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Christmas Eve

I was deeply moved by a quote from Prior Aelred, a Benedictine monk from St. Gregory’s Abbey,

I don’t have a clue how it is possible for God to become a human being. It is beyond my ability to comprehend. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I was very good at Euclidian geometry and Newtonian physics. I could follow the logic and the mathematics because I could comprehend them. I don’t understand subatomic physics and the significance of the hunt for the Higgs boson. I can’t comprehend things that function so far outside my own experience. That doesn’t mean that they are not true. It just means that I can’t comprehend them.

Summing up: we cannot comprehend God. But we can experience him—in human form.

The benediction we will close with this evening, May God, who in the Word made flesh, joined heaven to earth and earth to heaven sums up the reason we celebrate: Heaven joins earth. Can you comprehend heaven living inside of you and me? Maybe not, but we can experience heaven and its unfolding within us.

For this church year, if just not for this moment alone, how can we invite Divinity more into our humanity? If we’re careful to read the gospels, humanity is woven through them. Instead of reporting data of the birth as our culture does: time, height, weight and color of eyes, Luke’s world speaks of more human factors: swaddling clothes, a manger and his first visitors. Our culture, based in Greek thought tends to separate the world of things from the world of ideas, the realm of spirit from the realm of the physical and human from Divine. Jesus joins divinity and humanity, spirit and matter as one and thereby begins to heal us from our inner separation from ourselves and our outer separation from the world. Without this marriage between divinity and humanity we ricochet through life without consciousness and we look at others as objects instead of spiritual human beings. This is why it can be so difficult to look into the eyes of another: we begin to see their soul, and to begin to see their soul requires that we are in contact with our own.

Why is this important? Recall, all the headlines in the news this past year: observable escalating aberrant behavior and belief systems—it’s not difficult to comprehend that there’s definitely something missing in the world—that a large percentage of humanity is definitely in need of some divinity in order to align humanity with creation.

Prior Aelred continues: What I understand the Incarnation to mean is that there is no pretense in God. God really became a human being. He didn’t pretend anything about being human. He needed his mother to feed him and change his swaddling clothes and he really went through the adolescent angst of the human condition.

If Christmas is to have any meaning at all besides the Disney Fantasia aspect, it means that Jesus reaches into our earthiness with his own and is more willing to be with us our light and in the shadows than we are ourselves. This is why it can be so difficult to read the Psalms: they are ever so earthy, sometimes dripping with the base nature of our animal nature, begging the Divine to take root in it.

So this Christmas, let us invite the Divine child to dwell with us fully: in our joy, in our anger, in our sadness, anxiety and dread. Let us invite him into our doubt, our sense of inferiority, wounded memories, confusion; in our overconfidence and grandiosity that covers our fear. Let us invite him into our troubled relationships and take flesh there. Let his infancy take root in us this season so that the blissfulness of new birth may place its breath within us where we find ourselves most hypoxic.

There are places in our lives where we find it more difficult to breathe. Anxiety, fear, doubt, questionable self-acceptance and worth are all places where our physical respiration decreases, because this inner conflict is borne in our flesh blocking our ability to breathe and live freely. . Allow the Divine infant to enter us so that we too may cry out as an infant for our greatest need: for his love and joy to transform our pain—to be made whole by the one who comes to lead us there.

The infant Child, is in our midst, breathing with us as we also prepare to be birthed anew. The labor is worth it for the joy that this child will reveal in us.   We will know truth by being awakened to know more of him. May we be fully present to his presence—allowing his presence to touch our hearts, minds and wills to dismantle that which is holding us back from our birthright to become our true selves found in him.

Gloria in Excelsis Deo!

 

 

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Advent III

Advent 4B; Luke 1:26 ff; 12/24/17

I am wondering if we can identify with Mary and Joseph?  How can this be? Mary asks Gabriel.   Mary doesn’t know what God is doing or what God is about to do?  Do we know what God is doing or is about to do?

