Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, April 1, 2010
[ Maundy Thursday in the Christian Kalendar ]

Take and Eat. This is my body, given for you
Do this that I might be with you.
This is my blood of the new covenant, shed
for you and for all people. Drink this, that
I might be among you.

Jesus of Galilee

What an extraordinary thing to record anyone saying! The first record of it, and the closest to the time of Jesus’ earthly life, is from Paul the Apostle, writing the first letter to the Christians in Corinth. Paul says that “the Master” gave him “his instructions” about this meal directly – though he never says that anywhere else. He tells them that this shared meal is centrally important; that Jesus associated the bread with His Body and the wine with His Blood; that when they eat the bread and drink the cup, they “reenact in [their] words and actions the death of the Master”; that they will be drawn back again and again to this meal until the Master returns; and that they must always be deeply reverent.

Of course there are countless similar instances in World religions (and cultures) where people eat flesh or blood of an animal (or other humans) in order to take in their life-spirit or energy. Where people eat a meal or drink wine to “ingest” the spirit of deities. Even where flesh and wine is symbolically offered to God to “eat” and so receive the offered life of the worshipper (Temple Judaism, and many other religions.)

There is evidence in the Bible that some of Jesus’ followers found such language “too hard”. Crazy maybe? One early Christian writer had to defend the Christian Eucharist (the shared meal) against the charge of cannibalism – a charge that was later to be bolstered by the adoption by the pre-Reformation Western Church of the doctrine of transubstantiation.

Bread and Wine: at the Passover they were signs of freedom and new Life for the Jews liberated from slavery. Jesus was saying: I am Freedom. I am Life. I am the Path to your true Home. Unite with me; intermingle your flesh and blood with Me; in me, unite with God. Here is your identity.

“Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you cannot have Life within you.” That is the Mystery we ponder on Maundy Thursday. On some level, it connects with the imagination of every human being - who we are and how we sustain it.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Solitude is the profoundest fact
of the human condition. Man is the
only being who knows he is alone."

Octavio Paz, Mexican poet, writer, diplomat,
born on this date, 1914. Nobel prizewinner.

There are, I think, several reasons for our knowledge that we are “alone”. If indeed it is true. We don’t really know that this is the case; we only assume it, perhaps in arrogance.

I have found the knowledge of aloneness to be a deep blessing. It has made me appreciate the wonder of being human, of being unique. It has made me understand that I am responsible, that each of us is responsible, for claiming our own lives. No one can live our Life for us. It has also made me understand that there is nothing I need do, that anyone needs to do, to establish my own worth and value. Following from that, that I and each of us has a necessary contribution to make to the wholeness of humanity.

And that is the point as I see it. It seems that we must understand our aloneness because the human race is incomplete – even impossible - without all the Alone Ones. The Human Race is not a bland stew of the lowest common denominator. No. It is a perfectly created dish in which each of the ingredients adds a clearly distinct savour which startles and delights the tongue.

Relish, guard, nurture your Solitude. Grow in it. Do not be afraid of your Aloneness. The more we are filled with Aloneness, the more we then bring to the whole. We are all needed and essential.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces
impossible monsters; united with it, she is
the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.

Francisco de Goya, Spanish painter,
born on this date, 1746.

Well, my choice of Goya’s comment will probably not do much for your “inner life”! But, I could not resist, for three reasons. One: I loved Goya’s Black paintings when I saw them at the Prado; and the first Goya I ever saw, at one of my favourite places, the Frick Collection in NYC. Also, this being Holy Week, and thinking of “fantasy abandoned by reason” I couldn’t resist the painting shown. You can make of that comment what your vivid imagination or brain conjures up!

Two: when looking for quotes by Goya, this was the only one I found. (No, I do NOT take that as a sign that I was led by angels to it, or that it was “predestined”.)

Three: Teabaggers – or whatever they are called. Who would have thought that Goya would know, in the 18th century, that a group of “impossible monsters” – “fantasy abandoned by reason” would arise in the good ole USA – but then again, we have had the KKK as precedent.

In my mind, Fantasy is like one of the Greek muses. Where would we humans be without her? For that matter, where would “religion” be without Her? Let alone the “arts and the origin of marvels”?

But Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and Holy Saturday and Easter Day will probably strike deep chords – IF one can manage to keep Art and Marvels and Fantasy and, perhaps most importantly, Reason all in an elegant Balance.

Enough said!


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, March 29, 2010

I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world
and I 
said groaning, "What can get through from such snares?"
Then I 
heard a voice saying to me, "Humility." 

St. Anthony the Great

Humility is the only thing we need; one can still fall having 

virtues other than humility -- but with humility one does not 

Elder Herman of Mt. Athos

I think it was the Protestant theologian and thinker Paul Tillich who referred to God as “The Ground of Being”. [ You may gently correct me if I am incorrect. I was never much for Protestant theology or for systematics! ]

“Ground” is in the Latin root of “humilitas”. I understand a humble person to be almost the opposite of what it has become to mean to most today. To me, a humble person is strong, aware, courageously self-examining, committed to seeking Reality, a tough and deep and broad thinker. In other words: Grounded.

