Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Something from the past

I sometimes browse my own blog. I can't remember what I had for breakfast four days ago and certainly can't remember all the over 1800 blogs I've written.

Sometimes I come across a gem...or a lightening bug...of a post. So, I'll share it here again, which will make the third time it has appeared.

Yes, Virginia, there are lightening bugs in Connecticut

I've just been watching Lightening Bugs--fire flies--in our neighbor's yard. So I decided to reprise the fourth most viewed post of mine ever.

They are blinking, blinking, blinking.

They're out there tonight--the fireflies--in the mulberry tree just beyond our fence where the groundhogs come in the late summer to eat mulberries that have fermented and make them drunk. A drunk groundhog is a wonder to behold!

And the lightening bugs are in our yard as well. I sat and watched them blink for 20 minutes tonight.

My dear friend, Harriet, wrote me an email about lightening bugs after my blog about them. If I'm more adroit at technology than I think I am, I'm going to put that email here.
Jim, I just read your blog and have my own firefly story. Before we   went to Maine,
before 6/20, one of those nights of powerful   thunderstorms, I was awakened at 10PM
and then again at 2AM by flashes   of lightning followed by cracks of thunder - the
 kind that make me   shoot out of bed - and pounding rain. And then at 4:30AM there
was   just lightning, silent. The silence and light was profound. I kept   waiting
for sound. I couldn't quite believe in heat lightning in June,   so I got out of bed
and looked out the window. There I could see the   sky, filled with silent lightning
 bursts. And under it, our meadow,   filled with lightning bugs (as we call them) or
 fireflies, flashing in   response. I've never seen anything like it. I can't remember
 the last   time I saw a lightning bug. And then your blog. Is this, too, part of
 global warming? Are you and   I being transported back to the warmer climes of
 our youth, West   Virginia and Texas? Well, if it means lightning bugs, the future
 won't   be all bad.
I did do it, by gum....

So the lightening bugs are blinking, as we are, you and I.

Blinking and flashing and living. You and I.

Here's the thing, I've been thinking about a poem I wrote 4 years
ago or so. I used to leave St. John's and go visit folks in the hospital or nursing home or their own home
on my way to my home. Somehow the blinking of the fireflies has reminded me of that. So, I'll try, once more
to be more media savvy than I think I am and share it with you.
I drive home through pain, through suffering,
through death itself.
I drive home through Cat-scans and blood tests
and X-rays and Pet-scans (whatever they are)
and through consultations of surgeons and oncologists
and even more exotic flora with medical degrees.
I drive home through hospitals and houses
and the wondrous work of hospice nurses
and the confusion of dozens more educated than me.
Dressed in green scrubs and Transfiguration white coats,
they discuss the life or death of people I love.
And they hate, more than anything, to lose the hand
to the greatest Poker Player ever, the one with all the chips.
And, here’s the joke, they always lose in the end—
the River Card turns it all bad and Death wins.
So, while they consult and add artificial poison
to the Poison of Death—shots and pills and IV’s
of poison—I drive home and stop in vacant rooms
and wondrous houses full of memories
and dispense my meager, medieval medicine
of bread and wine and oil.
Sometimes I think…sometimes I think…
I should not drive home at all
since I stop in hospitals and houses to bring my pitiful offering
to those one step, one banana peel beneath their foot,
from meeting the Lover of Souls.
I do not hate Death. I hate dying, but not Death.
But it is often too much for me, stopping on the way home
to press the wafer into their quaking hands;
to lift the tiny, pewter cup of bad port wine to their trembling lips;
and to smear their foreheads with fragrant oil
while mumbling much rehearsed words and wishing them
whole and well and eternal.
I believe in God only around the edges.
But when I drive home, visiting the dying,
I’m the best they’ll get of all that.
And when they hold my hand with tears in their eyes
and thank me so profoundly, so solemnly, with such sweet terror
in their voices, then I know.
Driving home and stopping there is what I’m meant to do.
A little bread, a little wine and some sweet smelling oil
may be—if not enough—just what was missing.
I’m driving home, driving home, stopping to touch the hand of Death.
Perhaps that is all I can do.
I tell myself that, driving home, blinded by pain and tears,
having been with Holy Ones.
8/2007 jgb
Someone once told me, "We're all dying, you know. It's just a matter of timing...."
Fireflies, more the pity, live only a fraction of a second to the time that we humans live. They will be gone from the mulberry tree and my back yard in a few weeks, never to be seen again. But the years and years we live are, in a profound way, only a few blinks, a few flares, a few flashes in the economy of the universe. We should live them well and appreciate each moment. Really.