With Mary, we have a pretty good idea of what God is doing and what God is about to do. Hindsight is helpful.  But what about us—might God have a message for us and would we know that God is doing or about to do?

Mary asks a question: How can this be? Mary seeks understanding. Gabriel explains and Mary accepts. Yet there is so much more Mary does not understand. There’s the who, where, what and how that have yet to be understood.  There is so much more that we do not understand about what God will do and is doing in our midst.

How can this be? we ask. Sometimes we receive answers. If you’re like me, the answers I receive are mostly by hindsight—that is insight finally comes after the fact and after the action that God has, is and will do outside of my awareness.  One of the great challenges in our western culture is to move ahead in faith without full understanding. Our nearsightedness tempts us to limit God to the level of whatever our perceptions are. Big mistake if we fall prey to this.

God is nudging Mary to respond—to move into unknown territory. We first think that the territory has to do with geography, people, places and time. But the territory God is really asking Mary to explore is within her—Mary, come let me live within you God is saying through Gabriel—in more ways than one, in the flesh in the son she will bear, but more so in her heart, which will be the fulcrum upon which Mary’s faithfulness will act in obedience and faith.

So it is with us. 

We are each born with an inner restlessness that will not know peace until we are ready to ask our questions—Lord, where do you want me to go—what do you want me to do? These questions though, are premature.

And first like Mary, God will ask us—Come let me live and abide in you.  

The ball is in our court.

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Advent II

Advent 2B; Mark 1; 12/10/17

Kathy and I are in a new era of our lives. We’ve been going through our belongings and furniture that suited us before but no longer fit in the lives that we are living here.  We’ve been culling out old things that have meant much to us that we’ve been comfortable with but that are no longer truly useful in our lives here.  We sometimes find mementos long forgotten which bring back many memories.  It’s difficult to part with some things to which we have become attached but now that they are no longer useful, they get in the way.  We’ve been adjusting to living from 5 acres, 3600 sq. ft. and 3 bedrooms to .28 acres, 1900 sq. ft with two bedrooms.  It takes time to figure out what is helpful vs. what needs to be discarded; and in some cases what needs to be added.  Sometimes I get tired of it all, and just stick it all in one room, like the garage and shut the door and try to put it out of my mind.  I wonder if you might be like me, with anything in your lives that you like to put out of your mind and shut the door?  But the mess is still there and needs to be cleaned up if we want to make full use of the house.

I believe this is also true in our spiritual lives. If we venture into the many rooms within the human heart we often find things long forgotten and undiscovered, long waiting to be addressed. This is why Advent is such a gift.  I get to walk into the garage and the second bedroom and sit with the mess until I get some internal bearings and direction about what to keep, what to get rid of and where to put it.  Same thing with the spiritual life.  Sitting still for long enough to be able to ascertain the internal compass God gives us to sort through what to keep and what to discard—so that we know what direction to live.  Advent is like removing the barriers that hinder us from passing by the Bethlehem road to the manger, so we can again, spend another year of our lives figuring out where Jesus wants to take us this year.  Advent energy is about being aware—awakened is the term Jesus used, instead of busy.  Our culture chooses busy and we are often swept up into it.  We usually don’t put our decorations up until later in Advent because we need the empty space, not filled up with lights and glitter, so we can hear the voice in the wilderness within us crying out for God instead of a commercial substitute.

We know where we’ve been in the past but we really don’t know where Jesus will lead us this year.   I hear many people say “same old, same old,” when they are asked how or where their lives are going.  I often wonder if they really mean it.  The Jesus of the Gospels never really stayed in one place long enough to say “same old, same old.”   Yet he did stay in the One Place that really matters along the way: the place called the presence of God.   So if life seems, “Same old, same old,” to us, perhaps we’re not taking enough time to listen.

