Loss, Intentionality, and Grace – Part II

I am about to create new heavens and a new earth” ~Isa. 65:17

Last week’s blog was really Part I of II. You are invited to read it here. I spoke of grief and loss, and how it is vitally important to allow the natural processes of grief to take hold. I also spoke of intentionality, and how a life well lived (also called the good life) can be defined by how one makes intentional efforts to better the self, and in doing so bettering society. I ended last week’s message with a quotation from Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

Somewhat reading the tea leaves and anticipating passions being expressed about last week’s Congressional and Presidential elections, I knew that in Part II of today’s blog, I wanted to gift you with tangible ways of evolving one’s passions into com-passion. Put another way (and in question form) “How can we internalize and work through our passions, but with the ultimate goal being to release and transform our passion into compassion?” What helps me is to think about the breath: We breathe in our passions and the passions of others (coming at us from all sides), and if we hold our breath like we hold our anxiety and fear, then our body shuts down, or our bodies get sick. If we work (breathe) out our anxieties and fears with the help of Spirit, then new possibilities open up and compassion for self and society are realized.

I’m currently reading Richard Rohr’s new book, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation. In it, he helps break down the complicated language of defining God as Trinity, and he gives example after example of how Trinity is best thought of and experienced as – relationship. Not only can we think of God eternally relating and loving God’s self, but Rohr reminds us that God is constantly inviting us into the relationship as well. We are gracefully invited to banquet and be with God in every aspect of our lives. In fact, Rohr argues, this invitation is all around us in the form of God’s creation from the subatomic particles of an atom – proton, neutron, and electron all gaining energy because of how they relate one to another as they orbit around the nucleus – to the planets in our solar system orbiting around our sun, and while the sun orbits around the Milky Way galaxy every 230 million years. He gives an example of how destructive it is when the subatomic particles stop relating one to another. If they suddenly stop relating and the atom is split, then a nuclear reaction takes place. Put in a different context, when relationships are broken, compromised, and dishonored, all too often divisions, detachment, fear, and separation are the results.

On Tuesday night, the poll numbers revealed how split we are as a country. But if we are honest with ourselves, didn’t we already know that? Didn’t we already know, or can we now confess that our society is virtually composed of tribes? We have the Tribe of MSNBC, the Tribe of Fox News, the Tribe of Republicans, and the Tribe of Democrats. There are even tribes within the tribes: Are you a conservative, moderate, or progressive Republican/Democrat/Libertarian/Green/Independent? Are you a one-issue voter, or not? Research has even shown that the social media platforms we use that are supposed to bring us closer as a society (like Facebook and Twitter) use algorithms that keep us in our own bubbles and echo chambers so that any thought, word, or deed that is open to debate is kept far, far away from us out of “respect” for one’s personal simulation of the world in which the self, the ID, the me/me/me/me has created. These tribes, bubbles, and echo chambers make us literally forget what it means to be in relationship and harmony with God, self, creation, and neighbor. Put differently, we are creating a reality in which we create God in our own images. We are the Hebrew people, and our tribal golden calf is based upon the illusion that the ego is the one, true self (Exodus 32).

My friend and colleague, Fr. Zachary Thompson, Rector of the Anglo-Catholic parish in Atlanta, Church of Our Savior, had a passing thought on what some term as ‘identity politics’. He said, “We often use categories such as boomers, millennial, urbanites, conservatives, liberals, ivory tower intellectuals, activists, keepers of the status quo, secularists, fundamentalists etc. etc. to speak of cultural phenomena; and too often we can use these categories to dismiss certain people so that we can advance an argument that is suitable to our way of thinking. We need to be careful to remember that we are talking about particular human beings made in the image of God with fears, hopes, dreams, and failures. A more interesting way to think of ourselves (and one another) is in relation to our development in sanctity, holiness of life, humility, meekness, kindness ([these are] degrees of deification [or] growing in the likeness of God).”

So how do we mend our brokenness and division? How do we allow God’s love to enter in through the cracks? How do we compassionately respond to God’s grace that is constantly being gifted to us?

