The vocal ministry I’d like to hear at meeting

April 13, 2014 by

Meeting began at 11 a.m. today, and the first message came at 11:08.  By the time the ten or twelve messages were over I was feeling quite alone, and even slightly sick, wishing I had a second community to pray with to prepare me for worship with this community, this big unruly family of Friends I love that I’ve been worshiping with for twenty-five years.  I couldn’t leave them unless God reassigned me – they’re my tribe.  But I’d looked for food, and gotten sawdust and sand.  I longed to hear something said among them that I wasn’t hearing, and the Holy Spirit was not opening my mouth to say it myself.

Late in the afternoon, after business meeting, after I’d parted from everyone, I seemed to feel the Lord urging me to write down what it was that I’d wanted to hear, so I spent most of my subway ride home writing a first draft of what became… this:

“The reign of God is at hand!  And Jesus Christ, who brought us this wonderful news, repeated it again and again, sealed it with His blood and witnessed to its truth by rising from the dead, has assured us that He is with us always, even to the end of the world; so that if the reign of God was at hand when He opened the eyes of the blind, fed the five thousand, and forgave harlots and publicans their sins, then so is the reign of God at hand today!  Brothers and sisters, do you know what this means, this reign of God?

“It means that the reign of self is over!  No more domination of the weak by the strong, the poor by the rich, no more ‘survival of the fittest’ where each has to fight to get his own way and some get trampled, because God loves everyone and can be trusted to provide what’s best for each!  That means that Love rules, and not fear, in the kingdom we inhabit – where, as God’s beloved children, no longer competing with one another for scarce goods, we ourselves reign with God!  What though there still be sword, hunger, plague and iron bars endangering the body in this world of suffering – God gives love, trust, courage, and guidance enough to sustain the soul through anything this world can inflict!  Which is to say that God gives us new eyes to see with, eyes that can see the ocean of light covering the ocean of darkness.

“How may we know that the reign of God is at hand?  By this: that as we ourselves forgive trespasses, we can feel the dirtiness, the shame, the guilt of our own past trespasses fall away, and the wellsprings of our own sin cease to flow.  And by this: that just as Jesus gave his disciples in ancient Galilee the authority to heal the sick, rebuke evil with power, and call the troubled to a thorough and effective repentance, so He gives us that authority today also, if only we will own our discipleship and devote ourselves to it!  Oh, my brothers and sisters! This is that new heart of flesh with the law graven on it that the Hebrew prophets promised us!  This is what it means to be born again as a new creature in Christ!  And it delights our Heavenly Parent to give this to us, if we will only open up our souls to accept it!  Hallelujah!  Brothers, sisters, open up your souls!”

A Personal Mission Statement

March 14, 2014 by

God is love, and calls us all to forgive all offenses and adopt God’s will as our own.

I’ve also discerned that God calls me to preach and exemplify this call to repentance of our selfish ways, and bear witness to the new life that follows on our being forgiven and healed from estrangement from God, which is this common fear-dominated condition called sin. I experience and understand this new life as a life in Jesus Christ, who lives both in God and among us, guiding, directing, warning, empowering, gathering, healing and perfecting all who will come to Him, whether they call Him by that name or some other.

I’ve discerned that I’m called to serve Jesus Christ, in His name and power, as a teacher of His gospel, persuader, comforter, hearer of confessions, and conveyer of His forgiveness and His healing. As I understand my calling, I’m to do this chiefly, but not exclusively, within the Religious Society of Friends.

I ask the help of a spiritual care committee to help me grow in this ministry, and to correct me if I should stray from it.

Jesus Calls Us to Die to Self

March 4, 2014 by

At a recent gathering of Friends, I was given approximately this message to share with the gathered body: “The inwardly known Christ, whatever we may each call Him, Her, or It, calls us to die to self. This sounds dreadful and forbidding, but it is not. Jesus said ‘my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’ (Matt. 11:30), and He has ways of making it so, amazing ways, as I can testify from experience. Whatever Jesus calls us to do, He gives us the courage, wisdom, love, forgiveness, humility, words to speak, whatever it is that we needed to do what we have to do and didn’t think we could ever do.

