thinking theology

(Lent 3, 2023; Year A; John 4:5-14)

One of the catch phrases of our time is the “bucket list,” meaning ramming in activities before we die or become enfeebled. It’s a bit like our frenzied health efforts or fears. We seem to have lost track of the idea that we are mortal, and that we cannot possibly do everything possible in one lifetime. It’s there in the movie Moonstruck, as a somewhat cynical wife says that men have affairs to ward off the fear of death. 

Sometimes religion looks like that too. If we pray hard enough, if we are careful enough, or repentant enough, or pious enough, we will live forever. When people tell me they are not religious, it’s usually about having come to terms with their own mortality. If God cannot give us immortality, or invulnerability to suffering, then what good is God? When we take the idea of reward and punishment out of the equation, what is the point of faith? What use is God or faith?

In excerpts from the passage from John, we read:

Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked, and you would have been given living water.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

John 4

This woman who comes to the well by herself is a person who has passed from fear to challenge. She is not afraid of this stranger. Perhaps she has given up on hypocritical social norms. She is not afraid to contest Jesus’ right to be there or his status as a man, a Jew. Jesus engages in this challenge with her. I imagine Jesus laughing at her audacity and her enjoying trying to put him in his place. He asks for a drink, but it will be at her service, from her bucket, by her grace and generosity. Together, they are sitting in a moment of wilderness, a moment that both satisfies tradition and breaks with it. Peace in community belongs to settlement. Injustice and disharmony break the sacred bonds of creation/God/humanity.

So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.

Deuteronomy 8:6-8

What bucket does Jesus bring to this encounter? I think he carries his traditions and history, but he wears them lightly, not as prison, but as foundation. And the traditions and history he carries are about covenants of justice and trust, prophetic curiosity, creativity, a sacred story that has called men and women out of their comfort zones for millennia. The Divine calls people in and out of wilderness, in and out of settlement. The impetus for movement is justice.

Jesus constantly fills this bucket with new relationships, new ways of understanding generosity and mercy. If the woman had known that the encounter would call her also to review her heritage, her experience to date, she might have been less bold, less sure. How could she have seen that the water of the well would not be as deep as the springs of spirit and hope that Jesus reveals and that are part of his heritage? How could she have guessed that morning, that her life would be changed by a chance encounter — except that she was daring and maybe desperate.

The “water” in Jesus’ bucket is not the property of anyone or any tradition, but the free gift discovered by anyone who chooses to live in harmony: justly, mercifully, compassionately. In this discovery, we find that the water is more than a metaphor, but a profound sense of unity with all that lives. Perhaps eternal life is not the right phrase. Perhaps a better way to describe this peace would be homecoming; it is a reminder that our consciousness is more than this moment, but at the same time, intensely this moment. And at the moment of encounter, Jesus and the woman create a circle of life, of peace.

So what do we have in our buckets? What needs to be emptied so that we can be filled with the water of life? Are our buckets full of regret or anger or shame? Will we create a shelter of peace where we can recognize Jesus? Do we want to receive what Jesus is offering, not as a reward or a punishment, but as a way to perceive reality, a way to be water and light, life saving and protecting? And other than the peace for ourselves, perhaps then we, too, may carry a bucket of love to be shared to those hungry for hope and blessing.

The Moon My Soul

A. E. Turner © 2023

I am standing in the snow
In the winter of my life
The snow dusts my eye lashes,
Slips under my snood,

reminding me

I belong
I belong
To the snow
To the love
To the life that looks like death

Like birth
Like cold
But fall
and find the warmth,

Find the Holy place
The altar of our beginning

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (John 3:5)

When the church speaks of being baptized by water and the Spirit, we usually think of the rites of admission; in some churches, water baptism and in others, outward manifestation such as glossolalia (speaking in tongues) or ecstatic trance. In all cases, we understand that — by a spiritual intervention — the individual now lives as a transformed being, in new relationship with the divine and with community. This construct continues to be a way to separate the limits of the physical body from the eternal potential of the spiritual body.

In our time, we are working with a renewed emphasis on God’s expansive love for all, and our urgent need to remember the holiness of creation. Perhaps we could think of being born of water and the Spirit in an expanded metaphor.