I’ve always been intrigued by the words attributed to Jesus, that we would know the Truth and the Truth would set us free. At the deepest level, I think of a humble person as someone who has no fear whatsoever of the Truth. The Israelite prophets are a good example; great or lowly, they “spoke the truth to power” – and we know that this is fearful to those who are trying to hide the truth from themselves or from others. In his own quiet way, Darwin was another humble man. So was Jesus, and the Buddha.

If I had to choose any character above all else to have, Humility would be it. I’ve tasted the freedom and joy every now and then of facing the truth about myself and about Life. It is one of the most exhilarating of experiences.

One embraces the Mystery called "God", as well as the deepest ground of our Humanity, in Humility, in Truth. In Humility, "God' and we become as One.

I hope as I get older to get much much better at it. And hence grow freer. I wish it for you too.


Brian’s Reflection: The Weekend, Sat, March 27, 2010
[ Palm/Passion Sunday in the Christian Kalendar ]

It is ourselves that we must spread under Christ's feet, not coats
or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away
and delights the eye only for a few brief hours. But we have clothed
ourselves with Christ's grace, with the whole Christ - "for as many of
you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" - so let us spread
ourselves like coats under his feet.

-Andrew of Crete (c.650-712, 726,or 740)

Today is Palm Sunday. Christians will be familiar with the Scripture for this Liturgy. I would venture to say that every religion must understand and be immersed in Andrew of Crete’s point if the religion or “Faith” is to have any meaning or any power in individual lives or in the life of the human community.

Liturgy, the practice of religion, meditation, etc: all these rituals and practices are simply entertainment; diverting, but ultimately useless, unless what Andrew of Crete illuminates happens in the lives of adherents. Our lives must merge with the Divine and be manifestations of God and of God’s sacred Presence in the World.

All ritual and liturgy is meant to be transformative, not just informative. The palms and the coats that people strewed in front of Jesus – whom they hoped might be their Messiah – are symbols of us, of our humanity, symbols of a humanity that must become merged with the Source of all Life to achieve its highest nature. The Christ prays fervently for this in John’s Gospel.

This week is filled with sorrow. Jesus is arrested, mistreated, takes leave of dear friends, wrestles with His relationship with His heavenly father, is betrayed, humiliated, endures His mother’s deep sorrow, is cruelly put to death, and buried, abandoned by His followers. We sorrow with Him – and in deep sorrow God is often found.

If we find God in the very core of our nature and being, then the next essential step is critical. Caryll Houselander (1901-54) puts it this way: His burial, which seemed to be the end, was the beginning. It was the beginning of Christ’s life in multitudes of souls …. [and} the renewal of Christ’s life in countless souls” ….. including ours.

If we willingly cast our palms, our coats today, we “put Christ on”. Now we go forth to be as Christ in the World, by becoming our most whole, compassionate selves.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, March 26, 2010

Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it.
The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be.
Being alive is the meaning.

Joseph Campbell, mythmaker, teacher, mystic, born
on this date, 1904

Ah. Now that’s what today needs: something to really mull over! Here are some of my thoughts.

Most of us, if we think about it at all, tend to think we have to “discover” the meaning of Life. As if the meaning of Life was somehow established “in the beginning” by whomever, and will be handed to us from “out there” if we are diligent and lucky or smart or whatever. Personally, I think that Campbell is correct. Be that as it may, his boldly saying “Life is without meaning” is like a koan, or a parable of Jesus: it gives us a whole different perspective, opens new doors.

I think the “gods/goddesses/divinities” people have are reflections of what they have decided the meaning of Life is. It’s hard on monotheists: they have to deal with everything in one, and that can make for some very challenging theology! Polytheists have it better; you can choose a nice one or a powerful one or a loving one or a fun one!

I would also say that “Being alive” is critical. The shallower your experience of Life, the shallower the meaning, and the shallower the Divinity you adhere to. Campbell once said, “I don't have to have faith, I have experience.” Perhaps that’s why his God was so expansive.

One of the sad things in our World is just how deprived so many people are from “Being alive”. At least, that’s what I see in our World today – and it applies to both the poor and the rich.

And yet: both the so-called privileged and the so-called unprivileged can and do Experience Life and add to the meaning of Life. They are special blessings.

I choose the good, the lovely, the kind, the generous, the simple. That’s what I try to bring to Life’s meaning. I wish I were better at it!!


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, March 25, 2010

It could be said that God’s foot is so vast
That this entire earth is but a
field on His

and all the forests in this world
came from the same root of just
a single hair
of His.

What then is not a sanctuary?
Where can I not kneel
and pray at a shrine
made holy by His

Catherine of Sienna, Dominican tertiary,
mystic, patron Saint of Italy,
born on this date, 1347.