One of the unexpected blessings of having been a priest for so long is the moments, the flashes, I've gotten to spend with 'the holy ones', those about to pass on from this life.

Hey, if you woke up this morning you're ahead of a lot of folks. Don't waste the moment.

(I told Harriet and she agreed, that we would have been blessed beyond measure to have walked down in that meadow while the silent lightening lit the sky to be with the fire-flies, to have them hover around us, light on our arms, in our hair, on our clothes, be one with them....flashing, blinking, sharing their flares of light. Magic.)

{By the way, it's now the 9th most viewed blog of all time, though this will maybe boost it up a tad.)

visit to a sweet soul

I visited someone today who is ready, willing, wanting to die.

They just can't figure out why they can't will their own death.

A deeply spiritual soul. A body that has been ravaged. A longing to enter that mysterious door to whatever comes next.

I am convinced they aren't kidding about wanting to die and trying to will Death to come.

And with a clear mind, the person longs for leaving. But the train is still at the station.

Since I'll soon be 70 (have I told you that? I'm sure I have--it's on my mind quite a bit) I have some ponderings about death.

I used to think I wanted it to be sudden and unexpected before I lost any mental capacity or even physical ability.

But now, after my visit today, I want to be like that someone is--fully awake but ready to move on.

Something so moving and powerful about facing Death with willingness.

Much, much there to ponder.

I invite you to do just that: ponder how you want to enter that dark door.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

On my wall

On my wall, beside my window where I sit writing this are several things.

An American Indian dream catcher my daughter gave to me years ago.  It's a circle of wood with a web of string and feathers with feathers hanging off it. She knew I was very interested in dreams so she thought I would love it. And I do. Very much.

There are also three plaques.

One says "SHALOM", which someone (I forget who) gave me because I sign all my letters and emails with 'Shalom, jim'. It is the Hebrew word English does little justice to because we translate it as 'peace'. Peace is the absence of conflict. Shalom is so much more than that. No single English word can capture it's meaning. It is like this: 'wholeness, completeness, everything with nothing left out and all of that in harmony'. A concept we need more of in this world. And in each of our lives.

A second plaque a dear friend gave me has a head poking out with fat cheeks and a big nose and huge smile. It says: "IN VINO VERITAS". That's Latin for "in wine, truth". Not a bad saying and rather true as I think on it. That friend and I have shared more than a little wine and even more truth. Bless her.

Finally, besides a high school picture of me and a college picture of Bern on the window, is the third plaque that says, Latin again: "VOCATUS ETQUE NON VOCATUS DEUS ADERIT". In English that is roughly, "Bidden or unbidden, God appears/arrives". Not a bad thing to ponder, after all, given that much of the time we don't bid God to come but God shows up in what Remitha Spurlock, a member of the first parish I served, said 'in mysterious ways'.

Those are the things I stare at sitting at my computer, wondering what to do next.

I could do much much worse. Not sure how I could do much better.....

Monday, March 27, 2017

Waiting for Godot

Lucky's speech in Beckett's classic has a refrain: "but time will tell...."

Health Care as a privilege, not a right; 'alternative facts'; the President admitting his policies will damage the people who elected him by saying, 'I know'; more Russians in the woodwork that raisins in Raisin Flakes; a Time Magazine cover story "Is Truth Dead?" (echoing the 1966 cover "Is God Dead?"); all this and so, so much more.

I feel like I'm waiting for Godot and repeating over and over Lucky's line, "but time will tell...."

Up is Sideways and Down is a circle.

