Brian’s Reflection: Monday, March 31, 2008
Sonnet: Death be not proud
Death be not proud, though some have called thee / Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe / For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow, / Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee. / From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee, / Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow, / And soonest our best men with thee doe goe, / Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie. / Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men, / And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell, / And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well, / And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then? / One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally, / And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
- John Donne, poet, priest, whose feast day is today, d.1631
One must choose by what principles of Faith, or Philosophy, or Ethic, or Hope, one lives. In my mind, that is what the path of Faith is about. Faith is not uncritical acceptance of things imposed by a religion of whatever else. Faith is choice. Faith is being responsible for the way one lives. I choose to believe that God is Good, and that God is Unconditional Love. I choose to believe that human beings are essentially made in the image of divine goodness. I choose to believe in many things by which my Life is guided.
Yes, of course, those have been determined in great part by the Gospel and the Christianity in which I was raised. And which I after chose. And they have been determined by how I have understood and interpreted those principles. Some I have accepted, and some I have rejected. And for that, I am responsible.
I choose the principle that Donne expresses. “Death, thou shalt die.” I choose not to permit Death to rule my life. Of course I shall die to this earthly life. That is a given of mortality. But I also choose to live by the belief that Death does not hold ultimate power to rule how I shall live my life. This is the message of Christ’s Resurrection.
I will not fear Death. I will live as if it has no power to enslave me. I will live so that when Death comes, I will have no regrets.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Brian’s Reflection: Monday, March 31, 2008
Friday, March 28, 2008
I believe only in art and failure.
- Jane Rule, author, Canadian,
born on this day, 1931
I believe that, somewhere deep within, all human beings understand what Jane has said. Certainly her insight (and presumably her experience) is at the heart of the Christian religion. It says that God wants human beings to live fully and freely. And it says that the way to that life and liberation is through the unflinching recognition, embrace, and forgiveness from all the unloving acts we commit. Art and Failure.
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer (Episcopal) was the first to include forms for “making a confession”. Perhaps the compilers were deeply aware of how much we human beings in our time need to accept failure and need to experience how joyous Life can be. And that it is a gift that comes from the God we know in Jesus Christ. We call it Grace – the exhilarating, giddy feeling that Life Itself, God, the Universe, is on our side, cheering us on. We may get trapped by our own inner demons, but Help is on the way!
Repentance and Life. This is the fulcrum pattern for both honestly facing our capacity for unloving, destructive behaviour, and our capacity for love and healing.
Believe in “failure” and Live Artfully today!
Brian+ (from Pismo Beach, in “retirement”)
p.s. Jane also said: “People genuinely happy in their choices seem less often tempted to force them on other people than those who feel martyred and broken by their lives.” I have a feeling that this is the problem with a lot of religious people these days, especially the “extremists” of all stripes.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Every religion is true one way or another.
It is true when understood metaphorically.
But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors,
interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.
- Robert Campbell, dreamer & teacher & truth-teller,
born on this day, 1904
Yep. Oh, I know I go on about this. But it’s true – and it’s very dangerous to human life.
It was raised for me yet again by the author Steve Berry, whom I’ve taken to reading just for diversion – but then as always with fiction one gets challenged. I had read “The Third Secret” (rats! I’m reading them out of sequence, and I hate that, being an O-C type on such matters), and am 2/3rds of the way through “The Alexandria Link”. And what’s it about? How the Bible has been gerrymandered to support the Jews “right” to Palestine, and how a powerful group of world financiers want to prove it so they can destabilize and control the Middle East! Yes, Myth-become-fact is a dangerous game!
I’ve spent my preaching life trying to get people not to get “stuck in it’s own metaphors, interpreting them as facts”. We could – and no doubt will, sigh – argue into Eternity about “what’s true and what isn’t and to what level”, meaning literally, factually. But that isn’t what matters. Christians can argue forever about the exact nature of the resurrection of Jesus, how, where, with what kind of a body, etc. But it is all useless if we miss the point. The “point” being that the Source of all Life is Always Alive, and we are alive with It – and the meaning of our existence is To Live. The power of Death and Fear and Evil cannot rule – as Gandalf says to the Balrog, “You may not pass!”.