I may have mentioned it before. I was enthralled, at age 50, on my birthday, to be for the first time in the duomo in Sienna. How I love those spaces! Big, no chairs or, worse, pews! Decaying frescoes but at least preserved to the best of modern technology. I’m wandering through, lighting candles, enthralled by the ancient iconography, the art, the sense of History. And then I come to an chapel. People are held back by a marble enclosure. There is a marble altar. And above it is a frame. In the frame is a ….. skull. Yes, a skull, draped with the headgear of a Dominican tertiary nun. St. Catherine herself. I sat there for many minutes. Staring at it. Thinking. I have never had any sense of revulsion about such displays. I have long ago learned to embrace the human body, including after death, and to “appreciate” the “gruesome“ display of it. I think it is a tiresome Puritan unearthliness to pretend aversion. The reality and life and death of the human person is just that: realilty.

Catherine’s poetic truth is simple reality. She got it right. Forget what the tight-assed theologians have had to say about “pantheism”. It’s just to protect the control of people and “church”.

“God” is everywhere. Truly anchored Christians know this. “God” pervades all things. Everything that exists participates in the Mystery of Being.

Oh. I have thrilled at worship in grand liturgical places, with movement and incense and rich colour and elegant words and order and music that ravishes the Soul. But none of that has been “better”, i.e., more evocative of “God”, than gazing across the Caribbean Sea as the sun sets. Awesome Wonder lifts me to Eternity.

Where can I not kneel
and pray at a shrine
made holy by His

There is no place that is not such a Shrine. Alas, we are such desecrators.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Every human should tend very compassionately to the flesh
of their body in order to be able to share with it all the dimen-
sions of enlightenment and visions of which the soul is
capable, for the body, too, is capable of such perception. Do
not hide your eyes from having mercy upon your flesh, that
is the flesh of your body. You must have much compassion
for your body. See to it that you purify your body so that it
can become conscious of all the enlightenment and visions
that the soul perceives.

Rabbi Nachmon of Breslav, in Likuttei Ha’MMaHaRaN 2:5-7
18th Century

There’s entirely too much “dualism” in human thinking about the “body” and the “spirit” (or soul). The bottom line: we human beings are One, a unity. Everything we are is necessary for our existence, our living.

If you are tempted to think that the material body inhibits your journey to the richest, deepest experience of Life, put it out of your mind. Nothing would be possible for us without the body. Magnificent, complex, intricate, brilliant, fragile, mortal, subject to injury and decay – all true. But the Body, through it’s miracle of air and electricity and chemistry and fluid makes it possible for the mysterious Force that is Life to happen.

Sweetly tend to your Body today! Honour it! Understand its needs and graciously and lovingly meet those needs. In turn, it will allow you to experience the amazing fullness of Life! Honour your Body, and it will reveal to you startling things! On your Body depends every other aspect of Being Alive.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, March 23, 2010

There is only one meaning of life:
the act of living itself.

Erich Fromm, psychoanalyst and social philos-
opher, born on this date, 1900, in Germany

This resonates with me deeply. In my over four decades of “ministry” – which to me, looked at from hindsight, was striving to accomplish the “act of living” – I look back and see that this is at essence what I attempted to do: help people to be free to Live. When I do look back, I see how I and so many others were shackled, held back from Living. Mostly by people whose intention was not to give me Life, but in some form to enslave me. Mostly to pander to their own agendas.

So many times over the decades I have been asked by people, “What is the purpose of Life?” Most often I have said, “To live it”. During the over eight years I was a pastor to people with AIDS, and really in all my ministry, my primary “work” was to get people to live their lives before they died – to throw off all the burdens (oh, I think of Jesus saying to the Pharisees, “Whited sepulchers! Piling burdens on people and doing nothing to lift them!) and do what they longed to do and Be before Death gathered them. Blessedly, I was aided by Death, whose impending arrival has a grand way of prying people free from their ruts and bondages.

Living is a moment by moment enterprise. You can’t get stuck in the Past and you can’t get seduced by the “Future”. They are only places to be given a passing nod. The arena of Living is the Present Moment. It defines the Past and the Future – if they indeed exist. The real challenge of human life is to stay intensely focused. To be with yourself and what’s going on in your heart and mind and spirit. To be with those who enter your “space”, not ignoring them. To be aware of the World, of fellow human beings, their pain and hopes and joys, caring about them, doing what you can to open their journey. I am grateful to have spent most of my life helping people to reject the inhibitions society and family and expectations put on their Lives, and get on with the Act of Living. This freedom is at the core of the Israelite experience (the Passover), and the Christian experience (the Resurrection). We are set free.

The “Act of Living”, not where you “got”, is the purpose of being alive. Someone has said that the only thing that will make any difference in the end is how we loved.