There are many beliefs, attitudes and practices that no longer are helpful and block our path to God. Metaphorically, cleaning out the spiritual closets barriers to spiritual practice, mental attitudes, belief, behavioral habits and activity that impede our freedom to walk lightly on our path of being connected to God is the major message of Advent.  John the Baptist believed this in his message of clearing a path.

 

Back then, roads were only cleared of refuse and repaired when a king or prince would make an official visit which could be many years apart. Local officials took great care that the refuse and rubble would be removed to prevent any delay in the royal visitor’s visit realizing that their rise and fall depended on the attention they would give to the clear path that they would provide.  Clearing a path meant that people would prepare their lives by releasing those things that were not genuine piety, integrity and justice.

The difference between then and now, is that at this point in history, we’re not waiting for God to show up. God is already here.  So this clearing of path is more now a lifestyle than a periodic event.  We use Advent and Lent as times for pulling back from activity to an internal activity of assessing our spiritual lives, but in all truth, this is an ongoing process.  The wisdom revealed in Proverbs, without a vision, the people perish held up to the present condition of our society reveals much about how John the Baptist’s message has been forgotten.  Yet there is no need for despair, as despair is void of spiritual presence.  The authentic spiritual life is one of attraction, wherein the love of God pours through with a Holy Libation that draws those who are aware of their thirst to the God who quenches all emptiness and thirst.

St. Benedict who was touched by this wisdom spoke in his Rule: Every day we begin again. “Beginning” from The Aramaic word, resha, refers to a new era that God brought through Jesus’ ministry and gospel.  New era—brought a new way of being released from sins.  The old era involved sublimating an animal to be sacrificed on a person’s behalf for no fault of its own.  People in a sense blamed the goat.  Now the era involves returning to God directly while sparing the animal and its natural outcome of living in prayer, humility, integrity and treating others justly in the presence of the Spirit.  God will bring us through the wilderness to the Christ Child who will gradually lead us if we follow into paradise. Amen.

Father Mark, Reflections

Part 2:  The Problem of Evil in Mythology

Part 2:  The Problem of Evil in Mythology

Since the beginning of time, cultures and their religions have tried to account for the presence of evil and its destructive forces in nature.  Turning on the news leaves little doubt that there are destructive forces in the world and it seems as if sometimes seems as if some are possessed by a devil.   Sanford writes that both Analytical Psychology and mythology share a common view: that autonomous psychic factors beyond conscious control afflict persons or groups which are both destructive to themselves and others.  Also, outside of physical reality there is an inner spiritual reality.  This line of thought runs counter to the prevailing world view based on sensory experience which limits itself to the material world.  Instead, present day culture believes that the evils of our time do not exist in the human soul or spiritual sphere, but have political or economic causes, and could be eliminated by a different political system…does not want to see that the enemy is to be found in the devils and demons in himself.

The late Morton T. Kelsey, Episcopal Priest corroborates Sanford’s premise that at the origins of evil and the reality of a destructive principle: …secular man in this century has been brainwashed by materialistic thought.  In a rational and materialistic world, there is no place for such a principle of destructiveness.  It is neither rational nor material, and so it cannot exist. If one is to consider the possibility that evil is something more substantial than just the absence of good, then he has to overhaul his whole world view, and this is a very painful and difficult task. It is better simply to deny the reality of any such principle out of hand. 

Early Christian heresies of Gnosticism and Manichaeism project a split between good and evil, the spiritual as good and the material world as evil.  American Indian mythology was perplexed at the Christian idea of a satanic being.  They accepted it as a fact that human beings combine in themselves both good and evil, and did not need to invoke the idea of a devil to explain why some people had a bad heart and some a good heart.  Mankind has a dual nature.   Most mythologies have two assumptions: the autonomous power of evil that is beyond man’s control and there is a balance of opposites in life or polarities, such as light being opposed by darkness.