There is one supreme manifestation of the truth of Resurrection: us, and all Life. The human race is determined to live despite all odds against. Powers conspire to assist us, along with those which conspire to defeat us.
Let’s not let “facts” enslave us. Live the metaphor.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only
to be understood. Now is the time to understand
more, so that we may fear less.
- Madame Marie Curie
One of the things that Christianity offers to the World is that Gratefulness is at the heart of Life. The heart of Christian worship is the Eucharist – “giving thanks” for God’s love, for liberation from the power of sin and death, for Life. I get a daily email called “Word for the Day” from www.gratefulness.org , and Madame Curie was today. Things like this help to keep me focused on how I want to see Life.
“Understand” isn’t just about the intellect, though that can help. It does, for example, help to understand that people with Alzheimer’s disease are not behaving rationally and that we should not be “offended”. Or that Gayfolk are just being themselves, not “choosing” to be “perverse”. Understanding happens on many levels. Especially in the heart. Life is unpredictable. Life is a Mystery. People are a Mystery. God is a Mystery. Shit Happens - and that covers a lot of areas! Joy “happens” too. And Wonder. And Beauty. And Laughter.
God wants us to be free of Fear. So we can Live. Jesus kept saying it, angels kept saying it: Be Not Afraid! (I’m not a fan of most popular religious song, but I love the one that goes Be not afraid / I go before you always/Come follow me / and I will give you rest.) So the Gospel keeps saying in various ways, “Understand”. Accept Reality. Especially mortality. Once we understand that we are not fundamentally “in control”, we are free from a lot of fear. And Life opens up.
Understand. Fear less. Be grateful. Go for it!
Friday, March 21, 2008
Expect to have hope rekindled.
Expect your prayers to be answered
in wondrous ways. The dry seasons
in life do not last. The spring rains
will come again.
- Sarah Ban Breathnach
I have “celebrated” Good Friday in many places around the World. On miserable, dark, cold days in New York or Toronto. Walking a ridge from a California monastery to a large cross, the sun bright and warm, the hills ablaze with blooming ice plant. In heavy vestments inappropriate to the tropics, dripping with perspiration, in the Nicaraguan rain forest. In many Episcopal churches I have served, small and smaller, with usually a clutch of faithful parishioners. One year on sabbatical in the duomo in Sienna, around a huge Italian crucifix dripping with blood, a choir of nuns in cream-coloured habits and black veils, singing some ethereal ancient Latin plainsong wail.
I’ve done this now for over 40 years, 35 as a priest. Listening to the Passion Gospel being read. Remembering Maundy Thursday, Jesus infusing the Passover Story of His people with a deeply personal, astonishing significance (“This is My Body, this is My blood”), lovingly washing His disciples’ feet. Venerating the Cross that assists Jesus on His path to giving His life in love. Pondering death. Thinking of the strange emptiness of Saturday. Then the empty tomb - resurrection.
Having “gone through” the Triduum and Easter for decades now, the truth has settled in.
This is the way Life is. This is what the grand design of Life is. Death and Life and Waiting. Dry seasons and spring rains. All the seasons have to be fully entered into and lived out. No season is without gifts.
For some, the dry seasons overwhelm, dominate. For those of us who understand Life, the “spring rains” come again. We expect the “deaths” and do not despair. We expect hope and wonder. Daily dying and rising is the heart of the Mystery.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
I love to play in the different keys like B or F sharp,
or keys that most people don't play in, because they
have a better resonance or something. I'm really not
fond of F and C. I just stay away from those if I can.
