Archive for February, 2007

Mother Ann’s birthday

February 28, 2007

I hope those of you celebrating Mother Ann Lee’s birthday tomorrow find it to be a time of grace and renewal. 

Mother often said, “I feel the blood of Christ running through my soul and washing me; him do I acknowledge as my head, and Lord.” (Testimonies, p.166)

So great was the manifestation of God in Mother at this time, that many were unable to abide in her presence, her words were like flames of fire, and her voice like peals of thunder.  (Testimonies, p.161)

I have been walking in fine valleys with Christ, in heavenly union.  (Mother Ann, quoted in Testimonies, p.166)

Let me have Mother’s gospel, Mother’s soul saving gospel
The same life that she taught, that she lived in her day
Free from all that is carnal, breathing life, life eternal
From the world, from the flesh, ’tis away, far away.
         (early Shaker spiritual)

I am traveling to Athens, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana this weekend, to visit friends and cause some trouble.  I will do my best to get a lectionary reflection posted in the next day or so, before I leave, as I don’t plan to take my laptop with me.  While I’m gone, y’all can post cheeky comments and discuss among yourselves. 

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Father James’ birthday

February 28, 2007

Today is the birthday of Father James Whittaker (1751-1787), Mother Ann’s first successor as leader of the Shakers.  Father James is perhaps best known for a beautiful hymn titled “In Yonder Valley”  – I couldn’t find a recording on-line, but it is on this CD:

http://bostoncamerata.org/cd/titles/shakercd.htm

And here is another of his songs:

http://www.brendantaaffe.com/father_james.html

Every breath should be as a prayer.

A word from Alan Watts

February 28, 2007

By this full union of contemplation with the actions of everyday life we shall overcome the strange and unhappy paradox that in practice the religion of the Incarnation has not realized its own essential meaning – the wedding of the flesh to the spirit.  Instead of effecting the union of God and the world, which is its central purpose, Christian sacramentalism has kept the two apart. God became man and imparted his life to us in forms and sacraments with the very object of indicating that the union of his Spirit with all flesh is his supreme will for the world. But in practice Christians have frustrated the divine will by confining the life of the spirit to the forms from which it was intended to spread and flow for the sanctification of all created things. The process of the Incarnation has been made to stop with the historic Jesus, the process of transubstantiation with the bread and wine of the altar, the life of contemplation with the walls of the cloister, and the life of holiness and Christian action with formal morality. We have never actually allowed God to enter into our entire life. He came down to earth and entered our earthly forms, but we swiftly got rid of him by raising the first, indicative forms which he touched to heaven.  Whether as Catholic sacramentalism or Protestant moralism, Christianity is the most formal of religions, and thus leaves the greater part of human life untouched. (from Behold the Spirit, 1947, p.247)

Mini-mass

February 27, 2007

This Lent, I am receiving the daily “5 Minutes of Caring” emails from www.coolpeoplecare.org,  which are full of helpful suggestions for positive action in the world.  Their slogan is “Because there’s no such thing as not enough time.”  I have often heard folks in independent sacramental circles claim that they have no time to cultivate a eucharistic life.  Now, if you define a eucharistic life as celebrating a three hour liturgy in a dead language every day, it might pose a wee bit of a challenge, unless you are retired, single, and have no friends.   For the rest of us, there is no excuse.  We just have to think outside the box.

First, we can strive to let all our meals take on more of a eucharistic character.  We can bless our food (even if silently in a restaurant with co-workers) asking that God’s life meet us in the simple act of eating.  Being thankful for the food we have, we can donate to programs for the hungry, or cook a fabulous meal for a homeless shelter or Food Not Bombs.  We can try to eat nourishing, local food, which has been compassionately and responsibly produced, lovingly prepared, and shared with friends.  Surely such ways of eating bring us closer to eucharist than swallowing corporate fast food while driving. 