In-depth psychology accepts the reality of the dark side to human nature that can refuse to be assimilated into the good.  If we deny the possibility of evil in ourselves by trying to be better than we are (loss of humility) then we risk that evil may run rampant through us because what we are unconscious of can control us.

Next:  Evil in the Old Testament

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Taming the Goat Within

Proper 29A; Pentecost Last: Christ the King Sunday; Matthew 25:31-46; 1126/17

 

My first real exposure to goats was when I was in Junction, Texas. Their spontaneity and unexpected shifts in temperament and behavior made sheep a far easier breed of animal to raise and herd.

I remember watching goats do all sorts of things like jump to the bed of a pickup and then up to stand on top of the cab.

 

Herdsmen used to separate sheep and goats when it was time to move them into a fold. The sheep would be fed grass while the goats would be left to fend for themselves and express their agitation watching the sheep eating the grass.  Jesus uses this image of the sheep and the goats to describe the separating out of good and evil at the end of the age.

 

Every so often, especially during the recent series of events such as Sutherland Springs, the suffering often causes people to ask, Why does God allow evil? Why doesn’t God just stop the suffering?

When we experience suffering, it is a human reaction to want a quick fix to escape from its torment.

When one finally comes to realize that God created the natural order with personal autonomy, he/she also realizes that a quick fix is out of the realm of possibility. Evil cannot be quick-fixed.

 

God, unlike many people in power, does not control people. Relationship requires the freedom to choose.  People create outcomes depending on what master they serve within them.  In a sense we’re choosing our own judgement by our choices.  We create what is within us.  Jesus states this when he said that it is what comes out of a person that defiles him (Matt. 15).  Devin Kelley created torment around him because hell is what lived within him.

 

If this passage brings fear to us then perhaps we’re misunderstanding it. We may have forgotten Jesus’ story that the whole story is in context of inheriting –that means receiving without our merit, heaven.  When heaven is already living in us, the works we need to do will naturally emanate from within us.

The mistake many make is thinking that we have to do enough good deeds so we pass the final judgment.   It’s not the deeds.  It’s the relationship that matters.

 

Have you ever had someone supposedly do something for you when their motive was really self-serving? The disingenuous experience is incongruent with the Love of God that comes through authentic action grounded through Spiritual Union.

 

Judgement isn’t just in the last days. It’s going on all the time in context with the spiritual laws of creation binding it together.  It’s not so much that God is a merciless judge handing out sentences and pardons on a consistent basis as it is we who choose the direction our lives take.   We choose what we think will make us happy whether it be revenge or loving our neighbor as ourselves.  If spiritual awareness is lacking, then we will believe self-serving behavior will bring happiness, until we realize the empty results.  Once we realize that loving God and our neighbors as ourselves is our true nature, then happiness and life are created.

 

As time passes the path we choose and serve becomes fixed within us. We’re always seeking and serving something.  It just depends what it is.  We follow our true nature in God or we try to create something according to our own devices.   At any time we have the choice to decide to change direction.

The habits we create for ourselves can make it seem that they are too powerful for us and then we surrender to a sense of helplessness or hopelessness where the habits and internal torment are progressively re-played and deepened.   Surrendering to hopelessness is a sorrowful waste as there is nothing that God cannot transform when we seek to focus on discovering the Divine Image planted within ourselves.  Even the Psalmist without the benefits of high technology knew this from his own experience some 3000 years ago. Psalm 65 from the Thanksgiving Day lectionary: “Our sins are stronger than we are, but you will blot them out.” Part of the forgiveness of sins is having them removed.  There is always hope for transformation from death to life. Christian community, Word, Sacrament, study and prayer can unloose the greatest slavery of all—the slavery of a separated self and separated relationship with God.

 

We have ended another year of spiritual practice. Advent is the time when we reassess the direction in which we want our lives to move.   If we take the time to ponder and listen like Mary and Joseph, we will know what is it that we want the most and The Way will become clear.