Loving is the heart of the Act of Living. The freedom to love is both a choice and a gift of Grace.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, March 22, 2010


Gamble everything for love,
if you are a true human being.
If not, leave this gathering.

Half-heartedness does not reach
into majesty. You set out
to find God, but then you keep
stopping for long periods
at mean-spirited roadhouses.

Rumi, Sufi mystic (translated by Coleman Barks)

Love. Being healthy enough to love oneself, and, in so doing, being free to give oneself extravagantly and whole-heartedly to another in service to their wholeness. Rumi is right. You have to gamble everything to play in the high-rollers’ league.

It works the other way around at the same time. If you gamble everything for love [and we are not talking about romantic dalliance], we learn what it is to love ourself, to value ourself, to become a true human being. But think about this: unless something drastic has happened, we are inherently capable of such love. No healthy human being is ever diminished by loving extravagantly.

How I love that phrase “long periods mean-spirited roadhouses”! Oh how we so easily do that! It’s a real challenge to avoid those roadhouses – those companies and attitudes which encourage us to fritter away our lives at low-life levels.

We are meant for Majesty. Let’s reach for it today.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, March 19, 2010

It may be that our role on this planet
is not to worship God - but to create him.

Arthur C. Clarke; fantasist, philosopher,
thinker, author; he died on this date, 2008,
age 90, in Sri Lanka.

What I want us to think about is ….. ourselves. To think about us human beings. We are so very prone to think disparagingly of ourselves. Why? Because we are taught this way of thinking. Mostly by a religious system that has taught us this self-demeaning nonsense for hundreds of centuries, primarily to establish itself in a position of power, in a position of control and determination. If I were to put it in a mythological image – the Devil has performed a coup.

Many people think that God has “spoken” primarily in self-revelation, in “sacred texts”. This is wrong. God has “spoken” primarily through the human intellect and heart. God has spoken in the context of human relationships. Do not forget: human beings are exactly as the Christian Gospel proposes: we are like “the Christ” – truly human and truly “divine”. In other words, we are indigenous inhabitants of the Universe.

Which means what? It means that we are the instruments “God” created to create Herself in Time and Space. Yes! Clarke is right! The mythological “Blessed Virgin Mary” is the ultimate icon of this reality, the ultimate icon of each human being. We are made to give birth to The Christ in Time and Space. And what does that mean? It means that once we “know” who we are, we must bear offspring. Ultimately we build the Community of Peace and Compassion and Justice.

To say that we “create God” seems Arrogant. Far from it. It only seems arrogant if we wish to BE God. However, the Divine is an integral part of us, and, as Clarke intuits, Holiness and Sacredness will enter the World only by our participating in the Mystery that is Being.

We human beings are the manifestation of a Holy Universe. It is our nature both to give birth to “God”, and to nurture all around us ….. for we are Mothers of all who share in our Lives.

Truly: “God” cannot exist lest born in the humble stable of our hearts.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, March 18, 2010

Be the change that you want to see in the world.

On this date, Mohandas K. Gandhi was sentenced
to prison in India for civil disobedience.

What needs to be said. He is absolutely right. Bitching and complaining – of which alas I do a lot about a couple of issues that I feel deeply and passionately – accomplishes little. Though I wish that the bitching and complaining by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and his ilk received less credence!

To be the change, made operative in your Life day by day, is I think one of the most difficult of “spiritual” disciplines. I can see many areas in which I manage; but I can also see a couple where I don’t manage well at all – and they tend to dominate. As they old saying goes, “one bad apple ………. “

Maybe taking baby-steps would help. We can’t change everything all at once. All Twelve Steppers know that, and most sensible people should. So maybe tomorrow, if and when I am confronted by an opinion I don’t agree with, I will try simply to say, “You could be right”.

I’ll let you know how I got on!


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, March 17, 2010

This decision ruled that people of African descent imported into the
United States and held as slaves, or their descendants—whether or not
they were slaves—were not protected by the Constitution and could
never be citizens of the United States. It also held that the United States
Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories.
The Court also ruled that because slaves were not citizens, they could not
sue in court. Lastly, the Court ruled that slaves—as chattel or private property—
could not be taken away from their owners without due process.

The Dred Scott decision (1857) by the US Supreme Court.
The decision was written by the 5th Chief Justice, Roger
Brooke Taney, who was born on this date, 1777.

What can I say? This decision has, I am told, never been formally rescinded by the Court, only dickered with on various parts.

But my comment is directed to the “religious” dimensions of the decision. It is often claimed by various folk that the USA is firmly based (if not consciously founded) on Judeo-Christian principles.

Nonsense. Pure and utter nonsense. This decision clearly establishes that such is clearly not the case. Look at this hymn written c. 1910 by C. Herbert Woolston – a hymn that I sang week by week in my Presbyterian Sunday School:

Jesus calls the children dear,

“Come to me and never fear,

For I love the little children of the world;

I will take you by the hand,

Lead you to the better land,

For I love the little children of the world.