“A Friend earlier expressed the concern that we might decline or die out as the Religious Society of Friends, lose our meeting houses and all the trappings of our group identity; but if this were to happen, the Holy Spirit would still call us to worship and witness together, because the call to die to self will sound so long as there are selves to die, and souls called to die to self will always need one another’s company and encouragement, and as we die to self we are gathered into a larger body, which functions through us as a vine through its branches (John 15:5).

“As we die to self, we become transparent vehicles for Christ, and that makes us attractive to anyone looking for Christ, who said ‘I will draw all people to me’ (John 12:32). As embodiments of the living Christ, we draw them from what is false, and transitory, and unsatisfying, to what is true, and eternal, and satisfying forever.”

At the next break, a Friend asked me where the call to die to self is found in the words of Christ. Evidently fatigued from a day of note-taking, I drew an utter blank and had to tell him so; but then a bystander came to my aid and said, “Perhaps you can find it in ‘If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me’” (Luke 9:23-24). That helped me remember “He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he who hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (John 12:25; cf. Matt. 10:39, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24). But I resolved at that time to search for more evidences of that teaching in Scripture, for I was sure they were there to be found.

And here’s what I’ve come up with over the intervening days – not an exhaustive list of proof-texts, but rather a set of general impressions:

1. Hidden in plain sight is Jesus’ model prayer (Matt. 6:9-13), which begins “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done.” We can’t say these words and truly mean them until we’re ready to relinquish all our own claims to our own kingdom and our own will. Our own agenda, our own efforts to control things, our own self-promoting schemes and little self-gratifications, all must be laid on God’s altar and only taken back up again if and as God permits.

2. The twin commandments, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Deut. 6:5), and to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18), on which, Jesus said, “hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40), are not really possible to fulfill without such a “dying to self” that you will never again put your wants ahead of God’s wants, or someone else’s wants. Every scheme to import pleasure and export pain must be abandoned; every competition that pits “my interest” against “your interest” must pass the test of compatibility with love of God and love of neighbor.

3. This, of course, requires as thorough a change of heart as Adam and Eve underwent (in the other direction) when they turned from unity with the will of God to defiance of the will of God.  God promises us such a change of heart, from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh, in Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26; Jeremiah 31:33 promises a new covenant, in which God’s law will be put in our inward parts and written in our hearts, and we shall have “one heart” (Jer. 32:39).

4. Can we do this by our own efforts? No more than we can perform heart-surgery and be the patient at the same time. Therefore the New Testament is rich in metaphors of death and rebirth into a God-given new life: Jesus tells Nicodemus that “a man must be born again” (John 3:3), and Philip and Andrew, that a corn of wheat must die in order to bring forth fruit (John 12:24). In Matthew and Luke, Jesus tells a would-be disciple, “Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead” (Matt. 8:22; cf. Luke 9:60). Paul writes repeatedly about our being “baptized” into Christ’s death, so that we might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4), risen with Christ and forgiven our sins (Col. 2:12-13), “quickened with Christ when we were dead in sins” (Eph. 2:5) – “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).

5. In such cases we have put off or “mortified” the sin-addicted “old man” (Rom. 6:6, Eph. 4:22, Col. 3:9) and become a “new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15). Effort, of course, is still needed; we are still tempted. But we now live in Christ, and He in us (John 17:20-26); and “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

6. Lest anyone think that these death-and-rebirth tropes are all theological inventions of Paul’s, or John’s, not rooted in the teachings of the “real” Jesus of the synoptic gospels, consider what the Jesus of the synoptics might have meant when He called on people to “repent.”  One could, of course, “repent” a minor offense. But repentance in its larger sense, metanoia, was not merely feeling sorry about the sins one had committed; neither would weeping, fasting, or doing violence to oneself  count as repentance (Heb. 12:17). John the Baptist insisted (Matt. 3:8, Luke 3:8) that sinners “bring forth fruits worthy of repentance:” one had to show that one had repented by changed behavior.  In fact repentance was not something one could “do” by oneself, but had to be granted as a divine gift (Acts 5:31, 11:18). It brought forgiveness of sins in its train (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38, 3:19); without it, one might die a meaningless death, like the hapless victims of the Tower of Siloam (Luke 13:3, 5), or the  fool that built his house on a foundation of sand (Matt. 7:26-27).

