Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thoughts on the "Vineyard"

Fairchild Gardens, Miami, Florida

Some passing thoughts on the "Vineyard" as I prepare for Sunday's sermon. . .

Isaiah understood so deeply the joy and wonder of God and God's gift as he sang his love-song. The Garden of the Beloved was a place that good fruit would be produced, not sour grapes; where justice not bloodshed was to be expected; where righteousness was found in place of cries from the oppressed. A beautiful garden of good works, justice, and righteousness.

. . . a place of good works where there are the hungry to feed, the homeless to shelter, the sick to heal, the lonely to comfort, the frightened to hold, the outcasts to bring in, the children to teach, and the elderly to care for. . . .

This vineyard is also designed to be a place of justice where we shall not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to the crying needs of the world around us, but rather be the eyes, the ears, and the voices of peace and what is right for all. We dare not be complacent about the inequities of our society. In this Garden of the Beloved, this world (nation and church) in which we live and which God has given us to care for, we are called to bring all of the energy and influence we have to stop wars, to end prejudice, to heal hatred, and to bring about a cessation of the social infirmities which demean and destroy the creatures of God. Here we are called to reclaim our prophetic voices, to speak in the name of the Beloved, to proclaim justice, to call to task the leaders of the nations and the communities in which we live to provide for the dignity and well-being of all people and all of creation. . . .

Called to be a community of righteousness, not the smugness or the arrogance of the self-proclaimed "saved," but to be numbered with those who accept the need of God's forgiveness and the forgiveness of one another and who, then, live as forgiven people in an intimate, living, loving, dynamic, growing relationship with God and one another. . . .

Only in a covenant relationship with God and with one another can this community in which we live be who God would have us be, and do what God would have us do.

This is only possible to the extent to which we are prepared not to be conformed to the things of this world but rather to allow the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to be at work in every part of us--in every aspect of our lives so that we may live into the will of the Holy One and seek to express what is good, acceptable, perfect. . . .

Blessings and peace,


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Active Life?

I must say, I really love this quote from Merton.  I suppose it speaks deeply to my desire and/or attitude, at least at this point in my life -- a time when I am seeking to recover my "right mind."  Most certainly, we all need to find something of this balance and harmony between the active life and the inner life to find wholeness and maybe even a smattering of holiness . . .

From The Way of Chuang Tzu:

"Those who are caught in the machinery of power take no joy except in activity and change--the whirring of the machine!  Whenever an occasion for action presents itself, they are compelled to act.  They cannot help themselves.  They are inexorably moved, like the machine of which they are a part.  Prisoner in the world of objects, they have no choice but to submit to the demands of matter.  They are pressed down and crushed by external forces, fashion, the market, events, public opinion.  Never in a whole lifetime do they recover their right mind!  The active life!  What a pity."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Sign of Contradiction

Thomas Merton spoke decades ago of the arrogance ("flippancy") of some Christians which make the sign of the Cross a sign of exclusiveness and damnation, which contradicts everything that the Gospels tell us of the true nature and intention of Christ.  This is especially apparent in many parts of contemporary, fundamentalist, "conservative" Christian groups which are having a huge impact on some areas of today's politcal world in this country.  Merton wrote in Raids on the Unspeakable:

"The Cross is the sign of contradiction . . . but the magicians keep turning the Cross to their own purposes.  Yes, it is for them, too, a sign of contradiction: the awful blasphemy of the religious magician who makes the Cross contradict mercy!  This, of course, is the ultimate temptation of Christianity!  To say that Christ has locked all the doors, given one answer, settled everything and departed, leaving all life enclosed in the frightful consistency of a system outside of which there is seriousness and damnation, inside of which there is the intolerable flippancy of the saved--while nowhere is there any place left for the mystery of the freedom of divine mercy, which alone is truly serious and worthy of being taken seriously."

I am convinced that the sign of the Cross is a direct contradiction of the self-righteous smugness and exclusiveness of some who claim to be Christian.  For me, the Cross is the sign of God's all inclusive love and forgiveness -- the sign under which we can choose to live as a worshipping community of those who seek to live in the awareness of God's love for all of us, where there are no outcasts. 