I've never lived in times like these.

I keep thinking, 'time will tell....' And keep wondering what time will tell.

And waiting for Godot, who will never come (if I understand the play correctly).

Ah well, as the Chinese say, "may you live in interesting times."

That's the same Chinese who invented a hokes called 'climate change' by the way.

"Interesting times" and "time will tell...." So it goes.

God help us.

Godot is on his way....

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Lent 4 sermon--the man born blind

Lent IV 2017  “Deep in the old man’s puzzle….”

          I want to share with you a short passage from Robertson Davies novel, Fifth Business. An elderly French Jesuit named Blazon is talking to a Canadian teacher and writer named Dunstan Ramsey. Ramsey has just asked Blazon how he can be a holy man after just having consumed a whole chicken and a whole bottle of wine at dinner. Blazon then replies. Listen:
          “Listen, Ramezay, have you heard what Einstein says?—Einstein, the great scientist, not some Jesuit like old Blazon. He says: ‘God is subtle, but He is not cruel.’  There is some sound Jewish wisdom for your muddled Protestant mind. Try to understand the subtlety, and stop whimpering about the cruelty. Maybe God wants you for something special….
          “….I am quite a wise old bird but I am no desert hermit who can only prophesy when his guts are knotted in hunger….I am deep in the old man’s puzzle, trying to link the wisdom of the body with the wisdom of the spirit until the two are one….you cannot divide spirit from body without anguish and destruction.”

          “I am deep in the old man’s puzzle,” Father Blazon said, “trying to link the wisdom of the body with the wisdom of the spirit until the two are one.”

          Today’s gospel lesson is so long and complex—more like a short story than the normal readings—that we could spend hours together teasing out all the subtleties of the healing of the man born blind.  There obviously isn’t time to do that. We all have places to go and things to do. So, cutting to the chase, I want to spend a few minutes with you “deep in the old man’s puzzle”, wrestling with the wisdom of the body and the wisdom of the spirit and how the two are linked together and one.
          The story begins with blindness of the body: Jesus and his disciples encounter a man born blind—so his blindness is genetic, on the level of DNA, not because of some illness or accident. He was blind in the midnight of the womb and wrapped in double darkness until that moment when Jesus gives him new eyes and “first sight”.

          The story ends with the “spiritual blindness” of the Pharisees. Their souls dwell in the double darkness of their rigid, unenlightened adherence to a Law that makes no sense and their blindness to the miracle and wonder of Jesus’ power and authority over the Sabbath, over all things.

          Jesus says: I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.
          Some of the Pharisees who heard his words asked Jesus: Surely we are not blind, are we?
          If you were blind, Jesus tells them, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,” your sin remains.

          We are deep in the old man’s puzzle, trying to link the wisdom of the body and the wisdom of the spirit until the two are one.

          Here’s something to notice and remember: in John’s gospel, Jesus always speaks of SIN, in the singular, not the plural, SINS. 
          When John the Baptist sees Jesus coming, he says: behold the lamb of God who takes away the SIN of the world!  John says ‘SIN’ not ‘sins”.  Sin, in John’s Gospel, does not refer to actions we do that we should not have done or to actions we didn’t do that we should have done.  “Commission” and “Omission”—the way the church refers to those two categories of “sins”—isn’t what John’s Gospel is referring to. It is not our individual “sins” that Jesus comes to “take away”; rather, it is SIN itself.
          One way of looking at “sin” is to see it as a state of being—THE STATE OF BEING SEPARATED FROM GOD.  
          Separation from God—being out of touch with God, alienated from God…alone and empty—that is “the Sin of the World.”
          Just as Blazon longs to link the wisdom of the body to the wisdom of the spirit until the two are one; in just that way, Jesus longs to link humankind to God until the two are One.
          And old hymn from my childhood goes like this: ‘O, how marvelous, O how wonderful, is my Savior’s love for me….”
          Jesus offers us “first sight” and new eyes. Jesus offers us the ability to see—see clearly, see truly, see through our separation from God…our Sin…until we see God face to face. Oh, how marvelous! Oh, how wonderful!
          God is subtle, but He is not cruel.
          Einstein’s insight points us to the “wisdom” of the story of the man born blind.  Jesus speaks of “blindness” and “sight” as if the wisdom of the body and the wisdom of the spirit WERE ONE.  To the man born blind he gives his own saliva, mixed with dirt into mud, applied to his eyes and washed away by the waters of the healing pool named “SENT.”  The man who had never seen is given both the sight of the body and the sight of the spirit.
          Do you believe in the Son of Man? Jesus asks him.
          And who is he, sir? The man replies. Tell me, so that I may believe in him.
          You have seen him, Jesus tells the man with first sight, and the one speaking with you is he.
          Then, seeing with both his eyes and his heart, the man says to Jesus, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.
          Oh, how wonderful….Oh, how marvelous….