I am persuaded that many of the sayings and parables of Jesus are rightly read as calls to die to self; but whether I’m right or wrong in this, I urge my readers to consider whether the living Christ that knocks at the door of their heart (Rev. 3:20) calls them to die to self, so that they can move on to a life in which God provides for them like the lilies of the field (Matt. 6:28), and those who have left house and family for Christ’s sake, and the gospel’s, may receive them back a hundredfold (Mark 10:29). His yoke is easy, and His burden light; but first we must come under it by dying to the unyoked life.

The Glorious Gospel and the Friends’ Meeting in the Shadow

February 12, 2014 by

I just came back from an “Eldering in the 21st Century” workshop at Powell House, feeling both a heightened sense of responsibility for my meeting’s condition and an increased competence to help it, so long as I remain faithful to the Lord’s guidance. At the heart of my renewed hopefulness is renewed joy in the goodness of God, whose intent, I believe, is the restoration of all His (Her, Its) beloved children to innocence and bliss. (This particular view of God’s intent didn’t come up during the workshop, but a theme was “Ministry is anything that makes God’s love more visible.”) It doesn’t matter that many of my fellow Quakers may not share my trust in a God with personhood and a will, or my notions about a Savior, Jesus Christ, carrying out that will. Neither does it matter that many of my fellow Quakers seem wiser than I, more dedicated to eradicating evil and relieving suffering. My job is to love them, support them, pray for them, and do my best to live by the Lord’s glorious gospel, trusting Jesus to do the rest.

Let’s talk a little about that glorious gospel. Lately I’ve been struck by its central paradox: on the one hand, it’s “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10), from a God who is Love Itself (1 John 4:8), and we don’t need to have the “right” theology in order to benefit from it. Hallelujah! But on the other hand, it requires us to walk a path that’s hard to find and leads through a narrow gate, “for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat” (Matt. 7:13-14). No, it’s not bad-cop Paul who makes heaven sound hard for us sinners to get into while good-cop Jesus gathers little children to His bosom and welcomes everybody. It’s Jesus Himself who warns us that we have to repent, take up our cross, forgive everyone everything, and be ready to lose our life for the truth’s sake, or else risk being cast into an outer darkness where there’s wailing and gnashing of teeth, (In Matthew’s gospel, we’re ejected into it; in John’s, we choose it freely because we’ve come to love darkness rather than light.) Now, these demands are just plain scary. And yet what better news could we hear than that we needn’t fear death, or any of this world’s threats and dangers, but can have the everlasting support of an all-forgiving and almighty Creator who will wipe away all tears from our eyes? That’s the paradox: the gospel is wonderful beyond words, and yet it asks so much of us that we’re not sure we can do it – nor even that we want to.

The natural reaction seems to be to reach for the science textbook or the newspaper and remind ourselves that there’s no general agreement that God exists. OK, we won’t go that far. But let’s spend our Sunday mornings at a house of worship where folks all hold the right values, but where we won’t be called sinners and told to repent. Here’s one: Anytown Monthly Meeting! We can go deep into silence together here, come out refreshed, and then collaborate together in doing good works: no creeds, no doctrines, no study of scripture unless we choose it.

The problem is that we bring our shadow with us wherever we go, so no sooner do we start to sink into that delicious silence than we’re distracted by our own frivolous inner chattering, or troubled over some bad thing we did, or worse, jarred out of the stillness by someone whose self-important babbling is spoiling our worship! Once again we’ve come to meeting hoping for a taste of paradise, and instead got a taste of the darkness that makes us gnash our teeth. Why can’t our meeting go deep in worship, why can’t we come away feeling that we’ve met God and been blessed, baptized, transformed by the encounter? What’s wrong?

The first thing I’d warn against is the thought that a failed meeting for worship is “no big deal; these things just happen.” What? If our elderly mother had promised to make a special trip to meet us at the airport and we didn’t find her there, wouldn’t we panic? How much more should we be concerned if our Heavenly Parent failed to show up for a rendezvous! And the second thing I’d warn against is blaming the failure on the spiritual condition of the others in the meeting. Jesus had something to say about finding the mote in our brother’s eye (Matt. 7:3-5). If the voice of ego is driving out the voice of God all around us in the meeting room, what is it that’s happening in our own heart? Third, it should go without saying that if we haven’t been practicing daily during the week, we have no business going on stage at Carnegie Hall on Sunday: finally, I notice, more Friends are starting to query one another about daily spiritual practices. This is a good thing.