Two images come to mind. Recently, on Facebook, a meme was circulating of the world. It was a globe showing how the world appeared from the perspective of the centre of the Pacific Ocean. Almost no land could be seen. Then, in the series, “The Reluctant Traveller,” Eugene Levy visits Lapland where it takes the whole episode to get him into a freezing water dip. He had resisted this idea although his hosts tried to convince him it would bring him happiness. Eventually, he gets in the water and is able to relax into the joy of the experience. We often forget how much we are beings of water, from our evolutionary beginnings to the womb from which we are born. So we tend to think about water as external, although mostly we are made up of water. “…[T]he brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%.” (from “The Water in You: Water and the Human Body”)

My own experience in developing in faith has been to notice how instructive children are. One little girl explained to me that one could hear the Spirit as it rushed around buildings and see it in the crackle of electricity. As she said, “It’s everywhere when you pay attention!” Another little one said to me, “Can’t you feel it?!” There are many books written about meditation, but sometimes it seems that to me that the children carry a direct link to a reality we must cultivate as we age. 

From these naive responses to more sophisticated theology, we can know the creation and the Spirit are one in that we share in these expressions of the Divine with our bodies. The relevance of God to our lives depends on our willingness to “walk in the garden,” both as cognitive beings and as responsive life forms. Paul’s “great mystery” can be experienced but not defined or contained by human knowledge alone. Our knowledge changes as we learn, but the sense of oneness with the creation only deepens. Maybe instead of dreading the gate of death, we could prepare for a deep plunge into what we thought would be freezing water, but turns out to be the womb of new birth. I wonder if Laplanders would be amused to think of their land as a metaphor for eternal life.

Nicodemus’ question about being born again is a question about the deep plunge into reality as it resonates in the life of the cosmos. And that plunge will require commitment and bravery. Jesus models courage in the face of the unknown, willing to defy the temptations of power for compassion in relationship, willing to defy the punitive forces of politics for the integrity and solidarity of community.  For Christians, our reception of Spirit and water must be more than signs. It must be a way of life that seeks relationship, empathy, honesty, and openness to revelation, especially when we are anxious or fearful. We cannot be born again from our mothers’ wombs, but we must be born again and again in the wildness of the Spirit, in the cleansing, bracing waters of revelation, trusting in Jesus who shows us the way. 

Here is a poem “Taom” by irish poet Moya Cannon from her book Oar.

The unexpected tide,
the great wave,
uncontained, breasts the rock,
overwhelms the heart, in spring or winter.

Surfacing from a fading language,
the word comes when needed.
A dark sound surges and ebbs,
its accuracy steadying the heart.

Certain kernels of sound
reverberate like seasoned timber,
unmuted truths of a people’s winters
stirrings of a thousand different springs.

There are small unassailable words
that diminish caesars;
territories of the voice
that intimate across death and generation
how a secret was imparted –
when someone, in anguish
made a new and mortal sound
that lived until now,
a testimony 
to waves succumbed to 
and survived.

The Way is Relationship

(Lent 1, 2023)

A church where I was the rector used to create a week-long dramatic presentation for Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday. The children and young people were all involved. We would workshop the week ahead of time, discussing the themes and the actions of the narrative. Talking about Jesus’ trial and execution, one young fellow said, “I just don’t get it. Why didn’t Jesus run away?” 

What a great question and I begin every Lent asking why about a lot of what arises. For example, we piously applaud Jesus’ resistance to the temptations. But if he could have solved hunger, oppression, why would that have been so bad?

I want to reflect on two other stories too. In the garden, the snake convinces Eve to eat and share the fruit. Her eyes were indeed opened, and she did learn that evil and good exist; she also learned about mortality and body shame. She did not learn wisdom or discernment. And why was that tree in the garden anyway?

A favourite hymn is God sees The Little Sparrow Fall, based on Matthew 10:29, usually understood to underscore God’s special love for humanity. What we skip over, is that God does not save the sparrow, or us; God cares and knows us intimately, but we must walk our own paths all the same. 