We can revive the ancient practice of sending consecrated bread and wine home with folks after mass, so that they can commune themselves regularly until the next gathering.  We have done this locally, with very good results.  If you have reserved communion on hand, who cannot manage a few moments of quiet, the Lord’s Prayer, and a quick partaking?   If folks are inclined to eucharistic adoration (alright, Alexis, I can hear you all the way across the Atlantic!), indie priest Father Seraphim McCune makes mini-monstrances: http://maxpages.com/stseraphim/Monstrance – scroll down the page for the little ones.  I have one, and the website photo does not do it justice.  Father Seraphim does lovely work, and has improved the design since the website went up.  You liturgy freaks know that you want one. 🙂

If you have a conservative Roman Catholic devotional manual sitting around, you will find a practice called “the Mass of St John” or sometimes “Spiritual Communion,” in which you go through some of the prayers of the mass, joining yourself in spirit to the eucharist as it is celebrated around the world.   A bit more boldly, you can pray the liturgy inwardly, offering your own body and blood to be transmuted into the presence of Christ, which will then be offered to the world through your daily living.  (Thanks, Mariel, for this practice.) 

Finally, there are a number of very short forms of the mass which can be celebrated alone, in a family setting, or with a small group.  No matter who is physically present, the eucharist always gathers the whole church, living and dead, angelic and human, in intercession for the world.   There is a short rite well-suited to post-Vatican II Roman sensibilities in the Sacramentary of the Servant Catholic Church.  An equally brief liturgy, from a more esoteric perspective, is the Priest’s Daily Communion, from the Sanctuary Manual of the Holy Order of MANS.   These rites, when celebrated with maximum simplicity, take less than 10 minutes.  The Mariavites created a “People’s Mass” which can be done by anyone – lay or ordained.  It consists of little more than the words of institution, followed by thanksgiving.  (Father Chris Tessone – http://chris.tessone.net – is working on translating this important document, which has never appeared in English.)   To give only one more example, the Sangreal Sodality (www.sangrealsodality.org) has recently posted William Gray’s mini-eucharist, “A Mass of Moments,” on their website.  While my theology and preferred language differ from Gray’s, his rite is structurally very interesting, and might hold promise for your own liturgical writing.

Bottom line:  There’s no such thing as not enough time for the eucharist on a very regular, even daily, basis.  How about “5 Minutes of Communing” every day for Lent?

Theology

February 26, 2007

The Rev. Sinead O’Connor is probably the world’s most famous indie priest.  Her next album, Theology, is finally hitting the shelves this spring.  If you have not heard the two songs she put on her website, check them out:

http://www.sineadoconnor.com/music.htm

Just a quick musical interlude on Monday. 

A word from Gregory Nazianzen

February 26, 2007

Let us put into practise the supreme and primary law of God. He sends down rain on just and sinful alike, and causes the sun to rise on all without distinction. To all earth’s creatures he has given the broad earth, the springs, the rivers and the forests. He has given the air to the birds, and the waters to those who live in the water. He has given abundantly to all the basic needs of life, not as a private possession, not restricted by law, not divided by boundaries, but as common to all, amply and in rich measure. His gifts are not deficient in any way, because he wanted to give equality of blessing to equality of worth, and to show the abundance of his generosity.

Wonder and reverence

February 25, 2007

Paul Blighton, probably with the help of others, created a very useful “Lenten Calendar” of meditations for the Holy Order of MANS.  My favorite is this one:

To forgive without seeking forgiveness.
To love and to keep affection in the face of misunderstanding.
I vow to set my thoughts upon things I value and spend my strength in the fulfillment of noble purpose.
To reverence the reverences of others rather than what they revere.

The last line has been especially useful to me.  We don’t have to agree with the objects of the reverence, veneration, and/or worship of others, but the very movement of reverence in them is worthy of our respect.  Reverence pulls us beyond the little boundaries of our personalities.  Even if misdirected, it is a beginning.  Phyllis Phillips used to make the same point in her Rudolf Steiner study groups, although she preferred to call it wonder.   Wonder, however limited, can be the engine to set us forth on our journey. Steiner writes (in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, p.7):

If we do not develop within ourselves this deeply rooted feeling that there is something higher than ourselves, we shall never find the strength to evolve to something higher.  The initiate has only acquired the strength to lift his head to the heights of knowledge by guiding his heart to the depths of veneration and devotion.

We may start with something limited, but true wonder will propel us further.  This Lent, can I bow before reverence, wonder, veneration, and devotion when I meet them in others, even if I don’t understand or agree with how these movements of soul are directed?  And how can wonder and reverence come to color my own life in more profound ways?