Isaiah Chapter 65 might give us a clue to some of these questions. The context for the chapter is this: We have a broken, exiled people returning to their homeland, but when they arrive home the brokenness, anxiety, and fear continues. The Temple (which was destroyed before the exile) was still in ruins. The cities were still in crumbling disarray, but the compassionate voice of God through the prophet Isaiah uses the language of creation to give hope to God’s people. God says, “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth” (Isa. 65:17). This throwback to the scene East of Eden permits the people to reimagine a New Jerusalem, a new city, a new homeland. These words of God also extends an invitation to the people to remember how to relate with God, self, and neighbor. Mary Eleanor Johns sums up this passage from the prophet Isaiah with these words,

“[W]e seek to participate in God’s new creation not as a means of earning it, but as a way of responding to God’s grace extended to us. Through our restored relationship with God and our relationship with all of God’s creations, we are given new lenses of hope by which can experience a foretaste of the new creation that Isaiah prophesies” (Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 4, p.294).

The key word for me in Mary Eleanor’s insight is the word, “respond”.

May our prayers this week ask for the grace to know the difference between re-acting and re-sponding, and passion from com-passion. May God also soften our hearts, and guide us in developing an intentional life that grows in sanctity, holiness of life, humility, meekness, and kindness. May our fears turn not into realities as we seek further relationship with God, neighbor, and enemy.

Epiphany is for Seeker and Believer Alike

Every story we tell represents a light. That light, your story, represents you. But what about all the light we cannot see? What about other people’s story and stories? What about their lives?

Epiphany teaches us that our narratives are wrapped up in God’s ultimate narrative. And even though we cannot see all the light in the world, or know all the stories out there, by following the light of God – the light of the epiphany star – we are being led to Him: The light of the world – who does know the stranger, the neighbor, the other. He knows us all by name; and along that journey to wherever the star leads us, we meet others who bear the light – who know the story – because, really and truly, it’s everybody’s story: both believer and seeker alike.

For centuries the Church has taught that the magi represented the Gospel of Jesus Christ being spread to the Gentiles. They brought him gifts fit for a king, for the Divine, and for his ultimate sacrifice. Nowadays, we might say that the magi represent spiritual seekers who have heard of this person named Jesus, but are unsure as to who he is, or what his church truly represents? But instead of shooing seekers away, the Church must embrace all, and the gifts brought forth – the gifts of mystery, questioning, and humility. The Church must respond with love, compassion, and grace. After all, life together is recognizing the light in one’s self and the other, which then stems from the source of all life and light.

The magi were true seekers: They didn’t know where they were going, but they knew they had to get there. They at least had a guide (represented by the Epiphany star). They had some sort of discernment within themselves to say, ‘Yes,’ to every step along the Way. Like a moth to a flame, like a carnal desire, we often don’t know where we’re going, but we know we have to get to that source, to that light, to that life.

The beauty of the Church, I believe, is that it can help seekers (and believers both) discern where they are on the spiritual path, and not necessarily how to get to where they’re going, but how to get some help stumbling along the Way. The church can be a friend helping you up again and again and again when you trip up and fall down. And the church does this with simple things like a calendar (we mark off days in the middle of the week, where we get together and do strange things with everyday materials like: water, oil, wine, bread, laying on of hands, confession, spiritual direction, centering prayer, silence). That’s some seeker stuff right there, but it’s also some believer stuff too. A believer is a bit more specific or tangible with their faith. A seeker doesn’t want to get mixed up in all the details, but is still intrigued by them. Intrigued by that star, by the mystery of what believers say that water, wine, and bread actually are, or do. That’s some believer/seeker stuff mixing and mingling, showing their light to one another, and wondering if the story is true? They wonder together because they know what it’s like to have something born anew in them. They know what it’s like to have an epiphany. They know what it’s like to start over, and to turn over a new leaf.

Seeker and believer. Jew and Gentile. Human and Divine. Every light has to have a source, just like every person has a story. The Season of Epiphany reminds us that the source of our light – the source of our life – points to the Divine.

The Hero With A Thousand Faces

Theology defined: The study of the nature of God. AND/OR The study of the Divine.

You cannot study the Divine WITHOUT examining the self. The self defined is what? Who? A hero? A heroine?

Why not view one’s VERY SELF as a hero going on a quest thereby discovering the Divine?

This is a blog about the self. This is a blog about the DIVINE. This is a blog about the hero’s journey: The Hero with a Thousand Faces.