Connecting with God through poetic articulations of lived, embodied experience–engaging texts from the Revised Common Lectionary for Christian churches, other biblical and spiritual texts, and evocations of the divine in rituals and other public events–always accepting lived reality as a primary source of divine revelation and mystery.
Reflection on Ascension Day and 7th Sunday of Easter, Year A
Textual focus: Acts 1:1-14, Psalm 47, Luke 24:44-53, John 17:1-11 Click here, and here, for biblical texts
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Is this it, Lord, is it the time You will restore the kingdom to Israel?
Oh the questions they asked as if he appeared on Fox News to outline the latest theory of how the world will end or at least the Roman Empire.
When Jesus left the disciples— modern minds wonder about Ascension, what principle of physics allows it— they looked up, what else can they do, we too thinking God is above, heaven and all angels dancing on high.
And God is up, but also down, nowhere God is not can pray everywhere— where is your upstairs room, or woods, office, hammock, mountain top, backyard, busy avenue to wait for God who is already here?
Prayer and much else comes to those who wait, not filling the air with our words as God prays in and through us; all is gift, Jesus says everything You have given me I give to them, no special Easter sale, we, living in post-Resurrection time, look up, down, around, world without end. He’s still here though he rose.
Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ is here. Christ will come again.
Worship at many temples, god of fossil fuel by Shell money at First National Bank sugar and fat by Dunkin’ Donuts country at Washington’s obelisk buff bodies by LA Fitness hard to stop bending the knee making offering when so many shrines and their gods beckon street corner after street corner mile by mile IHOP has more Sunday morning worshippers than St. John’s, First Baptist, and Trinity Lutheran together St. Walmart and Holy Costco compete across town lines of communicants approach the check-out altar awaiting blessing by swipe or insertion.
St. Paul would feel at home, so many monuments rise Athens-like, but Jesus might wonder if we can pause long enough to see God in the aisles or the eyes of credit card curates or understand the movement of love through those who stock shelves teach aerobics cook wait tables and drive-through windows
It takes courage to love when it’s not on the printed menu but we are not orphans, no place no time God is not.
About this poem . . . Paul’s commentary and caution to the Athenians, recorded in Acts, speaks from the aversion to idols grounded in the commandment given to Moses. It is easy to think that it is the Greeks or pagans of long ago who have idols, graven images. But there are many among us today. At the same time, these temples of commerce and more are also human gathering places, and God often shows up—probably is there all the time (as in Athens long ago).
Easter is not ended officially yet it seems long ago that we sang Alleluia! wore our Sunday best, feasted at two tables, maybe looked for a certain rabbit to entertain our children— do we still proclaim resurrection and if we do, are we ready to follow the risen Christ wherever he leads us?
We don’t know exactly where he is calling us though many claim to know— earnestly telling us they have the inside scoop because they have the key to scriptural truth, God not having said a new thing for several millennia—and we must learn to trust, sometimes what we see when following Jesus looks unfamiliar even strange but that does not make it less godly, after all Jesus was always going places, doing things those in the know knew were wrong.
God’s house is said to be roomy at least that is what Jesus said whether some of his latter day disciples still see it that way; no longer whites only on the main floor but nursing moms and their babes may be segregated to be sure no one glimpses part of a holy body and gays may want to be quiet lest they be asked to leave.
Going with Jesus is a challenge— he said we will do what he does and even greater things but when was your last miracle, and who knows if he really meant that even though he was not one for idle chatter or boasts— easier just to read and ride along and not get too engaged or eager nor too far in front where we might be tempted to look down like Peter and sink.
About this poem . . . .Did Easter really happen? Is it over? The church calendar says no, but what about in daily life?
It’s not just wolves that cause sheep to run in the wrong direction, fellow sheep do, too; some wolves pretend to be shepherds (see Sunday morning cable).
A good shepherd is needed in personal and community life, especially if we seek a world where people care for one another, where works and blessings of God are manifest.