Journeying

February 24, 2007

While I am on eternal hold with HP Support, I thought I would post a little something more.  Lent is a journey with a clear goal – Easter.   But is our spiritual life always oriented toward one, clear, defined goal?   I know I often think that way, but here are some words of challenge from two of our gnostic brethren.   I don’t necessarily agree, but their positions are well worth pondering.  Stephen Hoeller is the bishop of Ecclesia Gnostica.  John Michael Greer is a bishop in the Universal Gnostic Church (and is not a Christian – the UGC encompasses both Christians and non-Christians).   First, Stephan takes on the notion that there is a unified goal to the spiritual journey, rather than continued, varied growth.

The experience of living teaches us that life has no static objective. Humanity and nature are forever becoming, but never fully become.  We grow, not in order to arrive at a fixed level of growth, but because growth is essential to our own well-being. When we move from one area of experience to another, we remain as we always have been – a center of consciousness moving through an ever-changing panorama of activity and environment.  To accept that life is purposeful and meaningful does not inevitably lead to the conclusion that its objective is any particular condition or place. Indeed, the true reason for the journey may be the journey itself.   (Stephan Hoeller, The Fool’s Journey, p.118)

And then John Michael challenges the easy pluralism of “all paths lead to the same destination.”  Rather, he sees us beginning from our common humanity and journeying forth in a number of genuinely different directions.

If different people have different spiritual needs, which are best met by different religions, this suggests that there may be no common ground to the spiritual quest whatsoever, and that people may be justified in pursuing radically different means, goals, and ends in the spiritual dimensions of their lives.

A common pluralist metaphor pictures the goal of spiritual endeavor as the peak of a mountain, and the various religions as ways up the mountain from different directions.  The point of view argued in this chapter stands this metaphor on its head.  Imagine a green and fertile valley surrounded by peaks of various heights and shapes.  From the central valley, different paths lead outwards to the different peaks, and those who wish to do so may attempt to climb one, or more than one. Each trail and each peak offers a unique view of the valley below; no one view is better or more complete than any other, though each has its special advantages.  (John Michael Greer, A World Full of Gods, pp.138-139)

What do y’all think?   Feel free to throw down in the comments!  (I believe I am finally getting through to a tech, so will sign off for now.)

Coming into the light

February 24, 2007

I’ve got some annoying drive detection issues going on with my laptop.  Hopefully, I’ll have time today to fix them – a good exercise in Lenten patience!   Pardon any gaps in posting until I get this resolved.

Tomorrow is the First Sunday of Lent, and the LCC lectionary readings display the tension between our always already transformed life in Christ, and our responsbility for our actions.  In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul tells us that in Christ all things are made new, including us.  And yet he also speaks of being judged that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.  Likewise in the Gospel, from John 3, we hear how God sent Christ that the world through him might be saved, and yet the following verses discuss how we all too often love darkness rather than light, because [our] deeds are evil.  We live in this strange, in-between place, profoundly graced with God’s life beyond all concern for worthiness…..  and yet our actions matter very very much, and we struggle to express redemption in our living. 

The twists in our nature, the tug and pull which can spin us away from the best that we know, right into hurting ourselves or others, are at least part of what the tradition means by “original sin.”   I don’t think of original sin as “damned-from-the-get-go.”   Rather, to me, it seems like a compassionate recognition that, for reasons beyond ourselves, we all wrestle with how to live a good life, we all screw up a lot, and we all need help.  My favorite exploration of the meaning of “original sin” is the prose poem “Part of Eve’s Discussion” by Marie Howe.  It is from her book, The Good Thief.  (If you don’t have a copy, get yourself to amazon right now.)

It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand, and flies, just before it flies, the moment the rivers seem to still and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when a hundred starlings lift and bank together, before they wheel and drop, very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin, like the moment just before you forgot what it was you were about to say, it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only all the time.

Somedays our lives begin to spin on bad ice, and we can’t really say why.  Somedays we love darkness rather than light.  Paul counsels us: Examine yourselves…  And introspetive self-examination is a very fine thing, especially during Lent.  But then he continues: Prove your own selves – presumably before others.  And in the gospel, Jesus tells us: But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest.   Again, we are called not just to look within, but to let ourselves be seen by others.