          How, in our lives, are we like the man born blind? How, in our lives, have we come to see—not with our eyes only, but with our hearts?
          And how, in our life, are we like the Pharisees? How, in our lives, are you and I  bound and rigid and blind because you and I are tied to the limitations of the past, of our upbringing, of our culture, of our prejudices, of our resistance to “the New Thing” God would do for us?

          You see, we are deep in the old man’s puzzle, you and I. We are struggling with the wisdom of the body and the wisdom of the spirit and we long to link them together until they are one.  God is subtle, but God is not cruel.
          The subtlety of God has to do with “how to SEE” and how to find first sight, new eyes.
          There is a story I would tell you. Then I would invite you into a few minutes of silence, deep in the old man’s puzzle, to wrestle with what is Broken and what is Whole…with body and spirit…with sight and blindness…with seeing the Face of God.
          My story is this: Once there was a very old and very wise Rabbi. He was sitting by the river with his three young, energetic disciples just before dawn.
          One of them, there in the last moments of darkness, said to the rabbi: Master, when is there enough light to see?
          He replied: Tell me what you think…
          One said: There is enough light to see when you can tell the young lambs from the young goats as they play in the field across the river.
          The Rabbi replied: No, that is not enough light to see.
          A second disciple said: There is enough light to see when you can distinguish the trees from the fog in the early dawn.
          But the Rabbi answered: No, that is not enough light to see.
          A third student took his turn: There is enough light to see when you can see the leaves on the trees across the river and know which is a myrtle and which is an olive.
          The Rabbi said, as before: No, that is not enough light to see. And he grew silent for a long time.
          There is enough light to see, the rabbi finally said, when you can look into the face of any human being and see the face of God….

          We are deep in the old man’s puzzle. Let us pray for enough light to see.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Forgiveness (again)

It only took me 2 hours (35 minutes of which were on the GW bridge) to drive from Teaneck, NJ to Cheshire today. Almost no traffic on the HH parkway, the Cross County, the Hutch and the Merritt. None of that makes sense to people who don't live in the North East, but it is like DNA important stuff to New Englanders!

We had 33 or34 folks in the Forgiveness workshop in Teaneck. An amazing group of folks looking for transformation.

Forgiveness is--one in the same time--very, very hard work and as easy as willing to say so.

The Mastery events I help lead are all about the distinction between 'change' and 'transformation'. This workshop--the first time I've led it--is no different. We all long for 'changing things' and change is almost impossible.

Transformation is falling off a log easy except you have to clear away so much stuff--really heavy, painful stuff--to stand in an opening for possibility.

I think most of the people in today's workshop shed tears and most of them had a breakthrough into a 'future' they create rather than a 'future' determined by the past.

Scary stuff--freedom.

And you should give it a try....

No kidding.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Hope springs etern....well, at least annually

I did my job tonight, leading a book group for the Cluster churches though I missed the first half of the WVU-Gonzaga sweet 16 game.

It was 30-30 at half. And West Virginia lost by just 3, after a couple of chances to tie it under a minute with 3 point shots that went a-rye.

Lordy, Lordy, almost beating a team that only lost one game all year.

Almost is the operative word.

Alas and alack.

Wait until next year.....

Just wait....

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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.