But I haven’t yet been hearing Friends query one another about coming to meeting with unclean consciences. Perhaps the dirtiest thing we bring in the meeting house door with us is unforgiveness, grudges, eagerness to hear gossip that will allow us to despise our scapegoat all the more. We also, many of us, bring in a recent history of complicity with evil – the things we’ve done for our employers, and our employers’ clients, during the week; the things we’ve let our government do, in our name, without protesting them; the waste of the earth’s resources we’ve been party to; the profits our retirement funds have made from evil investments. In these things we may feel helpless, because we have rent to pay and children to raise and see no alternative to living as we do, but have we prayed to God for deliverance from these things, this devilish economy of importing pleasure and exporting pain? Have we asked God’s forgiveness for these things that we know are contrary to the common good? Then there are the lies we may have told – oh, perhaps not to our family members, but what about the ones on our income tax returns? Or the cruel things we may have said in jest?

The subject of lying leads directly to its twin, the secrets we keep. What is it that we would not like anyone to know about our inner life – anyone, ever? If there’s anything like that festering in there, then we’re one of the poor, mad self-damned who “love darkness rather than light, and avoid the light to avoid exposure” (John 3:19-20). This attitude puts us in bondage to the enemy of God, for God is the one who wants to liberate us from all such toxic separateness. Are we walking in the meeting house door with such an attitude? Then how can we worship God?

Finally, if we’re still wondering why we find our unprogrammed meetings so full of junk ministry, let’s ask ourselves what junk we’ve put into our own minds over the past week. Have we masturbated to the accompaniment of fantasies that would be sinful if acted out in reality? (By “sinful” I don’t mean just “forbidden in the Bible” but really sinful, in a way our own heart can recognize: adulterous, predatory, degrading.) Are we quite sure that we’re not secretly praying to be allowed to act them out in reality? Have we asked God to heal our sexuality so that we’re not torn by yearnings for what would not be good for us or others? If we feel enchanted by an erotic attraction, have we prayed for the spiritual good of the attractive one and so purged our preoccupation of some of its selfish element?

Then there’s the junk we fill our minds with by watching television and reading the newspaper. “But it’s the true news,” we may protest. “We have a duty to inform ourselves.” The unfortunate thing is that it’s the “true news” unsanctified by compassion, thrown at us by commercial media interests who know that what most excites our baser passions is what best sells newsprint and air time. Among “baser passions” must be included the desire to be thought the most knowledgeable among the present company, and the lust (if we read the financial pages) to be the investor with the best competitive advantage over others. The news reports are always full of villains: do we bring the villains before Christ in our prayers, asking Him to help us love them?

When we enter the meeting house on Sunday morning, we put the self-serving world and its transitory goods behind us in order to enter into the presence of the Holy. In other faith traditions, we might be expected to remove our shoes, prostrate ourselves, genuflect or make the sign of the cross in order to cross this threshold properly. We Quakers, however, traditionally do without such outward forms because we’re resolved to hold to the substance behind the form. But the time has come for us to ask ourselves: have we abandoned both form and substance together?

An open letter to my congressman’s soul

January 30, 2014 by

I just wrote the letter that follows, and I intend to deliver it in person to Congressman Crowley’s local office in my neighborhood tomorrow, and also to hand it out at a rally to be held out on the sidewalk in front.  In so doing I will not be identifying myself as a Quaker, but only as a Christian constituent of Rep. Crowley’s.  I mean this as a kindness to my fellow Quakers, who might otherwise see me as an embarrassment to themselves.

This realization cost me some pain.  The Friends I worship with are respectful of my Christian faith, but many don’t share it, and we don’t discuss that much — which I acknowledge as my own failing.  Now I think pretty much everyone loves Jesus the compassionate healer, the wise teacher, the bold protester of injustice; but many, I think, have trouble with the idea of a Christ that grants eternal life to those that come to Him.  Many more, I’d guess, have trouble with the ideas that we are fallen from a better state; that we are  in bondage to sin, and to an evil influence that might fitly be called “the father of lies,” and while in this state cannot free ourselves by our own unaided efforts, but are in need of the free gifts of repentance and salvation; and that if we make no effort to escape this bondage, we are liable to choose — yes, choose — the darkness of damnation over the light of redemption, with painful consequences in the life to come.  “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it, but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Mt. 7:13-14 – New Jerusalem Bible)