Church is best known by its relationship with the Shepherd the earliest disciple-sheep knew, loved, and followed, but there are churches where he might not be welcome when he approves of selling their possessions and goods, and distributing proceeds to those in need.
Sounds un-American, socialist even— how we want to claim religion to support what we already do, who we already are, planting our national flag in God’s house as if God cares about lines on a map.
Following the Shepherd means going where he goes, not necessarily where we have been or want to go, trusting he knows where water and food are, how to avoid wolves and other dangers, protecting us and our lambs.
Abundant life is the promise, we do not want when we let him lead us there.
About this poem . . . All we like sheep have gone astray, haunting words from Isaiah and melody from Handel, point to the need for not just a leader but the Shepherd of the shepherds. The payoff is huge, but we cannot know for sure what it will look like, or how we will get there.
He always says “Good morning,” “Good afternoon” or simple “Hello” as he meets others on walks. “You never know what someone may want to tell you, so I like to prepare the way with courtesy and care,” he said in response to a friend who asked him about his habit. “It might be Jesus out for a walk, or someone else God has tapped with a message for me. Besides,” he continued, “I believe each of us is created in the image of God, so when I greet someone I feel I am greeting part of God. I really appreciate when God answers back.”
“Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, you just never know when a conversation will change your life,” he said. “One thing is sure, if you don’t engage others, the conversation will not happen. I am not in charge of which conversations God may use so I try to be open all the time.”
“Here’s the deal,” he said, “we pray often for God to be present. I wonder how God feels about that, when in my experience God already is here and now, everywhere, all the time. There is no place, no time, God is not; I figure my job is to be present, so God can get through to me when God wants. I even speak to some trees, the squirrels, flowers, birds. You just never know. Like those disciples, I might get a message from the food I eat—that’s why I give thanks, not just physical nourishment but also spiritual feeding. Anything, everything, is possible with God.”
About this poem . . . As a boy, I remember wondering what it must have felt like for the disciples walking on the road to Emmaus to be engaged by, and to engage, Jesus. Later, thanks to some wonderful spiritual teachers and moments of my own, I began a lifelong journey into understanding I can experience that closeness, too. I am still learning, and receiving.
Text focus: John 20:19-31 Click here for biblical texts
Huddled in a room too small for their number fearing for their lives keeping windows covered password required for entry; others hiding outside praying ICE agents do not see them or dogs smell them before night when they slip across the border trusting false IDS will be ready so they can find work a place to stay a new life to build in the land they hope will accept their bravery and award freedom; or gay men, lesbians, trans people hiding in closets, wanting life, not sure they have strength to claim wholeness.
An old story, fear driving people into hiding, authorities, angry crowds, vigilantes, pious rule-enforcers, fundamentalists of one sort or another, determined to tamp down freedom movements, different religions, new ideas, ways of living beyond poverty and despair— not unlike disciples behind locked doors the evening of the day Jesus rose, afraid they would be next on crosses.
But Jesus visited them to breathe Spirit into them give them hope. release them from their prison get on with sharing good news healing the sick witnessing to divine love.
So today’s question: whose prisons will we visit whose cells will we unlock which fugitives will we take in which disciples of love and hope and family and justice will we welcome to our churches, our homes to keep them safe, whose hearing will we attend to speak on behalf of mercy and justice for all or at least for one or two or more of those most vulnerable most afraid most at risk?
About this poem . . . . It is so easy to leave the disciples back there, knowing things will get better for them. But we have been, maybe are, afraid; and have received the Spirit too; what do we do with it?
We rise to celebrate, go to church, dinner, parade, egg hunt. Are we raised, too, on this New Year’s Day, life no longer the same, when we, like him, have been changed, given new spiritual garments, shown new paths as God’s beloveds to navigate a world that acts as if there is no God?
First Apostle Mary Magdalene hung out at the tomb, waiting— she feared all was lost but we know otherwise, God still active, Jesus keeps rising, Holy Spirit moving all the time, we can miss it if we stop witnessing, watching, being open to the latest— where are we waiting and what are we waiting for?