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.

Red and yellow, black and white,

All are precious in His sight,

Jesus loves the little children of the world.

So. Let’s be clear. There is very little evidence that the USA is founded on Gospel principles. At least in terms of how we actually behave. I can’t imagine that Jesus would in any way have made such a decision about a human being.

So: what does this say to us?

It says: Live honestly!


Monday, March 15, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Be Your Note

Remember the lips where wind-breath
originated, and let your note be clear.

Don’t try to end it.
Be your note.

I’ll show you how it’s enough.
Go up on the roof at night
in this city of the soul.

Rumi says: Let everyone climb on their roofs
and sing their notes.

Sing loud!

Rumi, Sufi poet

I’m always a little queasy about all this “I” stuff. Oh, I recognize the “importance of the individual”. Our “note” – of each one of us – is ontologically important. But I am – religiously – a “catholic” in the Anglican tradition. All this “I” stuff is too Protestant. No, I don’t in any way want to demean the importance of the Individual. But I insist that that must be integrated into the Whole.

Rumi says:

Let everyone climb on their roofs
and sing their notes.

Not to isolate us in our uniqueness. But to help each one of us know and stand firm in our individuality. And THEN to contribute to the Whole, freely, generously, unafraid of any personal diminution. This is the “best of both Worlds”.

It’s important to discover our Note, and to sing our note. But it’s more important then to add to the beauty of the Whole.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, March 15, 2010

Everything around you is brimming with aliveness.
You are not alone. You are always surrounded by family.
“All the tress”, taught the ancient rabbis, “converse with
one another and with all living beings.”

Midrash B’reisbis Tabbah 13:2.

Even the planets and starts have their own songs.

Sefer Ha’Zohar, Vol 1, folio 231b

At this stage in my Life, I experience this. I sense the “aliveness”. And I experience the not-being-alone. Now, at age almost 64, I feel merged and connected with everything that IS. Including the “God” who said “I AM WHO I AM”.

And I actually think of it all as “family”. I really do sense that the whole of what’s around me is talking to each other …. and they desperately want to include me! Not a problem! This is want I have wanted for a very long time.

Alienation from Life is a killing thing. I have to say that all my Life I have understood this connection, felt it to the very depths of my physical and emotional and psychic and “spiritual” Life. But it took a long time to grasp this in my Being. I no longer have any sense of distance ….. or the need to reject it in any way. Rather, I want to “proclaim it from the housetops”.

I experience a deep bonding with all the people I have served as a priest. Especially with those who resonated to my vision of Unity with God and all Things. As I reflect on them, I find a deep Joy in my Core. It makes me understand the deep Blessedness I was “called to”.

“You are not alone”. May this truth posses you, and lead you to your Highest Destiny.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: The Weekend, Sat., March 13, 2010

But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was
filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him
and kissed him. Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have
sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy
to be called your son.' But the father said to his slaves,
'Quickly, bring out a robe--the best one--and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the
fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son
of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!

Luke 15 [ for Lent IV RCL]

This story is at the core of human need and desire. Think of all the despair, all the sense of aloneness, all the pain of rejection, all the feeling of self-loathing that lies at the heart of this reaching out for forgiveness and acceptance and renewal and given a new opportunity to be happy and to make a change of heart.

We humans are so capable of hideous, destructive, self-destructive, mean, selfish acts. And yet, deep within lies a vision of integrity and of greatness. Where does it come from? It comes from the core of our being. We know how capable of indifference and cruelty we are, individually and as a race. And yet, and yet – we have also seen deep compassion and kindness. Only a few deeply warped souls have believed that contentment and self-respect will come from a life lived in the false embrace of abandoning Love.

And so we have told ourselves this story of the rejecting Child and of the wildly Loving Father. Because we need to know that there is always a path back. The story arises out of the core of our Self that is deeper than Death and Pain. We are made for Life. Or, as Archbishop Tutu said, ”We are made for Good”.

What is plain is this, intended or unintended: Each one of us is God. And when we are far in the distant land of separation, hungry for love and affirmation and restoration, victim of our own choices for UnLove, we must rush to enfold ourselves in Divine Forgiveness, clothe ourselves in the garments of rejoicing and, having been restored to our True Self, never withhold it from any other.

The Elder Brother is blind to the gift of New Life and a new heart which lies at the heart of our conception of God. That we can hold this vision of “God” above all others as the foundation for Life is an astounding witness to our potential greatness.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, March 12, 2010

Our battered suitcases were piled
on the sidewalk again; we had longer
ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.

Jack Kerouac, American author and
“hippie”, born on this date, 1922

“The road is Life.” A never more mystical or “spiritual” phrase was ever spoken. Immediately Tolkien comes to mind, in the “Lord of the Rings”, a song sung, I think, by Bilbo: (I’ve read the damn Trilogy at least 10 times; you’d think I’d know!)

