,

It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore-

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend,” I shrieked,

upstarting-

“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!

Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!

Leave my loneliness unbroken!- quit the bust above my door!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my

door!”

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the

floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted- nevermore!

(re)Imagine Posture

Posted in Uncategorized on October 21, 2013 by yhcreligiouslife

I love the fact that the word humus—the decayed vegetable matter that feeds the roots of plants—comes from the same root that gives rise to the word humility.  It is a blessed etymology.

roasting marshmellow

—Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

 Walking through the woods in my backyard this weekend as I gathered sticks for a bush pile, I heard the brittle branches of last summer crackle underfoot.  Each step’s snap sank twigs and leaves deeper into the earth that they were becoming. While gathering branches, I found myself amongst those trees and fallen leaves looking for something else, that properly shaped branch suitable for roasting marshmallows.  Selecting the right shaped stick, stripping off any excess bark, and sharpening the end, it and I were ready.  That walk and those preparations remind me that in our lives and in our faith transformative, altering work is needed.

Fallen leaves, dried undergrowth, snapped twigs become something new.  Leaves, undergrowth, and twigs mix with damp dirt. They breakdown. The greens of summer become the yellows, oranges, and reds of autumn that become beiges, browns, and blacks of winter. This decaying layer forms the top of the soil called humus.

Humus is an essential layer, replenishing the dirt’s nutrients lost during the previous spring and summer. It is the layer that makes possible the promised explosion of new life that comes with spring. It is the gift from the forest back to the earth, offering thanks for another year of shared existence. Humus, as Parker Palmer reminds us above, is also the source of our English word humility.

Humility is that posture of willfully lowering ourselves to be broken down, making us available to be used for some greater purpose. Like leaves broken down to be used for the next spring’s rebirth, so too, we must willingly prepare to be broken down so that we might be used to make something greater than ourselves.

The writer of Luke’s gospel tells a story marking the significance of humility’s role in establishing a proper relationship, a relationship evidenced through divergent postures in prayer.  The author writes:

[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, and even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; l give a tenth of all my income.’  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”  (Luke 18:9-14)

Notice in the narrative from Luke’s gospel the prominent roles given to the two men’s postures.  The Pharisee prays, we may assume, using a standard prayer posture of the day, with his head raised up.  The tax collector prays, as the story deliberately points out, with his head down.  And, as is the case with most of the gospel stories, the narrative’s power is revealed in the dramatic reversal contained in Jesus’ summary.  Jesus declares that the sinful tax collector is righteous—i.e., in right relationship with God—while the self-righteous Pharisee is not.  More than this prayer posture evidencing right relationship, the story reminds us that our self-loathing—embodied in the tax collector—and self-righteousness—embodied in the Pharisee—might, also, lead to physical separation, a separation that is unnecessary.

Consider how both men separate from each other and others who have gathered for prayer.  The Pharisee stands alone and the tax collector stands alone.  For different reasons, they stand apart, positioning themselves apart from each other, from others, and from God.  This story is but a reminder, as Luke tells it, that the proper posture of our lives is not separation from anyone.  The Pharisee is separate because his self-righteousness, he believes, demands it.  And, the tax collector, believes himself to be separate from God, while in reality he is not according to Jesus’ judgment.

Ideas and images of posture and prayer, right-standing and proper relationship weave in and out through this story, tying together both men with a narrative thread suggesting that what God intends is not separation because of excessive humility or excessive righteousness but an eternal binding to God and each other because that is God’s hope, God’s desire.  The witness of the story and the entire gospel account offered by Luke is that all of humanity is bound together because of our common origin and destiny in the Divine.  Jesus’ life and work in the gospel is meant to stand as a witness to this binding character of God’s gracious intentions for us all.

As we consider this story from Luke’s gospel, may we each remember to foster communities of wholeness, a wholeness that requires some change in each of us.  Like the Pharisee, may we be broken down from our occasions of self-righteousness—I include myself, here.  Like the tax collector, may we spring to new life when reminded that our lives are of infinite value and worth even when we sometime are told and believe otherwise—I include myself, here, too. In the end, may we all find ourselves bound together in love, a love that weaves us together in a single garment of compassion, faith, wisdom, justice, and courage.  May this garment of love break us down and build us back up, all the while holding us close.

Have a great week and see you along the way.

Prayer (re)Imagined

Posted in Uncategorized on October 14, 2013 by yhcreligiouslife

change switchI lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?