The sign and symbol of the Cross should point to our willingness to let God be at the heart of our life together, forming all of our actions, our decisions, the use of our resources, how we vote, and our care, not only for one another and those we like, but even our enemies, not allowing evil or revengefulness to rule our hearts, but to conquer evil with mercy and kindness.

Those who live under the sign of the Cross are those who are together called to be a people of radical hospitality and inclusive love and mercy -- a sacred community where all are welcome and invited to enter and find God.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Running From God

The following comment on Jonah 1:3 is from the Pastor of a local congregation here in Shannondale that I thought worth repeating:
Running from God is the dumbest thing you could ever do. But have you ever done it? The funny thing is after you run as far as you can and you finally turn around and look, He’s still right there! The Psalmist said, “Where can I flee from your presence?” The answer is Nowhere! Why do we try to run from God? Well, in Jonah’s case it was because he was afraid. He was afraid of what he had to do, where he had to go, how it might turn out. He was afraid of God’s kindness. Why would he be afraid of God’s kindness? Well he was afraid that God was kinder than he was. And on that point Jonah was right. I’m afraid that God may want me to show more compassion, more patience, more sensitivity, more understanding, more love than I have to give. I’d rather run away from that, then get choked by the reality of what it means to die to my self and be a servant to others. Love my enemies? Bless those that curse me? Turn the other cheek? That’s just not in my nature. And God says, “I know it’s not. That’s part of the problem. You’ve got a sinful nature.” The solution isn’t to run from God, as if somehow that will make things better. The solution is to run to God, to run right into his will and if the reality of God’s will chokes the life out of your self centered, me oriented, sinful nature, well… all the better. The bible says it this way in Colossians 3, “Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” Jonah was afraid of God’s kindness. What he didn’t count on was that God was too kind to let him go. Just when he thought he had outrun God, he ran right into Him. The longer you try to run from God, the longer the process will take. You may find yourself in a storm. You may find yourself in a boatload of trouble. But, Jonah 4 says that God is "gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love." Our Father desires our attitudes to be in alignment with his attributes. The longer you run, the longer it takes. So let me encourage you, Whatever assignment God has placed before you don’t run from it, run to it. And let the transforming work of God's Spirit begin in you.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dana Buchanan 1960 - 2011

THE REVEREND DANA E. BUCHANAN, 51, died on September 15, 2001, after a long battle with cancer.  Dana was ordained a Deacon in the Diocese of Virginia in February.  She was a faithful, valiant, and compassionate servant of God and God's people in the church and the world.  There was a wonderful "Celebration of the Resurrection" for her at Saint James' Church in Leesburg, Virginia, on September 24, 2011.  Dana had planned most of the details of her service over a year ago.  Included was a piece she had written and had been set to music which was one of the Communion anthems:

"Embrace Us"

We are yours, be with us now and ever;
we take the cup, we take the bread this table offers.
Bitter sweet is the taste, love so deep your heart breaks;
Touch our souls, you long for us; tears we shed you wipe them dry.

Living God, draw us to thee, three yet one.
Make us servants dwell within, hear our prayer.
Your breath we feel, we take it in. Your Spirit come to us again.
At your feet we lay our sins; mercy flows, then life begins.

Silent conversation flows between us.  Walk with us, live in us, remember.
Anoint us, embrace us, fill our hearts with your love.
Anoint us, embrace us, gift of love, gift of God's grace.

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more,
neither sighing, but life everlasting.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Kenneth Leech

I have only recently become aware of a collection of Kenneth Leech's writings entitled, "Prayer and Prophecy: The Essential Kenneth Leech," edited [2009] by David Bunch and Angus Ritchie. This is a great collection for those who admire Leech's work and a helpful introduction to his teaching for those who have not read him.

Many of us were captured by him in his great book, "Soul Friend." He has over the years written other really good works on spirituality, prayer, theology, prophetic ministry, justice, and religious action in the public arena. As much as any contemporary writer, Leech has carefully and firmly made the connection between the inner life of prayer and contemplation and the vitally important place of the prophetic voice in contemporary Christianity, writing that these "are not two alternative ways of Christian witness: they are inseparable in a healthy Christian life, and history shows that where they are not held together, both decay."