So back to my young man. From the beginning, humanity has been trying to figure out why we are here. We would like it to be for grand schemes, but what if we are here to learn how to be in relationship.And being in relationship entails a series of choices, of commitments, of embarking on one path over another. Maybe choice is the critical issue. 

Maybe the story of Jesus’ temptation is not really about him, so much as answer to why not run, why not be a king, why not start a revolution. The temptation is a story of how just supplying the solutions does not help us to become wise or compassionate or honest. Those solutions are temporary and contingent. The way of Christ is a call to a deep conversion of the human spirit that makes political solutions shallow. Maybe Eve’s choice was in fact the test of whether or not we had the potential, the courage to risk, in order to become the companions of the Holy One. 

The problem with choice is that it requires uncertainty. If we know the outcome, there is no risk, and that means it is not really a choice. Choice means trusting in the moment, following a path with no guarantees. St. Paul reminds his church that for followers of Jesus, it is hope that guides us, not certainty. 

And finally, the little sparrow. I believe God loves the creation with all the passion of divine creativity, but we will not be saved from error, from suffering, from shame and fear. We have been given a special medicine though. We are following one who was so in touch with the Maker that he faced torture and death, trusting that God would use him for good, that his life had value and purpose. You will remember the Gethsemane story when Jesus considers his choice, when escape would have swept away all his work, all the trusting relationships.

In deep connection with God, he saw the only path that could lead his followers into a new humanity. In his choice, Jesus said that power without honesty, integrity, compassion, can only bring death. The way of life and abundance is a round table where the first and last cannot be distinguished. The way of life is relationship, not separating others into groups and categories. The way of life is weeping over the sparrow, the victims of war, the homeless frozen in the midst of plenty. The way of life is understanding that we are just beginning to be human and God will be with us as we leave the past behind like the ashes, blown by away by Spirit. 

And so we sit on the edge of the desert again, with our broken hearts and dreams, with our successes and our failures, and we offer them up to the One who wants to hold us tenderly, but not fix us or stop us. On this journey, we have companions: the sacred stories of other saints and sinners struggling along; we have each other, what needs to be safe community where there is room for error, where we share both suffering and rejoicing, And as we step into the desert without any certainty at all, we feel the Spirit of creativity stirring. And we look behind us at the ashes of our past becoming fertilizer for our new selves and relationships. 

Apocalypse of the Heart

When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
— Mark 13:7-8 —

…the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. …The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates are twelve pearls, each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass. …On either side of the river is the tree of life …and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. …“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
— Revelations 21, 22 —

Apocalypse as a concept of the Hebrew prophets is marked by a pessimism about the contemporary era and an expectation that God will break into history to recreate the world in a happier context for the faithful, if not for everyone. The time when this will happen lies shrouded in the mystery of the mind of God. In the Christian book of Revelations, the focus is on the salvation of God that is initiated by the event of the Christ in human history and is fulfilled I the eschaton, a time that is the present.[1] The sign that all has reached its climax will be many other signs and portents defining this as the time.

Despite much earnest effort, and assistance from the makers of the engines of war, the precise moment has not yet arrived. Indeed, many of us are skeptical that it will. The social signs of the apocalypse have always been present: war, hunger, disease, and death ride us throughout every generation and harry our bodies and souls. For this reason, the image of the apocalypse has become almost a caricature of faith, a fantastic comic book that mocks the believer.

I would like to suggest that, despite its cultural and historical limitations, the whole idea of apocalypse is linked so closely to the concept of repentance and salvation that this caricature has undermined some important spiritual material for our health and growth. Nightmare material is filled with important messages for the sleeper and it is often nightmares that plague us until we resolve the obstacle to our development.

Two dreams that impeded my freedom to think and to understand myself as a child of God will probably seem simple and obvious to the reader, but they took me forty years to resolve into meaning. They constitute my own psychological apocalypse. The first nightmare would begin in the midst of a pleasant dream or a dream of running from pursuit, but it always had the same conclusion. I would be presented with a dead end, or in the pleasant dream, I would choose to ride up an escalator, shimmy up an opening in the floor; but by choice or by force, I would find myself heading up an opening which became smaller and smaller, squeezing my head and blinding me, then beginning to suffocate me, until I awoke in a great panic, heart pounding, sweating and scared. I would forget then about the dream, packing it away in the hope that it would never re-appear. I was also afraid to tell anyone the dream. If I tried, my heart would being to pound just as it had in the dream. I finally understood this to by my dream of birth, my unwilling and incomprehensible push into a world in which I have never felt I fit very well.