This world-view of mine makes it feel much more important to me to warn an elected official against the consequences of sin than to lobby or bully him into voting the way I want him to.  God does not want him damned (Ez. 33:11, 2 Pet. 3:9); neither must I, if I value my own salvation.  This may put me in the position of looking like a fool in the eyes both of Congressman Crowley and of my fellow opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but that’s to be expected in a world where the norm is adversarial competition and confrontation.  But more important than how Joe Crowley winds up voting on the TPP is the purity of heart with which I approach him, because if my letter to him is a mere pretense of loving concern meant merely to affect its readers on the sidewalk below, then the Divine Witness in Crowley’s heart will feel my hypocrisy and not hear me.  Lord, purify my heart for tomorrow’s meetings with people, and let what happens be in accord with Your will: in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Congressman Crowley,

The peace of Christ be with you. There is talk that you may soon decide to declare support for the fast-tracking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), or even appear as a Democratic co-sponsor for fast-track legislation. If you could support either the TPP or the fast-tracking of it with a clean conscience in the sight of God, I’d have nothing to say to you except “God bless you and keep your conscience clean forever.”

But you know and I know that the TPP’s an evil thing, and that as you sow, you must reap: give pain, get pain. You may be thinking about some fancied good that might be brought about by the TPP, but good ends will never justify evil means, as your education in Christianity should have taught you (see Romans 3:8). This means that if you sin against your fellow human beings by trashing child labor laws, disabling people’s efforts to exercise good stewardship over the earth, undermining legislation protecting the common rights to wholesome food, water and clean air, castrating collective bargaining for fair working conditions, keeping third-world nations in perpetual debt-slavery, and robbing the sick and the aged of their moral right to affordable generic medicines, you and President Obama and the rest of the TPP’s supporters, Democratic and Republican, will have a whole world full of victims to answer for, and ages and ages of personal suffering to pay in this life and the next. As your brother in Adam who must care for your salvation as he cares for his own, I beg you not to do such a horrible thing to yourself!

Set an example for all the others in Washington! Say “No matter what retaliation I may face from the moneyed interests that put me in office, I’ll answer to God for what I do, and not to them!” We both know that they need someone to be the first to do that!

Second Childhood, Chapter 1

January 6, 2014 by

i broke my right arm today, slipping on the ice on the way to meeting. angels attended me, flesh & blood angels as well, possibly, as ones i couldn’t see, and i feel deeply blessed. even lying prostrate on the pavement, unable to stand without the help of others because of the pain in my shoulder, was a blessed experience. i’m keyboarding with my left hand while my right paw lies limp in its sling. I’m experiencing second childhood: I can’t open jars, butter bread, or do anything that takes 2 hands; and trying to write with my left hand, or use a fork, brings back memories of being 5.  For now i’ll have to philosophize out loud instead of journaling, or just take it to the Lord in prayer, to whom be all praise and glory. If there was a divine rebuke in the experience I hope to be given right discernment of what it was, & not try to second-guess God in my haste to have everything figured out. Meanwhile I can’t praise highly enough the people that have been ministering to me, esp. Elizabeth who just fed me dinner & buttered the toast for me, & Jesus who gave His life for me on the cross, far more painful than an injured shoulder; and Emily who took me to the ER & Gloria who brought me home, not to mention the ER people & the Friends at meeting who prayed for me, & Zach who would’ve come to fetch me home if Gloria hadn’t, & Molly & Tanya & Steven & Julie & Richard who comforted me. Gratitude is filling my heart with sweetness, & that being so I’m very happy with what i’ve tasted of 2nd childhood so far. I wish i could go back & express gratitude to all those who brought me happiness & good in my first childhood, but God who is beyond time will know how to convey my blessings, for I’m sure no good wish is lost.

Thy Kingdom Come, 12/21/2013

December 21, 2013 by

We ask for Thy kingdom to come. Our hearts know that where Thy kingdom is fully come, there is no more darkness, nor suffering, nor threat of evil, nor ignorance. But in this world of change and chance, where for a time we pursue transitory gratifications and flee from passing shadows, open our eyes to see that all good things, even the transitory and small, come from Thy hands, and awaken the spirit of gratitude in our hearts. Implant also the spirit of prayer in us, and make it firm and constant, for when our will is at prayer to Thee, harmful addictions lose their drawing power and the tempter his ability to pose as an angel of light: so that we will not, though fools, call good evil and evil good. In Jesus’ name we ask this; Amen.