- Marian McPartland, artist, pianist, superb human
being, born on this day, 1918, and still going strong
I am addicted to and devoted to this wonderful woman. What!? You don’t know Marian? She has had a slot on NPR for years, called Piano Jazz. I keep thinking about how I can organize my life to go to a taping of her show. She gets the most terrific musicians to be with her, and she gets them to play, then to play with her. And she’ll play a solo too. And it’s mostly improvisation – she says, “Let’s play this song!”, and they start, and she just invents it! God, how I wish I had that talent and that skill!! I used to listen to her every Sunday night when I lived in NY. And my soul would be nourished and inspired and blessed. Oh yes: I was envious. This is what I would like to be in another Life.
I think that approaching the Mystery we call “God” is always playing in “different keys like B or F-sharp”. F and C are lifeless, unless they have be transformed by understanding B or F-sharp. Beethoven and Mozart wrote glorious things in C and F because they understood B and F-sharp in their lives. I understand B and F-sharp, believe me. And because I do, when a C or F come along, they are glorious because they incorporate ….. suffering and joy, isolation and love. B and F-sharp are seeking modes. F and C are the soaring escapes from the minor keys of Life.
I know that Marian could excel in C and F. Especially at 90! But she’d have to lead into them with B and F-sharp. Such is Life.
Friends, love the B’s and F-sharp’s of Life. Wallow in Beethoven’s 9th – the key is D-minor. But Resurrection, Life, is definitely C-major! Like the Shubert Symphony # 4. It’s the norm! It’s the seat of the soul Baby!
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
- Arthur C. Clarke, visionary, who died yesterday in Sri Lanka, in his 90’s
Personally, I absolutely agree! It’s all magic to me. I have no idea how one can talk into a wire or a little device attached to nothing and hear a voice in Tibet (which, I hope, will someday soon be free of the Chinese overlords who are practicing a form of genocide there). I have no idea how shining a light on a plastic disk makes music. Or how a plane stays in the air. Or how some weird energy can flow through a cord and run a computer (let alone how the computer does what it does). Or the Internet – now that’s Magic, to press a button and have a message appear in an Inbox in 3 seconds in Hong Kong! No matter how simply a scientist tries to explain it to me, it makes no sense. It’s just ….. delightful.
The older I get, Life is Magic. And I want it that way. One of the things I have always like about rich ritual is that it evokes the Mystery, the “magic” of existence, us, “God”.
Arthur could be funny. He said, “I don't believe in astrology; I'm a Sagittarius and we're skeptical.” Actually, I suspect more Americans read their horoscope each day than the Bible – and “trust” it more. There are more horoscopes in newspapers than Bible columns!
Arthur said, “I don't believe in God but I'm very interested in her.” I “believe in God”, but I’m never actually sure what I mean by it. He also said something fascinating, with which I think I agree: “It may be that our role on this planet is not to worship God - but to create him.” If in fact we “create” God, does that mean that God does not really exist? I’m inclined not to think so. “God” as a mental construct of ours is certainly very real to me! Nor is there anything wrong with worshipping a God of Compassion we have come to know and who has revealed Herself through our magic brain!
Cheers to Arthur C. Clarke as he explores the Ongoing Magic!
Monday, March 17, 2008
There is no such thing as perpetual tranquility
of mind because life itself is but motion and
can never be without desire, nor without fear.
- Thomas Hobbes
Sounds correct to me, on all three counts. Life is indeed but “motion”. It is dynamic – always; even when we are “at rest”, the whole system is whizzing from brain to toe with energy.
Life indeed is never without desire or fear. Sound philosophy or religion or knowledge or faith helps us how to embrace our desires and fears for what they are, put them in whatever perspective we think they should be (about which we all disagree!). But no matter how we deal with them, including deep repression, they are always “there”. They can both hinder and enhance our living.
There is no such thing as “perpetual tranquility of mind”. Tranquility of mind will ebb and flow, no matter how many prayers we say, meditations we make, or whatever internal or external disciplines we apply in attempt to control it.
I think that Motion, Desire, and Fear are handmaidens of Life. They are part of the inner family of each of us, I think St. Francis said in another way. Rather than run from them, suppress them, we need to learn to dance with them, invite them to teach us.