—Psalm 121:1

Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, at least that is what physicists assert in the Law of the Conservation of Energy.  Rather than being created or destroyed, the Law maintains, energy is merely converted from one state to another.  For instance, the energy stored in an object is called potential energy.  Potential energy describes the possibility that something might happen to or with that object.  Like a spring compressed, the energy used to compress it is transferred to the spring and stored inside the spring waiting to be released.  The release of that stored energy is called kinetic energy.  When the compressed spring is loosed, the energy is converted from a passive to an active state.  (Now, let me be upfront.  I am not a physicist but like to watch them on TV.  Huge fan of the Big Bang Theory.)  Taking into account my caveat of general ignorance regarding physics, I think several interesting theological observations lie embedded in my rather rudimentary recollection of physics.

First, the Latin root for “potential” is potentia, meaning “power.”  Second, the Greek root for “kinetic” is kinesis, meaning “motion.”  In other words, both instances assume action.  In the first instance, action is coiled in the spring.  The Law of the Conservation of Energy does not allow the energy used to compress the spring to dissolve.  Rather, that energy is transferred to the spring itself and stored throughout the object, awaiting liberation.  Similarly, the reality of stored action is a static state, a state awaiting its opportunity to erupt.  Potential has a real, tangible—yet hidden—power.  In the second, action is realized; motion is actual.  Our spring bursts to life, racing from compression to extension, from what might be to what is.  The activity that appeared lost was only dormant, now awakened to life.  This leads to my third observation.  The conversion of energy from potential to kinetic, the transformation of action from stored to sprung requires a catalyst.

Catalysts come in many forms and at many times, but in the case of our spring, they result in the same effect, i.e., the energy of change—often thought absent or destroyed—is made manifest, is incarnated in the object now in motion.

Metaphorical springs are coiled all around us, awaiting release, longing for their catalyst to come.

Prophets often serve as catalysts from action, change.  Their words recorded in both Testaments echo this potential for change, often acting as the catalyst itself.  Their words take dormant ideas and “enflesh” those ideas in the fervor and gesticulations of faithful servants of God, actively speaking latent truths before recalcitrant Powers.  Their bodies become the incarnation of God’s liberating ideas for change as the prophet places himself or herself between the Powers and the people.  This “enfleshing” of God’s words of liberation and change in our lives is the proper outcome for a life of faith.

Remember the words from the prophet Micah.  He said:

‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old?7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8)

Here, Micah is not dismissing worship.  Rather, the prophet is reminding us that true worship begins in God’s presence at prayer but is realized in our active concern for those who are also connected to God and us, i.e., all our neighbors.  We cannot have true worship if we neglect to love and enact, to embody justice and kindness, particularly for those disempowered to do so on their own.

It is this active incarnation of God’s energy for active change that imbues Abraham Heschel’s memory of his time with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1965.  He recalled, “For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was both protest and prayer. Legs are not lips, and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”  Certain of the connection between faith and faithful living, between the potential energy of prayer and the kinetic energy of protest, Rabbi Heschel found a natural ally in King.  United in their common conviction that a faith embodied and lived is primary and is the most authentic expression of faith, their mutual convictions motivated their actions.  That common action found particular expression when hands were clasped and feet hit the pavement.  As an exercise in interfaith activism and the manifestation of a firm belief that the God of scripture is the same God opting for the disenfranchised, Heschel and King joined in a series of marches, affirming the more general principle of the equality of all who are created in God’s image.

In the opening passage from Psalm 121 offered above, the Psalmist sings a prayer of hope, a prayer of longing, searching the hills for the approach of relief, of rescue.  The plaintive tone of these words rings with a heavy yet hopeful cry, a cry filled with a potential energy of liberation scanning the horizon for a catalyzing release.  For the Psalmist, the release comes with the approach of God.  Yet, in what from does this Divine Agent take shape?

This particular text is silent on the manifestation of Divine Agency.  However, Micah’s message seems to imply that the manifestation of God’s agency might just assume the use of our hands and our feet.  Like the cries heard and responded to by Heschel and King, the cry of the Psalmist might assume and require our participation, our service as catalysts for active change, converting the cries of the needy into direct action of incarnate love.

Such opportunities for action are all around us.  Our valleys are filled with the captive potential energy in thousands of cries from the needy and hungry and pained, scanning—like the Psalmist—these hills for relief.

What will be the catalyst for their liberating release?  What will convert their cries and our hearing into active fulfillment, feeding, and healing?  What moment will transfer the energy of complaint into the energy of action?  Is it a simple presentation of an opportunity that is needed, an opportunity made known that converts hearing to doing, potential love of some neighbor to the kinetic love of an actual person who is our neighbor living right here in this valley we call home?  My hope is that all that is required for the release of our stored-up energy of love is the plain transition of an idea to an actual moment where aid is rendered possible.