The second dream begins in great beauty. I am lying on a carpet of grass, or snow, looking up at the night-time sky that is full of stars and Northern Lights. I am so captured by the beauty that I long to rise up to soar amongst the lights in the sky. And I do! Eventually, I also realize that I am totally, irrevocably, eternally alone in the midst of what is a cold and alien beauty. From this terrible isolation, I also used to awaken screaming. I thought of this as my “death” dream, an ironic dream for one who so cherishes solitude. And so I lived the first four decades of my life avoiding the twin nightmares of birth and death, avoiding confronting the apocalypse, the terrifying revelation that would set me free to live.

The apocalypse of the heart is an event of cosmic significance. Each one of us participates in the whole and that whole can only be transformed by the actions of the individuals within it. We can act only as the Spirit stirs the whole to transform each of us in the midst of it. As in every time, there is a special way in which God is shaking the earth to bring about a new moment in our relationship, a new moment in salvation.

Apocalypse, like the second coming, is a process rather than an historical event; it is part of the fabric of our awareness in this creation. Apocalypse is the beach; the advent of the Risen Christ is the tide, ebbing and flowing with great power upon our shores. It never ends and it is never exactly the same, except in how it happens. Each time different artifacts are left upon the shore and different objects are swept out to sea. We can choose to be helpless in the face of this power; we can hide from it; we can drown in it. We can open ourselves to its power to bring new life, as well as to bring an end to some things; we can be participants or we can be bystanders, but the tide will flow regardless. The only way to live is to accept the salty ocean on our shores and to dig out the treasures that the tide has left behind.

I think that our hearts need to explode within us before we can negotiate the strand of ocean upon which we stand. We tend to think of this time as brief, but it is eternity and we are creating our eternity as we stand within it. The heart cannot explode into spiritual consciousness until it is touched by the divine. Often that touch can be felt only in our pain, the kind of pain that is profound and feels like death and isolation. Grief, personal rejection, persecution, terror, assault — all these strong feelings and experiences have the power to break through the artificial shell of our own consciousness, to force us to feel the existential truth of our existence. We are alone and no one can truly be present with us. Our modern method for dealing with despair is to medicate the suffering. We do not want to experience the only thing that can bring us freedom from the prison; many of us never find the doorway. The first step, then, on the spiritual journey is to know with every fibre of our being that this is it, this consciousness, this isolation, this aloneness is reality. I think of this as the moment before creation when the divine aches with loneliness that cannot be resolved without the concept of birth.

This solitary suffering yields to a de-centring of the universe in a curious way. Once one understands oneself to be alone and allows oneself to feel this deep sorrow, it becomes necessary to look around and become aware of the isolated consciousness of all that lives and breathes, at least as far as humans go, to stand with God in the moment before love. Perhaps other creatures have a different sense, but few other creatures can tolerate or survive isolation either. Once one realizes that this ultimate loneliness is the condition of birth into the world, this “Me” is as isolated and lonely as every other “me;” this experience is the constant universal. At that point, compassion becomes a possibility; empathy becomes an experience, not an ethical or sentimental choice. On the cross, Jesus says, “They do not know what they are doing.” At the grave of Lazarus, Jesus weeps even though he has the power to change the situation. Why does he weep? Because this is the human condition; it is the purpose of his existence to bridge the divine and human loneliness in a moment of flesh and fear and isolation and death.