I think that Tranquility and Turmoil are binary. They hold together. They make it possible, to use an image from the psalms, to “lengthen the cords and strengthen the stakes”. Humanity and Divinity held together, we can successfully orbit any Black Hole of Mystery while being flung giddily among the stars. All adventure is such.
[ Hobbes was a 16th century English philosopher; he wrote a famous book called “Leviathan”, establishing a foundation for most Western political philosophy.]
Saturday, March 15, 2008
A secret formula for finding (indeed creating)
peace, harmony, and happiness upon the earth:
Serve life first, in everything you think and say and do.
- Neale Walsh (Tomorrow’s God)
Serve life first. I don’t know why it should be so secret. Seems obvious.
There is one major problem. People most often value their own life. But we often have problems with others’ lives, especially if others live according to their own light and path and not ours. This is, in my opinion, the problem with the abortion issue. There are lots of people, including myself, who think that abortion does not honour the life of an incipient human being. That it is a great sadness that abortion should happen at all in human society. But what about the lives of the women who have to have babies they didn’t want, that were forced upon them, that they can’t support or feed? The issue will not be solved until all the lives involved can be equally served.
Yes. Serve Life first. All life. God did not make any one claim to life better or less than another.
And the “spiritual” issue? Find a way to Remember, day by day, hour by hour, that this is the path one wishes to walk. Build communities that help us to help each other.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Change is such hard work.
- Billy Crystal, comedian
I personally have never found change hard work. Except the mechanics. Responding to the call to change, no problem. But the deciding what to take with you, physically, mentally, spiritually - well, that is the real challenge! However, I have always found the physical the worst - where the hell is this Chinese lamp going to go in the car???
One of the basic realities of “change” is ….. well, change! Change is an invitation to let go of and leave behind all the baggage that does not need to go with you. That’s why “change is the only constant”. We human beings need this! It is so easy to get mired in a sinkhole, in the quicksand, where you just sink into spiritual torpitude (don’t you love that word!) or, metaphorically speaking, “death”. Ever wonder why God tells Abraham to leave his home and set off where God will lead? Because “change” is essential to growth and maturing. In my humble opinion. People who resist change are Bearers of Death, to themselves and to others in a community. If you encounter people opposed to change in any organization you belong to – especially “church” – move on if you can’’t convert them.
OK. So change is probably hard work. Because one characteristic of being human is geotropism. (Am I not full of wonderful words today!) We are beset by “gravity”. There is something about being human that tempts us to wallow in mental and spiritual (and if you are American, physical) laziness.
I don’t know about other religions, but Christianity is not geotropic. The Gospel is heliotropic. Reach for the glory of the Light. Find the Divine - the Sun - blazing within your heart! Rise up from the “dirt” to the Spirit Breath that hauls you “up” to Glory!
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
l'd like to start a religion. That's where the money is.
- L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the whatever called Scientology,
born on this day, 1911, in Tilden, Nebraska
Am I not the soul of inclusion and tolerance!? (Oh oh; that bit or sarcasm may lose me 3 stars in my heavenly crown!) My sense that Scientology is a wicked scam is balanced with a desire to be inclusive and understanding – does this not at least gain me some spiritual reward???? No, I guess not, because my basic feeling is that Scientology is entirely detrimental to humankind. Say I, beating my breast, Scientology seems to be to be an insult to humanity. It’s all about money, and power. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph forgive me.
So, to be fair, my own feeling these days is that most religion is about power and dollars. I’m not really agin God; I’m agin how God’s supposed faithful followers (including myself at times) just flat out act contrary to God’s glorious love and inclusion and generosity and patience and justice. I wake up in the morning and I say to myself - Could we just get a grip and live the sacrificial love of God-in-Christ???!!!
I would be delighted to have it proven that Scientology, or Christianity, or Islam, or whatever religion these days, is NOT about “where the money is”. If the Pope would like to prove it to me by selling all the contents of the Vatican Library and museum and using the $$ to improve the lot of the wretchedly poor (even just the Roman Catholic wretchedly poor), I would be thrilled. Yeah: Hell will freeze over first, right?