Just such a moment might be upon us.

An important religious holiday will be celebrated this week.  More than a billion people around the world celebrate this holiday.  The holiday is called Eid al-Adha or “Festival of Sacrifice”.  This day is an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims to honor Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, as an act of submission and to celebrate God’s intervening provision of a lamb to be sacrificed instead (Quran 37:100-111).  The festival includes fasting, prayers, and celebrations.  It is tradition that during Eid al-Adha that donations to the needy are given, particularly to children.  This year, in the United States, Eid al-Adha is celebrated on October 15.

A newly forming student group on our campus, the Muslim Student Association (MSA), will honor this celebration by continuing a tradition within the Muslim community of collecting donations for the needy children.  Our MSA will  collect donations for the children of Towns County by giving to the weekend backpack program facilitated through the Towns County Food Pantry.  The Food Pantry backpack program is an effort to give children on reduced and free lunches food to eat over the weekend, assuming that if they need food assistance during the week that they most likely need food assistance on weekends, too.

Continuing the tradition witnessed to by Herschel and King as they joined together in a common effort to convert the potential of prayer into the powerful witness of active work, may the people of this campus—all of us of different faiths or no faith—join together to support this work of our students, using this moment as the needed catalyst to release the liberating energy lying inside the cries of our hungry neighbors all around us.

Get your spare change ready.  We will be collecting your donations on Thursday in the College restaurant.

Have a great week and see you along the way.

(re)Imagine Sabbath

Posted in Uncategorized on October 7, 2013 by yhcreligiouslife

rest2

The following is a digest of “The Tyranny of Choice” in Sabbath:  Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller.  I have chosen to summarize Muller’s text in light of this week’s much anticipated “fall break.”  My prayer is that some portion of it is a “break”—if not from work, then at least from routine—for all of us.

Suppose that a warrior forgot that he was already wearing his pearl on his forehead, and sought for it somewhere else; he might search through the whole world without finding it.  But if someone simply pointed it out to him, the warrior would immediately realize that the pearl had been there all the time.

–Huang Po 

Sometimes it is necessary to stop one thing before another thing can begin.  The traditional thirty-nine prohibitions against working on the Jewish Sabbath gave birth to what one scholar calls “the most precious, inestimable pearl” of Sabbath tranquility.  Similarly, most of the Ten Commandments begin with “Thou shalt not.”  These prohibitions against stealing, lying, murdering, and the like, if practiced with a fullness of heart, set us free to turn our energies to other things more precious—to honesty, fidelity, generosity, and love.

But progress promises us the endless expansion of choice; we chafe at any restriction to our capacity to generate options, and we revolt against any concept of prohibition.  We equate choice with freedom, but they are not the same.  If we exercise our choice to covet or to steal or to live without rest, we will soon feel trapped and unhappy.  We equate choice with nourishment, but a dozen different soft drinks, potato chips, and candy bars provide no vitamin C, iron, protein, beta carotene—or any significant nutrition at all.  Regardless of how many choices we pile one upon the other, it is still a big, fat, empty meal.

Freedom of choice can be as painful as it is precious.  We want to be able to choose whatever career, spouse, or neighborhood we wish, but how do we decide, what should we look for, should we go to school now or later, have children now or later, stay home with the children and risk getting passed over by more aggressive colleagues, or push a career now and hope that day care is a nurturing option?  How do we decide which partner we love, whether to change our neighborhood or political party, or start exploring new spiritual traditions?

Freedom of choice can suffocate us; we drown in a sea of options.  With so much else we could have chosen, how do we ever know we have done the right thing?

The Sabbath is a patch of ground secured by a tiny fence, when we withdraw from the endless choices afforded us and listen, uncover what is ultimately important, remember what is quietly sacred.  Sabbath restrictions on work and activity actually create a space of great freedom; without these self-imposed restrictions, we may never be truly free.

(Over the coming week) choose one pleasurable activity that is easily done and takes little time.  Leaf through a magazine and tear out a picture that you find appealing; put it somewhere you will see it, and notice how you respond to it throughout the day.  Write a short poem about nothing of any importance.  Put a new flower in a cup by your bed.  Take a walk around the block.  Sing a song you know from beginning to end.  Do something simple and playful like this every day.  Take a crayon and make some simple drawing of your bedroom.  Let the power of simple acts of creativity stop you, slow your pace, interrupt your speed.  Notice how willing you are to be stopped.  Notice how it feels when you are.

Enjoy your week and see you along the way.

Peace.