 The inner life of prayer and deep spirituality is the only genuine foundation for the active prophetic ministry to which we are called as the church and as individuals. Prayer and radical action are two sides of the same person of faith who longs for the wholeness and the well being of God's people, the proclamation of the Gospel; and for their own desire to continue on this marvelous, mystical journey towards the Holy.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Silence and the Sabbath

St. Augustine of Hippo, in his "Sermon 8" on the Third Commandment -- keeping the Sabbath holy -- wrote about stopping, being still, and listening:

"The third commandment enjoins quietness of heart, tranquility of mind.  This is holiness.  Because here is the Spirit of God.  This is what a true holiday means, quietness and rest.  Unquiet people recoil from the Holy Spirit.  They love quarrelling.  They love argument.  In their restlessness they do not allow the silence of the Lord's Sabbath to enter their lives.  Against such restlessness we are offered a kind of Sabbath in the heart. As if God were saying, 'Stop being so restless, quieten the uproar in your minds.  Let go of the idle fantasies that fly around in your head.'  God is saying, 'Be still and see that I am God' (Ps. 46)."

This quote was discovered in Martin Laird's book, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation (Oxford Press 2006).   I recommend this book to give to those who are seeking to live with more of a contemplative awareness and practice in the midst of their busy and active lives.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Contemplation and Action

To Be or To Do?
By Joan Chittister, OSB.

If there is a temptation in the Christian life, it is probably contemplation. Physicians talk to us about “stress”; psychologists talk to us about “burnout”; sociologists talk to us about achieving “space”; educators talk to us about reflection and “process.” And we all come lusting for a cave to crawl into to do it, or at least a little cottage on a hill overlooking the water, or even a small log cabin in the woods. Any place as long as it’s someplace appropriate; some place not here; some place simple but comfortable, of course. A place for my books, my typewriter, my tape recorder. Just me and my God. Or is it me and the gods I’ve made?

If there is a sin in the Christian life it is probably action. We talk about “strategizing” and “mobilizing” and “lobbying” and “renewing” and “aligning” and “reforming” as if it were all up to structures; as if action were enough. We do and do and do. And there’s the problem. We set out to do something that the world needs, instead of to be something that the world needs. We set out to change instead of to illuminate. And we wonder why, with all the changes, nothing ever changes. After all the changes come, there is still the fighting, still the poverty, still the greed, still the exploitation.

Why? Because deep down inside where it counts, there is still the anger, still the arrogance, still the attitudes of control. Except that now I’m the one in control. The Chinese wrote: “Now people exploit people but after the revolution it will be just the opposite.”

The contemplative questions for people of action in our day are: Who will be and also do? How can we do and also be? The problem of this culture is that we make natural enemies out of prayer and transforming action when the two are really Siamese twins: either without the other is incomplete.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Prayer of Oscar Romero

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.  Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.  No statement says all that could be said.  No prayer fully expresses our faith.  No confession brings perfection.  No pastoral visit brings wholeness.  No program accomplishes the church’s mission.  No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.  We plant the seeds that one day will grow.  We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. 
We lay foundations that will need further development.  We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.  We are prophets of a future not our own.

Richard Rohr On Prayer

Prayer is getting in touch with reality, letting it speak in us, and incarnating the word which comes to us.  We let it happen in our lives.  Saying yes to God in prayer . . . means changing our lives in accordance with what we have heard.  It means engaging that word with our whole being, and letting it alter our existence.  For prayer is a dialogue between life and life, between divine life and human life, between life of the Spirit, and the life of the flesh.  Unless we enflesh the work of God and let it become incarnate in us, it cannot become real in the world.

Richard Rohr

Monday, September 19, 2011

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

From Gandhi the Man: How One Man Changed Himself to Change the World by Eknath Easwaran:

"Perfect love," the Bible says, "casts our fear."  Ahimsa [in the Hindu and Buddhist tradition, the principle of nonviolence toward all living things] is perfect love.  It is the farthest thing from mere sentimentality; it is a lifelong challenge, a lifelong battle within oneself, full of challenges and trial so severe that those who tread the path of love in every religious tradition have called it sharper than a razor's edge.  Gandhi used to put the matter bluntly: When another person's welfare means more to you than your own, when even his life means more to you than your own, only then can you say you love.  Anything else is just business, give-and-take.  To extend this love even to those who hate you is the farthest limit of ahimsa.  It pushes at the boundaries of consciousness itself.