Until we experience this terrible knowing, we cannot allow God to penetrate our hearts; it is at this moment of crucifixion in our souls, that moment when we know that neither our intellects nor our will can save us, that the divine can break open the tombs that have been the false hopes of our hearts, the prison of our egos. Our rush to heal others, to protect others from this moment is a desperate effort to prove that there is meaning, there is a way out of this trap. If we can prevent this terrible experience for others, then maybe somehow there will be a way for us too. Maybe someone can save us. And so we try to raise Lazarus. But was Lazarus grateful? Did he want to be pulled back into life only to re-experience death at a later date? The moment of compassionate involvement with the world is ultimately a selfish but loving desire to re-make the world to exclude this experience; thus, the author does not leave Jesus to his tears, but has him raise Lazarus.

For our compassion to be freeing rather than another escape plan, we need to learn how to be the recipients of care. For Christians, I believe that this can come only through a profound sense of being ultimately forgiven — of being forgiven that we are human, fragile, limited in knowledge, physically too weak to save ourselves from death and psychic pain. We need to be forgiven for not being God but the creature of God. We thought we were supposed to be something else, yet we discover how little we can do; we discover that the power we do have can be destructive, regardless of our intentions. We discover that our efforts have limits to their benefits. We are not God.

Yet we are God. That is the paradox of the gift of the explusion from Eden. Like God, we have self-awareness and the power to choose not merely out of instinct or even emotion, but out of a synthesis of feeling, spirit, intellect, and will. Like God, we know the terrible anomie of isolation; like God, we ache for another who will understand and love us. Jesus’ life reminds us that we are called as a species to be a bridge, a creature that loves the clay into which it curls its feet, loves it so much in fact that we hate to leave it. We are also a creature that has a built in sense of destiny, of relationship and experience of all that is more than the gift of our glorious senses. We are little, yet we have acquired great power over life and death; we are powerful, yet we do not actually understand the Great Life with which we tinker. The mystery eludes the grasp of our technological minds.

To live our lives with both joy and serenity means that we must experience this internal apocalypse in which God both breaks into our lives and then seems to abandon us to the stars. We must experience the labour pains that are the sign of the birth of a new self, a self that will shiver in the cold, initially, until we are claimed by delight and warmth. It is the point at which we are able to accept our limits, to know the truth of the stars and the inevitability of the clay, that our compassion first for the love and the isolation of God, then for the creatures of God, allows the riders to sweep through, cleansing us of fear and doubt. We need to wear spiritual bifocals in which we see what is close with clarity, knowing that it is ephemeral and our efforts are broken, beautiful and necessary shells on the shore. But we have distance lenses too; the length of our sight is our home within the heart of God, a home that is not fixed in either the joys or the sorrows of the present, but participates in a cosmic relationship with that which IS.

This passionate detachment frees us to love ourselves and others in the moment, as well as to work against all that is destructive within the creation. At the same time, we are freed for the long view that minimizes our own importance beyond this moment, this event, this interchange. It is the paradox that every moment is limited in time, yet every moment exists forever. Like an indestructible necklace, we loop on a bead with every breath, every action, every word. Each bead is eternal and precious, but each is only one bead, one piece of a much larger design. How will we adorn the Holy One?

Finally, back to my dreams. One of the things I learned from these dreams was how reluctant I was to let things be, to rest, to wait patiently. One of the reasons they tormented me for so long was that I could not accept them or myself. I had to be busy running or pushing; I could not allow anyone else to help me nor could I stop to see another way, to see beyond. I could not see myself being born into light and hope. I could not relinquish my terror of birth into this body, or birth that will one day deliver me from this body. I could not trust God enough to allow for even suffering to have meaning. The freedom that I craved was the freedom of the Sabbath, but until I stopped working and striving, until I learned to prepare my heart for adoration and mystery, I could not be comforted; there was never time within my urgency.

This moment is the most important of my life and I want to live it with as much passion and integrity as I can. This moment is already passing into God’s mind and I must let it go, knowing that its resolution and its gift are held within the mind of God. I am alone and yet I am never lost to God. I must treasure every moment and yet I must treat them all as part of history. I am called to strive for justice and compassion, and I can do nothing. I must work hard and I must simply be in order to love the One who makes me and unmakes me moment by moment, within time and despite it. I am a grain of sand and yet without me, there would be no beach. I am every grain of sand; yet I am isolated in my life. God is coming now, this moment, and the next one too. God’s signs and portents are here, and they are then. In the mind of God, the adornment has been completed and yet it is in progress. I am being born and yet I live; I am dying to be born. Blessed be God, in truth and beauty and wholeness, forever and for now.