Signs of the times were not good then, not good now, powers of death and oppression and hate still strong, maybe stronger in age of alt-whatever, but during and after two dinners today— the open meal in the sanctuary and the ordinary one at home or church basement or restaurant— we can witness, we can follow Mary as she followed Jesus, share the good news, tell the world that life and love win, as they do when enough people show up to testify, when we wake up, show up stand up, act up, live up, speak up
so people still in their tombs,
captive to fear—
put on the love and hope and power
of God, and go forth singing
Jesus Christ is risen today,
knowing we are raised, we are pulled up,
ready or not we are made new,
A Meditation for the 7th Sunday of Easter (click here for biblical texts)
The cynic’s saying No good deed goes unpunished may have occurred to Paul in Philippi when— after making common cause with Lydia and friends—he ordered ugly spirits to leave a servant girl who irritated him with public pronouncements . We don’t know her feelings about being released from demon’s power but Paul and Silas find themselves on the wrong end of the law because her owners are enriched from her fortune-telling. Not for the first time or the last, emissaries of The Way find themselves stripped, beaten, and locked up.
But the story takes an unexpected turn to become one of the greatest liberation moments of all time, perhaps ultimate in nonviolent revolution, a model for how God works when we pray and get out of the way. Singing and praying in the night, as their fellow prisoners listen, some force—is it an act of nature or of God or simply the earnest, faithful power of their prayers and voices— creates a midnight disturbance, an earthquake we are told, that flings open every cell door without so much as leaving a trace of damage to the walls and foundation. Even more, no one injured, not even the jailer who had confined Paul and Silas to the worst of the puny accommodations. In gratitude he takes his new friends home for blessing and supper.
This is the way we want our world to work! Hebrews escape between the walls of the Red Sea but Egyptians are so overcome by the sight they do not pursue and thus do not die. Israelites advance into Canaan and locals are so glad to see them they throw a neighborhood party. In his determination to find the child born in Bethlehem Herod throws a giant party, treating all the children and their parents to dinner, games and magic show before sending them home. In our own version of Canaan (recreated in Palestine in 1948?), European settlers bring much wealth to share with natives, no attacks are made by either side, no reservations for native peoples are created and none die from diseases imported from Europe. And here’s one more: needing to import labor, recruiters go to Africa with brochures and bonuses for early signing, inviting locals onto cruise ships for the voyage across the Atlantic with secure, paying jobs and health care waiting here for those who choose the journey to try a New World.
And how about this? Police, leaders, citizens learn to sit down with young Black men, listen to what they need to gain self-respect, and then work to meet the need.
A utopia, you say?
But why not? Paul and Silas were two men, people like us. God is still God. Let’s start praying and singing (don’t worry about your voice, it is the intention that matters), and expecting the disturbance. The world is ready for change. It begins when we unlock whatever cell of despair, discouragement, and doubt where we have put ourselves or have allowed others with a different agenda to confine us.
What song will you sing? What disturbance do you seek?
About this poem . . .Acts of the Apostles continues to share stories of divine intervention (at least that is how I see an earthquake that does no damage) that challenge our rational minds. But is that not the job of faith, to move us beyond our ordinary selves into the realm of Spirit where anything may happen, especially if it intends or results in liberation for the oppressed?
A Meditation on the Ascension of the Lord, Year C (click here for biblical texts)
Does anyone observe Ascension Day today? Our Lord bade farewell to trusted comrades and rose in the sky, as one irreverent person said, like a balloon slowly drifting to heaven out of sight but not out of mind. Did this really happen or is it a way of expressing the feelings of disciples knowing Jesus was gone, like a young child watching a loved parent drive away after the divorce, the child not sure she will ever see the other again. And Jesus, did Jesus sob like the sad parent on his way up? But wait. Even if we observe, do we believe? And does it matter either way? To believe ascension is different from believing in Ascension; do the details, as we have them, have to be true in order to know, to know, that his friends felt his absence—they, unlike us, may not have known for sure he would still be around. Or do we know, do we trust that Jesus is here, even though he ascended? Or are we so jaded by science, by incessant needs for proof, scientific proof, that we cannot grant God the power to do this, to let Jesus rise right before their, our, eyes? And return, even if not in the flesh? If we cannot, and for many it must be so, then we are more powerful than God—or at least God can only do what we allow Him to do. What kind of God would that be?