Loneliness Vs. Solitude

Henri J.M. Nouwen, in Reaching Out, which I believe is one of his greatest books, spoke to the very important distinction between "loneliness" and "solitude" which is often confused in the minds of many who take seriously their quest of the inner life.  Many run from seeking an encounter with the Holy within, out of fear of being alone and coming face-to-face with themselves, or that which they may not understand.  By being willing to live only in the active, outer world, deprives one of the riches of the soul which we discover in the inner quiet, while on this mysterious, mystical journey towards God.

Godly living is not a matter of "either/or" -- active life or contemplative life -- but rather to live in a balance of action and prayer.  Each nurtures the other and, as the liberation theologian, Segundo Galilea, writes: "Authentic Christian contemplation, passing through the desert, transforms contemplatives into prophets, and heroes of commitment and militants into mystics."

Nouwen wrote: "To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude. This requires not only courage but a strong faith. As hard as it is to believe that the dry desolate desert can yield endless varieties of flowers, it is equally hard to imagine that our loneliness is hiding unknown beauty. The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play."

Friday, September 16, 2011

Merton on Solitude

The Gift of Solitude
Today, more than ever, we need to recognize that the gift of solitude is not ordered to the acquisition of strange contemplative powers, but, first of all, to the recovery of one’s deep self, and to the renewal of an authenticity which is presently twisted out of shape by the pretentious routines of a disordered togetherness.
Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action

From The Dark Night of the Soul by Jerry May


If there was such a thing as a divine suggestion box, I’d suggest that God make things easier.  Or if not easier, at least clearer.  I would love to close this book with something more substantial than empty faith, unattached love, and hopeless hope.  I would love to be able to make practical suggestions about how to identify and claim the transformative qualities of the dark night in your own life.  I yearn to offer something that would really make the hard times easier and bring a definite sense of meaning to the unavoidable sufferings of life.  It would be so wonderful to be able to prescribe effective methods or understandings that could help us get a grip on our destinies.  But the nature of the dark night does not permit that.  It comes as gift and in obscurity, as and when it will, taking us where we would not and could not go on our own.  And though in truth we say yes to it, we have little or no control over it.  The reason for the obscurity, John says, is to keep us safe, so we don’t stumble because we think we know where we’re going.  I do want to trust that.

All we have in our own hands is our desire, which is at once our prayer, our yes, and our hope.  For me, in the good times, hope is synonymous with trust.  I move into the next moment with confidence and an expectations of goodness.  In the hard times, hope takes on an increasing feeling of risk.  I hope for the best, but the next moment feels uncertain, even scary.  And in the worst of times, the hope and desire may be reduced to a bare ember, so faint as to be almost undetectable.  But it is always there, and sooner or later we are drawn to it.  I believe that with repeated experiences of touching that desire, we do learn to recognize it, claim it, and know it as who we really are.  Maybe, in a way, that is a kind of progress.

Gerald G. May, M.D., The Dark Night of the Soul.