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

“The Road” is a magical, powerful, evocative symbol - for “Life”!! All Journeys are a sign to us that Life is found, illuminated, defined, understood, in the process, not in the End. Here is the problem with the kind of Christianity (or any other religion) that makes the End and not the Journey to be the Meaningful Path.

I have come to the place in my Life where this philosophy/theology settles at the core.

Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

I don’t need to know the “I cannot say”. It is irrelevant to me. I do not live my Life in order to achieve some other “place”. I live my Life in order to make every moment of it vibrate and sing with Wonder and Joy and Pleasure and Compassion and Kindness and Justice. If there is an Afterlife, the criterion for it’s integrity is the same as here in Time and Space. Not known here, not known then.

I am thrilled by the moments when I find my/our battered suitcases piled on the sidewalk again! I know intuitively that I am about to enter deeper into the Mystery.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, March 11, 2010

This is not death, immortal Margaret, 

But early passing to another day, 

Nor pain nor sorrow doth in thee beget 

This pilgrimage along an unknown way, 

But only pity for the last farewell; 

Now taking leave of earth, O spirit pure, 

With us thy thoughts compassionately dwell, 

But thou thyself art happy and secure.

Torquato Tasso, Italian poet, born on
this date, 1544, at Sorrento

Well. I love finding obscure 16th century Italian poets – and MAD ones at that! Even better. The poor man spent time wandering around the country, and spent time in insane asylums, ending up on San Onofrio in Rome . And - isn’t it always the way: on the eve of his “coronation” (this may be the translation of an Italian who doesn’t know English idiom very well) as Laureate by Pope Clement VIII. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi!

The Afterlife is a fascinating topic, isn’t it?! I can relate to Tasso; he obviously thinks that the Afterlife holds out hope for all of us of a “happy and secure” future. Now, as I have said I believe before, I personally think that we humans invented the idea of “Heaven” (laying aside for the moment the silly concept of Hell) in order to calm ourselves with the idea of a secure “future” in the hands of a Loving God – so that we could really make everything of this Life on Earth in Time and Space as possible. Jesus is reported to have said that he came to free us

Now: I have talked a lot about this in the over 40 years that I have been a priest and Christian teacher and “preacher”. And the bottom line is: does it really matter if there IS a “Heaven” in a linear sense? I think not.

No one really knows what lies beyond this mortal life (though they may think so). Every culture and society has “invented” a destination, and “furnished” it as they saw what would be a comfortable and pleasant destiny. Frankly, I think that is “how God works” – and as far as I can tell, “God” is only concerned with how to live our present lives to the utmost, with gusto and enthusiasm and excitement and mad curiosity and wonder and awe. What we human beings need is the Freedom to live this present Life to the full, without Fear or Anxiety, free to take all the risks that this Life demands. Jesus is reported to have said that He came to free us from the " power of sin and death”. In order to live Life to the full.

It does not matter how long we live. The Gospel says basically that how long we live is irrelevant to a Good Life, a joyous Life.

Tasso reminds us: when we can put our lives into the “hands” of a “God” who dispels all fears of the Unknown, we can be reckless in giving our all to the thrill of this Life we have.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A moment of peace

Give yourself a moment of peace. Let all the thoughts and
sensations come, and then just as quickly let them flow on

Stop holding so tightly to the confusion that's around you.
Relax and enjoy a moment of peace.

Visualize a brilliant, refreshing peace, easily and
naturally flowing out from within you. And you'll experience
that peace in abundance as it surely fills your world.

Enjoy a sense of peace by being that sense of peace. Allow
your life to embody the calmness and serenity of the
peaceful person you truly are.

The peace you have to give will never run out. Sending it
outward serves to make it even stronger.

Be the peace you seek to know. And know the power that peace
can bring.

Ralph Marston

Maybe – no, most probably – it’s me. Not you, necessarily. I am feeling a great need for a way to enter into Peace. Feeling the disruption of Peace, around me and in the World. And, being the person that I am, I desire to live in the context of Peace.


Just read the above quote this morning, slowly, breathing deeply and softly. Inhale Peace. And breathe it out wherever you are today.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, March 9, 2010

It takes only one drink to get me drunk.
The trouble is, I can't remember if it's the
thirteenth or the fourteenth.

George Burns, comedian, elder; he died
on this day, 1996, age 100

Confession Time. I was a young monk, maybe about 25. One night, after Vespers, I set off with a dear friend, a terrific, intelligent (Mensa), wise woman, who worked for the Order of the Holy Cross, and who subsequently became a Deacon in our Church. It was about 6pm. We went in her car. For about 7 hours, we wandered the strange little towns of the Hudson Valley – stopping at all the bars we passed!

A couple of years before, I had been “introduced” to Black Russians (no, not men, the drink) by a nun of the Order of St. Helena. I was seduced. So, that night, we stopped first in Kingston, and I had my first Black Russian of the evening. It was a fabulous, wonderful, scintillating, charming, talkative evening – and …… contrary to what you might think, I remember all of it. Except for one thing.