Is it time to start over?
Maybe. And I think God would be well served.
Hey! Maybe I could start a religion! I would call it “Where The Money Isn’t” !!
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Let life happen to you. Believe me:
life is in the right, always.
- Rainer Maria Rilke, poet
This quote got me pondering. Just how much can you trust “Life”? Is Life always “in the right”, as Rilke boldly states???? Is this one of those principles you adopt “on faith”?? How much does this have to do with Rilke’s life?
Well, here’s my personal take. My fantasy - fantasy because it is tainted by some adjustments here and there, and by my selective memory - is that I have always “let Life happen”. Whether this is a principled position or a cowardly failure I don’t know. I have thought back over my Life. Never have I determinedly gone after something I thought I wanted. I have never plotted to make money. I have never maneuvered politically to get a job. I have never schemed to get anything. I have never sought a particular parish or place – I have always been “recommended” or “told about a place” or “had my name submitted”. Even in AZ, I knew I wanted to come West, and sent my resume in a scattered way. But in AZ, I left the choice of where I would go up to the bishop.
Actually, I think I do trust Life, and the Mystery that lies behind it. My line has always been, “Well, here is the path that’s opened up; I guess this is where God wants me to go!” Monkdom. Then not-Monkdom. Little parishes from Ohio to MA to RI to NY to AZ. “Yes” to a man I saw across a sanctuary, even though I have always poo-poo-ed such Romanticism. Yes to claiming a path to integrity as a Gay man and priest.
I do not accept letting abuse and negativity and ill-treatment take me over. No, sorry; I have learned I (and all of us) are too valuable and beloved for that nonsense! But I have either learned or am hard-wired to look in wonder at what Life offers and, on the whole, say “Yes”.
So far, it’s been fascinating!
Monday, March 10, 2008
I used to think anyone doing anything weird was weird.
Now I know that it is the people that call others weird
that are weird.
- Sir Paul McCartney, knighted on this day, 1997
Yep! When are we going to learn that it only diminishes our humanity when we isolate others as “weird”. Why is it that we are so fragile, so insecure, that we can’t welcome people different from us into our hearts and lives?? I can’t help but feel that when we can’t do this, we are stuck in an infantile level of being human. Listen: “weird” people are God’s way of encouraging us to grow.
Does this have anything to do with the fact that I am weird? Sans question! And let me tell you something: I love being weird. I know that I have to be weird. That being weird is the only way to fullness of humanity, of being oneself. Of being happy, content.
Try this tomorrow. Be weird. Flaunt it. Wallow in it. “Weird” is a metaphor, a symbol. It means that we claim our uniqueness, our wonderfulness, our reason for just letting go and stop playing games and being our true selves. What could make us happier? “Weird” is normal.
Have a normal day!
The Divine Beloved longs to play joyously
and rest peacefully within the heart of the
- Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-86) was a Hindu teacher. His teachings emphasized God-realization as the highest goal of life, love and devotion for God, the oneness of existence, and the harmony of religions. He was considered an avatar or incarnation of God by many of his disciples, and is considered as such by many of his devotees today. I don’t know much more about him; if he turned out to have a horrible dark side, don’t tell me!
Because ….. I love this quote of his! We can think, and try to understand, and wrestle with mysteries, and on and on and on. But I don’t think there is a better place to “start” than simply to be aware that the “Divine Beloved longs to play joyously and rest peacefully” in your heart and mine. The only “condition” is desire, the willingness to invite the Divine Beloved into our heart.
Who can not be delighted by a joyous divine playmate and an intimate peaceful friend so near!
May you have a wonderful day of both joyous play and peaceful rest with the Divine Beloved!
NOTE: My Reflections are now posted on a new Blog: http://briansalmostdailyreflections.blogspot.com/ (The blog http://brianstakeontheworldfaithandreligion.blogspot.com/ will be used for other thoughts.)