9/11/11 at Trinity Cathedral, Miami

SEPTEMBER 11, 2011
The Very Reverend Donald W. Krickbaum
Dean Emeritus

MICAH 4:1-5 – MATTHEW 5:1-12

Where we you on September 11, 2001 when you heard of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?  I am quite sure that virtually everyone here this evening could remember exactly the details of that moment ten years ago.  I was in our house in Miami Shores getting ready to leave for a Diocesan Clergy Conference when a friend called telling me to turn on the TV that a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers.  Just minutes after I turned it on, I watched as the second plane flew into the other Tower.  We all were shocked and disbelieving as we realized this was no accident but a terrible attack on the United States.  Within a few minutes we saw the smoke streaming up from the area of the Pentagon from the TV view in Washington, and then came the announcement of the plane going down in Pennsylvania.  Our day of terror began and has continued to impact us greatly still ten years later.  The years of fear, anger, retaliation, war, and the disruption of our corporate social, political and economic life have wreaked havoc on us and we are still reeling from it all today.
But something else happen at that time, something that did not go unnoticed.  Throughout the remainder of that terrible day and the immediate days following, people were streaming into the Cathedral and other churches and places of worship all over the country.  We had several special services and the place was packed.   It was just the next day after September 11, 2001, or the following day, that a reporter from the Miami Herald called and asked me why so many people were flocking to the churches since that terrible terrorist attack on our country.  I paused a second, surprised by the question, but realizing the importance of what she was asking, I said, “Why, where else would we go?”  She said, “But where was God when the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were struck, and the plane went down in Pennsylvania?”  Without a pause, I answered, “God was right there in the Twin Towers, and in the Pentagon, and onboard those planes.”  God is, indeed, present with us in every moment and instinctively people knew they needed to seek God’s presence and to find strength from one another in those dark days.
As the prophet Micah wrote, “. . . the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains . . . People shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the house of God.’”  [Micah 4:1-5]  The music this evening speaks profoundly to what is taking place here in this House of God.  A pupil of Faure [Nadia Boulanger] spoke of the impact of the Requiem: “No external effect detracts from its sober expression of grief: no disquiet or agitation disturbs its profound meditation, no doubt tarnishes its unassailable faith, its quiet confidence, its tender and peaceful expectation.”  As a friend said to me, “We do not always understand, but we still implore, ‘Pie Jesu Domine.’”
Tragedies, violence, disasters, pain, suffering, or terrorism, are not God’s action, nor God’s punishment (like one of the erstwhile presidential candidates suggested the other day), nor God’s will.  God is not the author of pain or suffering.  No!  Absolutely not!  Nor has God forgotten us (even though it may seem like it, at times), but, rather, God is in the midst of it all – good times and bad – God is in the present moment.  God is present with the victims of wretched storms, catastrophic illnesses, spiritual, mental, and physical suffering, holding us all very closely. God says, “I AM.”
We often try to find a reason for what goes on.  Sometimes it is just easier to blame it on God. There is a story about Saint Teresa of Avila, probably apocryphal, that while riding in her carriage they came to a stream they had to ford. As they crossed, the carriage flipped over and tossed Teresa into the icy water.  She is said to have looked up and said, “God, if this is the way you treat your friends, it is no wonder you have so few.”
Obviously, there is much we simply do not understand, but let me tell you what I do know.  What I do know is the reality of the presence of God at all times and in all places.  Even in our fears, pain and suffering, God is!  There lies our faith, our confidence, and our hope and expectation of which we sing tonight.
All people of faith and people whose faith is very marginal, even those who have lost their faith or have no faith at all, come to a time when they question where to turn -- seeking answers for those things for which there seems to be no answer – all of those “whys.”  Our real need, realized at the time or not, is to find the grace and comfort of the companionship of each other and to be in the presence of that which is Holy.  That is what was going on in those days following 9/11.  The heart of what we are about is to be a community of faith and love which exists solely in the reality that God is in the midst of our lives.
Micah, said, “. . . God shall arbitrate between many peoples and strong nations, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, and nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”  “Blessed are the peacemakers,” said Jesus. [Matthew 5:1-12]  Obviously, we have yet much to learn.  Saint Paul said, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection . . . Serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints, extend hospitality to strangers . . . Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly . . . if [there are those who] are hungry, feed them . . . overcome evil with good.” [Romans 12:1-8]
Our commitment as a people of God, is all about the importance of mutual respect, personal commitment, renewal, and reaching out to others, built on this primary ethic – LOVE.  This foundation will drive us into the world where God is and where God desires us to touch the lives of those who hunger and thirst in any manner.  Let’s remember, always, that the standard for our life together is to live with FAITH, HOPE, and LOVE – prophetic faith, reconciling hope, and loving care.
A biography of Bishop John Hines, who was a great, prophetic, and controversial Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the 1960’s and 1970’s, was entitled, Granite on Fire, which is wonderfully descriptive of the man.  That is exactly the way the church should be described – “granite on fire” – a rock of faith that catches fire with the power of the Holy Spirit; a place to stand where hope is not some vague wishing, but a solid foundation on which we may always count on God; and where we, above all else, come to know God’s love and to live in that love with one another. 
We have not always gotten it right, but it does mean that is the road we must travel.  This love is the willingness to let God be at the heart of our life together, forming all of our actions, our decisions, the use of our resources, our care not only for one another and those we like, but even our enemies, not allowing evil to rule our hearts, but to conquer evil with good.
This means that we always seek to contribute to the needs of the life of all people everywhere, and that we, as a community of faith, are called to be a radically hospitable and sacred place for all to enter and find God.