We got back about 1:30am. I went to bed. I was up for Matins at 7am. Going back to my cell after Matins, I went to my cupboard, and looked at my shirt of last evening. In my pocket were ….. 11, count them 11, stirrers – presumably from the Black Russians I had drunk the night before. I had no headache, I had slept well. I functioned through the day. No nap. No aspirin, when I went to bed, or later. I never threw up – I have only done that twice in my 64 years from too much drink.

George Burns was teasing us, good comedian that he was. But you know: forget all the pseudo-morality that could play in here. Relaxing with friends , talking about all the deep things of Life, is a great blessing and gift. That was one of the best nights in my Life. We need to spend many such nights! Friends are the greatest gifts in Life. Especially those we can explore Life with at the deepest level.

And I do recommend Black Russians (as I drink them, 3 oz of Vodka, with a splash of Kaluha). They are sinless - nuns advocate them! (To be PC: “drink responsibly”!)


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, March 8, 2010

I despise making the most of one's time. Half of the pleasures
of life consist of the opportunities one has neglected.

Life is an end in itself, and the only question as to whether
it is worth living is whether you have had enough of it.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., American Supreme Court Chief
Justice, born on this date, March 8, 1841, in Boston

Well, as is often the case, I can’t choose, so I include both quotes. The first I agree with. He speaks to a serious modern illness, certainly in American “culture”. People work too much, and I think it creates ill health both in huge numbers of individuals and in the society as a whole. The amount of drugs Americans take to deal with psychological, emotional, spiritual and physical illnesses is phenomenal – and normal human emotions like grief and sadness are being treated with drugs – in part because we “can’t afford” to be “off work”. (See Louis Menand’s piece in the March 1 New Yorker.)

We can’t do everything – and we ought not to try. Holmes indicates how much of the joy of Life is lost to us being busy. Unless we stop and smell the coffee or the flowers (symbols of course), we can expect more anger, more depression, more suicides, more crime, more anti-social behaviour ………. and the drug companies will go on making billions in profits (see ), paragraph two.

I also believe that Holmes is spiritually right on the dime in what he says about Life. Huge numbers of us don’t think that Life “is worth living”. And I can see why. We judge the value of Life by what we have earned or “accomplished”, etc. We are trained – yes, in this so-called highly religious culture – to treat Life as if it is a means to an end, the end being “having things”. But Dickens for one made the point beautifully (let lone Jesus): It was Bob Cratchett who was happy, not Scrooge.

Life, and those of us who live Life, are ends in themselves. Nothing gives us ultimate value except that we ARE.

When “you have had enough of it”, you can let it go when the time comes, with Peace. If you’re making a list of how you want to spend your life, add “helping each other to have enough of Life” to that List.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: The Weekend, Sat, March 6, 2010
[ Lent II – C – RCL in the Episcopal Church Kalendar ]

"A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came
looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener,
'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this
fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting
the soil?' He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig
around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and
good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"

from the Gospel called Luke, chap 13

This parable which Luke has Jesus telling is about the patience and love of God. And it’s an illustration about the process of Repentance that immediately precedes this passage. Both passages are “tough talk”, using what is known as “apocalyptic” (of “last times” and “judgment”) language. This language is meant to bring us up short, startle us, into hearing the point.

People get all worked up about how “tough” Jesus sounds, first lacing into ALL sinners (i.e., all of us) to understand that anything that separates us from Divine Love, no matter how great or little, needs to be repented of. Then he seems ruthless towards the poor fig tree (where elsewhere we are told that it isn’t even the season for figs!). But understood properly, in the context of Jesus’ Loving Father, Jesus is saying (a) we all must be diligent about turning away from Unlovingness, and (b) God – who is the vinedresser - relentlessly, patiently, keeps finding ways to encourage pruning and fertilizing until we finally get the message and synch our lives to God’s Life.

One (at least I do!) gets the feeling that the vinedresser is going to work like hell to make sure than when the vineyard owner comes again there will be some new growth and maybe a little fruit to warrant letting the fig tree stay!!

That’s the God we know and love! That image is always at our core.


Friday, March 5, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, March 4, 2010

It is written: “Oil and incense gladden the heart.”
(Proverbs 27: 9) God said: “Of all the offerings that
you bring me, none of them is as dear to me as the
incense offering; for while all the offerings are for
expiation of wrongdoings, or for thanksgiving,
or for accompaniment of restitution, the incense
offering is for joy alone.”

Midrash Tanchuma, Tetzaveb, No. 15

You know: that’s what I miss about good ‘ole over-the-top “high church” liturgical carry-on! Oh, in some quarters it could get a little prissy and legalistic or too “militaristic”. But the best – with glorious rich colourful vestments and beautiful vessels and wonderful music and simple elegant choreography and lots and lots of incense and censing that was enthusiastic – was for the sheer joy of honouring the God of Unconditional Love. I really miss it! As a colleague said yesterday, “We are too often in our heads”.