Questions for Reflection
1. How do you understand your own birth and death?
2. How has God’s revelation of salvation come to you?
3. What does salvation mean for you?
4. What apocalypse is coming in your life?

[1] Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. The Book of Revelation, published by Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1988, p. 138.

(“Apocalypse of the Heart,” Salted with Fire: Radical Healing for an Apocalyptic Age, artemis enterprise © 1996, pp. 110-115.)

Weeds and Wisdom

In reading Matthew 13, one parable of a sower, we hear about wisdom, judgement, but it is difficult to know what to make of it. Here are some of my thoughts. In the first place, we learn that the best intentions can have at their root, a less desirable companion, impossible to discern until the crop is revealed. I think we all have this experience of planning an event perhaps, but discovering a problem at the last minute: I forgot about gluten free wafers, I didn’t know you were allergic to cats, or lilies, or whatever; I recommended that person without knowing the stresses would be bad for them. And so on. In Romans, Paul speaks of this existential dilemma. To act, to speak necessitates risk and a willingness to wait for the maturity of a plan before chopping it.

The “devil” in Job and in the story of Jesus’ temptation is just this principle of uncertainty, of a need for the “right” rather than the evolving answer. The devil is a test of our willingness to be uncertain. Faith is not about knowing what is right, so much as a trust that we are meant to learn and grow, naturally shedding the “weeds” of our nature as we develop. Faith means trusting that what is good will not be lost, but we will not know until the denouement, the harvest. And at that time, we will see clearly, and all that has tried to get in the way of joy will be cast away, all that has potential to harm, will be destroyed.


Enter a caption

Summer garden at Kipling Avenue, Guelph.

I do not really think this parable is about the denouement, however. I think it is about how “disciples” trust that everything resides within the divine, as we hear in the Wisdom of Solomon. Disciples know that change and growth takes time and tending, patience and forbearance. We are invited to share in the process, with faith that the seed is good, the time of testing is limited, and what we feared could ruin everything, has no final substance.

This parable has relevance as we meet new people, and as they bring ideas that challenge us. We tend to be quick to defend the status quo, without considering that it may be flawed by what has grown up around it. Again, new things must be nurtured until they reach maturity. Then we will see that there are some ideas and actions that need to evaluated and discarded.

The church has had varying degrees of faithfulness in this. We have not defended women, or children; we have been complicit in the colonization and enslavement of other nations. We have been unwilling to release our hold of rigid definitions of gender, and have imposed our blindness on generations. We persecuted or ignored the prophets in our midst. We separated ourselves from Jesus’ own people.

And yet I feel and witness the possibility of change, of a willingness to let go of the “weeds” that grew with the good news of Jesus, a Jew of incredible insight. Jesus the Jew, with his rich heritage of oppression and liberation, of personal poverty and the wealth of community, that person has the power to define a more faithful way of engaging in the struggle to lift up the vulnerable, while refusing to be trapped by the roots of prejudice and ignorance. After this time of disease, we may discover that the healthy roots of our faith may look very different, our objectives may have clarified, that prayer and action may be indistinguishable from each other. Jesus did not tell us to weed the garden, but to grow it with our tears of both joy and suffering, with the compost of history and repentance, and with the sunshine that relaxes our souls and caresses us with a vision of the holiness in life, that great gift that inspires us.

In fact, the editors of the Biblical Archaeology Society have painstakingly curated a brand new Special Collection, Satan, to help you delve into the topic. It includes all of the scholarly points noted above, and all of these articles are from Bible Review:

An Embodied Prayer

I hope you enjoy this prayer, originally meant for walking, but really demanding only that you find a way to get “into” your body! (You can download it here: anembodiedprayer)


Posted here, you will find links to my Morning and Evening, Inclusive Language, Prayer.