A correction: my God-knower is not asleep

December 7, 2013 by

Yesterday I posted an outpouring here that began “Help, help! My God-knower has fallen asleep,” and this morning I feel called to report that I’ve been corrected.  My God-knowing organ, or faculty, is my conscience, as Quakers have been insisting for centuries, and it was awake enough to rebuke me, and, thank God, I was alert enough to pick up the rebuke.

Last night, in conversation, I referred to a third party as “a prick,” although I qualified my statement by saying that I sometimes felt annoyed by the man, but could see his admirable qualities and his unique value to the community, and made it a point to pray for him. I then retired to the bedroom, where I found that a loosely-capped fountain pen in my breast pocket had come undone and left a big ugly stain on what had been my favorite shirt. And that wasn’t all: during the evening I’d developed a painful inflammation on the right side of my tongue. (“Probably viral,” I’d thought. “It’ll pass soon enough.”) The inflammation was reduced this morning, but still there. The two mishaps, with my pen and my tongue, were odd enough coincidences to set me to querying myself when I sat for morning worship: was there a message for me in them? And yes, there was.

I’m called to a ministry of healing prayer, and I’m not to speak ill of a brother or sister for whom Christ died. Since Christ died for all, that means I’m not to speak ill of anyone. I may say, truthfully, that so-and-so angers or annoys me, or has hurt me, or in my eyes frequently exhibits bad judgment, a weakness of character, or behavior that I find unacceptable.  But whoever it is, I’m under a commandment to love him or her, and if I belittle a person by reducing him to one (unjustly) ill-famed body part, I’ve weakened my own prayers for him and proven myself a hypocrite as far as my ministry of healing prayer goes. The whole third chapter of the Epistle of James addresses this: “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?”

Of all things I do that I wouldn’t want to weaken, I don’t want to weaken my prayers for others’ good. Patanjali warns that even to take satisfaction in the humiliation or suffering of others “bears fruit in endless suffering and ignorance,” and urges us to use that thought to correct other thoughts that may infect our heart (Yoga Sutras 2:34). There’s enough suffering and ignorance in the world already.

My blog-posting before the “Help, help!” one was entitled “A heart that’s right in the sight of God,” and in it I revealed that I was tempted to call some persons “damnable blasphemers,” and “rolled Ezekiel 16:63 around in my mouth like a delicious throat-lozenge of fire.” Well, it shouldn’t surprise me to get an inflammation in my mouth from such a throat-lozenge, I reflected. Ezekiel 16:63 reads, in part, “thou mayest… never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done.” For a moment I experienced myself as standing silent before God, forbidden to open my mouth, even in prayer. It was not a pleasant situation to be in. Then I felt permission granted.

Oh, and one more thing: neither am I to speak ill of myself. I erred; I was corrected; I repented; I felt forgiven, but instructed to write up the experience and share it. My tongue’s now almost back to normal, and most of the stain’s washed out of the shirt.

And if you, like me, grieve that our God-knowing faculty isn’t better developed, know that God surely understands our grief and is working on the problem. Note that Jesus addressed the problem in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) and in John 14:8-9; the Apostles address it in 2 Corinthians 3:16-18, in 1 John 2:27 and 4:7-8, and elsewhere.

Help, help! My God-knower has fallen asleep…

December 6, 2013 by

Help, help! My God-knower has fallen asleep, and I’m trapped in a wasteland of awareness where I can’t feel my divine connection, can’t smell or taste God’s presence, can’t see my faithful Shepherd, hear my all-wise Creator’s voice, or even rightly understand my Source of All Good with this flickering and distractable mind! How long have I been this way? My Beloved has fled from me in the night – or was I the one that ran away? Should I call this nightmare feeling grief or guilt? I see that I can still write English, drink tea, look out at the rain and speak gently to the cat, but O, O, O, I’ve gone insane, and so have we all, because we’ve gone oblivious to Truth, and blind to the Greatest Reality There Is!

The One who is all and makes all and keeps it in being should be the first thing I awaken to and the last thing I kiss good-night – but where is He, where is She, where is It? If only I could see the flaming sword barring the way back to Paradise, the cloud that swallowed up the Savior, a little path that might lead out of the desert, or this dark prison’s main gate, so I’d know where to direct my longing! I know that I am, and so I know that Something am; this mind sees things go by in time and space, and so I know that Something gave it power to experience a world of change; this heart loves, hates, fears and suffers, and so I know that Something gave it feeling. Something, where are You? I know You must be here, because there can be no Here but where You are; but if I’m not awake to my knowledge of You, then where am I?