One of my teachers (drawing, I think, on Rudolf Steiner) used to say that we wake up in the faces of one another.  We come to know who we are, and the truth of  our lives, through being seen by others.  There are religious ways of letting ourselves be seen (confession, pastoral care, fellowship), but it is perhaps more important to live in the light before all the people Christ brings our way.  As we remove all hypocrisy, all covering up of our skidmarks, all fear of condemnation from God or others, we can find the peace which passes understanding and which will show us the way forward.

Here’s the Prayer of St Ephrem, used in the Orthodox liturgy during Lent.  I find it very hard to pray these words, but worth the struggle;

O Lord and dispenser of my life,
save me from the spirit of frustration, dejection, lust, and prating,
but grant to me, Thy servant, the spirit of purity, humility in wisdom, patience, and love.
O my Lord and Master!  Enable me to see my own iniquities
and not to judge my brothers and sisters!
For blessed art Thou forever.  Amen.

Dogs of the Good Shepherd

February 22, 2007

The other day, I watched a wonderful documentary on PBS about the training of sheep dogs.  This brought to mind the French mystic Paul Sedir (real name – Yvon Le Loup, 1871-1926) and his spiritual teacher, Nizier Philippe (1849-1905) both of whom referred to themselves as “dogs of the Good Shepherd.”   For those interested in independent sacramental history, Sedir was a bishop in Jules Doinel’s l’Eglise Gnostique, although he eventually left orders and titles behind after meeting Philippe.   Here is part of an essay by Sedir:

You, sweet kind dog put me to shame, I who vaunt myself of belonging to the Master of Shepherds. How many more tender-hearted attentions does my Master shower me with than I ever give you?  How ugly is my surly laziness compared to your touching zeal? I, who claim to bring back to the Unique Shepherd the lost sheep and the docile ewes, how far I am from your zeal, you kind loving dog with such soulful eyes! When shall I disregard, as you do, fatigue, sleep, hunger and thirst? When shall I love hard work? When shall I be able to inflame my indolence, to make  supple my humor, and concentrate my dispersed forces? When shall I be able to smile equally at indifference, at ingratitude, at insults?

Yet, I know that that which requires no exertion is worthless. The life of an idea exacts that one suffer for it. And when that idea is Jesus, what ought not we sacrifice to His Service? Nothing should appear too difficult. The hardships or difficulties we encounter earning our daily bread take last place at the end of the line. The struggle is nothing. Lack of success is nothing. Success is nothing. Only effusion of the effort from a heart fluidified by the flames of love counts.

I know all that; then why don’t I move ahead? Also, it is too late to change course: I am committed. Even if no one knew me as a servant of Christ, on the other side of the Veil there are phalanges of creatures yearning for the Light who, in anguish are awaiting the living water, the Uncreated source which is still enclosed within the rock of my heart.

“How long shall we have to toil, there is always new work to do! ” murmur some voices wearily. Does the dog ever weary of the long tedious treks as long as he feels he is useful to his master? Should we be less courageous in serving our Lord Christ? Love is measured by the patience we exercise.

If we love Jesus, any advice becomes useless: pride, confidence, methods, energy appear as nothing but words used by those who do not know how to love. To the one who dares because he loves, results are not important! There always is a result somewhere.

Let the sun shine within us. Let us smile at life; let us welcome difficulties: they constitute the most solid cement for building. They are precisely the labors for which we are most qualified. Let us relieve our Jesus of having to take care of us, that He might be able to rely upon us, once in a while.

Let us be aware that the weight of His formidable Hand upon our shoulders, be it but for the fraction of a bolt of lightning, will cause us to stumble, throwing us unto the ground. But you shall get up – we shall get up, though contusioned, yet with indicible joy in our heart, because in that ineffable second we shall know that we have been accepted among the faithful and tireless dogs of the Good Shepherd.  (Sedir Biography: The Man and His Work, pp.134-135)

Despite the somewhat labored translation from the original French (by Mme Zadah Guerin-McCaffery, who met Sedir in her younger days, and died at the venerable age of 96 in 2001), there’s a lot in this passage.  Maybe it will prove helpful, as we let the Good Shepherd train us, during this Lent.