Or can we understand with Karl Rahner that Ascension tells us that God intends flesh be redeemed and glorified? Flesh be glorified, is that even Christian? So many years of hearing about flesh mortified, flesh hung out to bleed and dry on crosses, flesh to be tamed, can we think God really loves us, and our flesh, enough to glorify and redeem it, not just spiritually but even physically? Is God reveling in our fleshiness? If not, what are we to make of incarnation, Jesus fleshing God better than any human, or as many say, the way only He can. Whatever. Doctrine does not guarantee salvation but following Jesus wherever he goes and being with him wherever he is calling us makes a good recipe for blessed, even holy, life.
About this poem . . .So many of us have lost connection with special holy days, and if we observe them at all we have moved them to Sunday, to avoid inconvenience in our daily lives filled with so much important business. Yet is the pain the disciples, men and women, humans all, must have felt, not worthy of remembrance? And what of our blessed, holy flesh: will we ascend someday? Will anyone remember?
Meditation for the 5th Sunday of Easter, Year C (click herefor biblical texts)
See I am making all things new; is this verse from the last of the Christian canonical biblical texts not the whole truth of the creation, byword of a God always on the move, seeking us (as Rabbi Heschel said long ago, the Bible is not the record of humans’ search for God but of God’s search for humanity) so that somehow She can get us to see that what we often claim, namely that we have received all God has for us between covers of an often translated humanly created set of texts, is only part of the divine story–the rest being God’s continuing revelation of all life.
So we see Peter receiving a strange hieroglyphic, a divine picture-text descending, not telling him to obey old rules devoutly maintained for generations, but to see the universe in a new way: what God has made clean, namely every creature like snakes, caterpillars, blue jays, frogs, wolves, bears, ants and anteaters, do not despise or negate. And that applies not just to dinner fare, but also to dinner companions— God’s table excludes no one, forget human rules of eligibility–God does not exclude no matter how much human authorities try to convince us and themselves otherwise.
And what about love? Does Jesus tell us to love but warn that certain restrictions apply? Or is love to be how we live as well as the sign of who we are? Many think he meant we do not need to love those who seek to harm us or those of whom we are frightened or those who don’t obey Ten Commandments, not wanting them chiseled on the courthouse wall, but he did not say that. Love as I have loved you is what he said. I love you, Herod, I love you, Pilate, and Judas, too, and the young man who walked away downcast because you did not want to give up your riches and privilege, I love you too. Not just Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the beloved disciple, and the others. No I love you all. All means all.
This no poetic license, despite objections that there is no evidence that he loved Herod or even those screaming for his execution. Where are the harsh words, where the angry screeds delivered in Gethsemane’s Garden? Did he keep the disciples up with harangues against he who betrayed him, did he allow Peter’s sword to have the last word or did he heal the wound and say no to more violence? And did he tell Herod he was evil or call for a revolt against his authority? He did not feel bound by the king’s rules, but he did that without disrespect to the person, and that is the ground in which love can thrive–you must respect the personhood of another in order to love them (if only Congress could remember that love comes first, before scoring points against those with whom you disagree).
About this poem . . .The account in Acts 11 of a new teaching–What God has made clean, you must not call profane—is a pivotal moment in the development of what eventually became Christianity. But so often we cling to the idea that revelation is over, that God has nothing new for us, that we have nothing new to learn, that to be faithful requires only that we repeat what was repeated to us. That is a God neither Jesus, nor Peter, nor Paul, would recognize.