The Hebrew Bible speaks of the Day of the Lord, the Gospels of the Day of the Coming of the Son of Man: let the one on the housetop or at the plow not go back indoors! For if it’s as great an event as the reawakening of our sense of God, then it can be nothing less than the eclipsing of all time and space by the Fullness of Eternity, the reduction of a billion billion things to one changeless Singularity, the dissolving of our bordered and sin-stained selves into an all-forgiving Infinity of Love. Might we be frightened for a moment, as we tremble at the edge of the bridal bed or the grave? Maybe; or maybe a great stillness will come to steady us. No matter: on the other side is One who’s promised to wipe away all tears from our eyes. If it’s to come to us tomorrow, then it’s as if it were today. Let’s dress up for it in our best white robes of nakedness! Let’s comfort one another as best we can, so we can all go forth to meet our God with joy! And let’s forgive each other everything, every cruelty, every hardness of heart, the way we’d forgive our tormentors in a dream that’s past, because the sun is soon to rise on glory that can never fade away!

A heart that’s right in the sight of God

December 4, 2013 by

“Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter, for thy heart is not right in the sight of God,” said Peter to Simon Magus (Acts 8:21) in a rebuke that, happily, triggered Simon’s repentance. The original Greek for “heart right in the sight of God” is kardia eutheia enanti tou theou, and the word here translated as “right,” eutheia, is more properly translated “straight.” Its adverbial forms eutheōs and euthys convey the notion of an immediate consequence, as when Jesus performs a healing in the Gospel of Mark and eutheōs, “straightway,” the hemorrhage stops, the damsel rises from the dead, or the deaf man’s ears are opened. A heart “straight” in this sense would answer the Holy Spirit’s promptings straightway.

I went to bed last night thinking that a heart that’s right in the sight of God is the most precious thing I could ask for.  This morning I read, somewhere in the Philokalia, that it’s more to be desired than the joys of Heaven, because if my heart were not right, and steadfastly so, I’d go plummeting from Paradise just as Adam, Eve and Satan did. O Lord, make my heart steadfast and keep it steadfast, in Jesus’ name. I feel it wavering from steadfastness every time I’m tempted to say something hurtful in anger or take pleasure in someone else’s real or imagined pain. I want a straight heart that stays straight, fit always to stand in Your holy, enlightening and all-healing Presence until I’m absorbed back into Your Unity. And since I believe that this is what You intend for me and for all living creatures that I love, I thank You now and always for our salvation; Amen.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a Friend who was concerned that our Friends’ meeting, and maybe the whole Religious Society of Friends, was a “declining institution.” He shared with me a letter he’d gotten last year from another Friend who’d left our meeting in deep disappointment over our members’ behavior. Mention of the often inane and ego-driven messages we hear in meeting for worship made my anger rise, and I imagined raging at the meeting that those who were breaking the silence with junk ministry were damnable blasphemers, defiling their neighbors’ attempts to have communion with God with their narcissistic insistence on getting others’ attention on their own selfish thoughts! And  so on and on. I rolled Ezekiel 16:63 around in my mouth like a delicious throat-lozenge of fire. And the day before that, I’d had a conversation with a young man who’d withdrawn his interest in becoming a member because of our “disorganization.” Don’t get me started on others’ failures to be organized! I hear my late father’s voice echoing in the back of my heart: “When are you going to get organized!?” How intolerant of others my own shame can make me!

And then this morning, as I prayed for a heart that’s right in the sight of God, it came to me that I was praying alongside countless others who were praying to God for the same thing, many in tears, many with hearts purer than my own. It also came to me to tell my Friend that it didn’t matter whether we were a declining institution or a thriving institution, the only real question was whether he wanted a heart that’s right in the sight of God; and if he did, he’d find at least one other person at our meeting that wanted the same thing, and who would pray for his steadfastness in wanting it, and would commit to encouraging him to persevere. But then, he might find that somewhere else, too. The Holy Spirit would tell him where to go on Sunday mornings, and I hope, of course, that he’d go there straightway.


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