(When I was in seminary, I got dressed down by the Dean for being too “exhibitionist” as the thurifer - it had bells! - for an ordination in the GTS chapel. And at my ordination, there was so much incense that you could only see the bishop from the waist up!)

“For Joy Alone”. If I were elected Pope tomorrow, that would be the motto I would choose for my papal crest, and it would have a golden thurible on it wafting clouds of incense. Anyway: The World is in a right mess these days. Lots of things to depress and discourage us. Lots of work to do to try and bring justice and peace and respect and generosity and kindness into our corner of the World. Expiation for wrongdoings to offer, and restitutions to be made.

But let’s not forget Thanksgivings. And above all, let’s not forget the “incense offering for Joy alone”, and what’s really at the center of our Lives.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, March 4, 2010

When school and mosque and minaret
get torn down, then dervishes
can begin their community.

Not until faithfulness
turns to betrayal
and betrayal into trust
can any human being
become part of the truth.

Rumi, Sufi poet

We have to get beyond “school and mosque and minaret” – I.e, religious sectarianism. We have to get beyond “faithfulness and betrayal”. In other words, we have to emerge out of the darkness of sectarianism into the light of Compassion for all human beings and our often very difficult Journey through this Earthly Life.

The most important point that Rumi makes here is this: “Truth” can only be achieved together, in the appreciation of the Wisdom of all human thought.

This is not to say in any way that persons who warp the “Truth” are to be respected – of which there are many in our World and Time. Pay attention to this. It involves your personal integrity and the fate of the World as we know it.

This includes Republican legislators in contemporary America (which I hope excludes many Republican layfolk, for, if not, I am convinced that America is headed towards civil war), the 700 Club, Focus on the Family, Iraqi tribalists, the President of the Sudan and of Zimbabwe , the Taliban, Hamas, Jewish religious right-wingers, American militarists, Shining Path, the absurdly named Lord’s Resistance Army, etc etc etc. That is, every organization that pits people against each other for ideological or religious or cultural reasons.

I believe that we are all called at this time to “betray” our denominational narrowness. To move beyond “betrayal” – which is in fact a relinquishment of petty religious or cultural “tribalism” – towards the deepest understanding of “truth”.

Only on this path lies survival and peace.

Be a dervish. Dance together in a World community of true Love.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I think I have learned since that a parson of a parish must be content to
keep the upper windows of his mind open to the holy winds and pure light
of heaven; and the side windows of tone, of speech, of behavior open to the
earth, to let forth upon his fellow men the tenderness and truth which those
upper influences bring forth in any region exposed to their operation.

George MacDonald, Scottish parson, author and mystic

As a “parson”, I’ve learned this. But believe me, it isn’t easy to be this kind of person in a church, even in an Episcopal church! I remember how disconcerting it was to discover that, on the Myers-Briggs Temperament scale, I was an INFP ………. and that 95% of pew-sitters were not of that type!! In other words, 95% of one’s parishioners was “not in synch” with you. So the question was, is there anything worthwhile in preaching and designing Liturgy, etc., when practically no one would “get it” !!??

But then I realized: this is the ministry of an INFP – to keep the "upper windows of his mind open to the holy winds and pure light of heaven”. And to keep the “side windows of tone, of speech, of behavior open to the earth, to let forth upon his fellow men the tenderness and truth which those upper influences bring forth in any region exposed to their operation.”

Good “parsons” are grounded in “heaven” and “earth”. They, men and women, represent the fact that “God” and “wo/man” are inextricably linked with the Great Mystery at the heart of all Being. And therein lies their nature as theological misfits and eccentrics. Our major “job” as parsons/ministers/rabbis/imams is to keep the 95% of the population open to their mystic heart! And believe you me - we put up with a lot of shit to try doing this!

“Tenderness and Truth”. This is what we need in our/God’s World today. We are beset these days with all kinds of things that are contrary to Tenderness and Truth. This is what in Biblical terms would be called “the work of the Devil”.

It’s time to renovate ourselves and the World! A “parson” is only a symbol for every person. To save our humanity and our human community, we need “open people” - people listening for the depth truth of Love; people who love and are not afraid of the “other”; people not afraid to be fully their god-given selves!


Monday, March 1, 2010

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fun is good.

Dr. Seuss, born on this date,
1904, in Springfield MA

Absolutely! No question about it. Life gets so damned serious. People get crabby and unpleasant and pedantic and boring.

We must remember that Life is made to enjoy. That – as far as I am concerned – is the bottom-line of being Alive. Yes, of course there are all manner of other responsible dimensions of being a human being. But. I firmly believe that undergirding our ability to serve others is having fun.

We human beings were “made” to Play long before we were meant to Work.

Have fun today. And make it a daily act of Joy!!