Inclusive Language Morning Prayer is found here…

Inclusive Language Evening Prayer is found here…

Maundy Thursday in the year of the pandemic
In our sacred story, we move from the crowds of Palm Sunday to the intimacy of family MaundyThursdayand friends at table, a table that for many of us this year, will have empty places. The miracle of the internet reminds us that the communion of the saints is not dependent on geography, on proximity, or even on which side of death we are inhabiting. We do not even have to be acquainted with each other or know the names of our ancestors, to know that we are one: connected by a tensile, unbreakable cord of love and faith. 

We remember the actions Jesus left for usnot only as a memorial, but also as a practice. One story we tell is of the woman who anointed Jesus, who understood the nobility and power of sacrifice that is chosen but not sought, that is offered… but with sorrow and doubt. The woman “sees” Jesus and the inevitability of his choices in a way that is too frightening for many. The enormous cost of love in action still troubles us and we would like to think that we can fix things without being willing to sacrifice ourselves. It is not the frivolity of her act that alarms the others, but the way it makes them look mean and cheap. For us this year, we reflect on our brothers and sisters doing essential work that both endangers and isolates them and their families. We want to share in that work, each in our own ways, even if the most we can do is to isolate ourselves in prayer for each other and the world. We know that we are not alone, ever; nor will the holy one ever release the bonds of love.

Another story that we read tells of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, an action done to their great discomfort and embarrassment. It continues to provoke discomfort in modern re-enactments, partly because it is culturally disconnected and partly because we still have to learn about mutual service. Henri Nouwen writes about how loving action necessarily leads to repentance. Nobody likes to receive a gift unless they have a means of reciprocating. Nobody wants to be healed by someone who has no idea of what it feels like to be wounded. We cannot earn grace; we can only receive it. We can, however, share the experience of being healed, the experience of being surprised by love, the discovery of our worth, when we thought we had wandered too far. Before we perform service in the world, service untainted by our own ego’s agendas, we have to say, “Wash me of my delusions; wash away my fear of being known for who I am.” In this so terrifying a year, we beg for God to wash our world, but I hope not just of a virus, but also of greed, of economic injustice, of the assumptions that form barriers between us. 

The third story is the supper of community in which Jesus binds his family and friends to him and to his mission. He tells them that just like bread, many grains have to be gathered together to make a changing, flexible, nutritious community — food for the world. Like wine, grapes are crushed together, their skins broken so that juice can be released. Jesus says that these humble foods are like his life: differences held together, lives broken open and changed. The word Eucharist means thanksgiving. And thanksgiving it is, for others to share the journey, for stories of bread that keep us going from generation to generation, for sacrifice so that all may have hope and all may taste being loved just as they are. Every time we remember Jesus in this way we give thanks that he is present with us, absorbing our pain into his suffering, and blessing our joy with his vision for us. And as this has been done for us, so we must do it for others, by recommitting to the work of peace and justice for everyone: the ones we like, the ones we have feared, the ones we have despised. At the table of the world, in the garden of our round earth, may we be blinded by the tears of grace that make all people one family, one tribe of life.

Finally, we remember the story of the garden in which the disciples, sleepy from food and wine, miss the point and miss the moment. Jesus alone in the garden struggles as every human must with the need for survival balanced against witness to the power of love. Jesus lived with uncertainty, with doubt about his own capacity for courage, with disappointment in his friends and followers. So must we accept these emotions, these reactions, this living reality. As we move to the future this year, our holy places will be empty, waiting to be filled with new life, new vision. What else can a person really offer accept our own lives, our questions, our fear, our sorrow, our hopes and dreams?


Good Friday
The story of Good Friday is the story of two competing drives in human nature. These drives are expressed by the need to dominate and the need to liberate. The trial and crucifixion of Jesus differs only in the power of Jesus’ love to leave a mark on human history that no domestication by institutions can ever fully erase. The cry from the cross continues to reverberate throughout the corridors of power, no matter how much insulation is employed to drown it out. And that cry is mirrored in every faith group, every humanist group, every atheist group.

On Palm Sunday we remembered how the forces of domination began to swarm around Jesus, trying to drown out the cries of the poor, even the cries of the very stones in the earth: “Save us, save us.” We have heard this week how Jesus’ friends could not hold the course, how impatient they became, how easily they turned to the brokers of power, or were intimidated by them.

Today, we remember the answer. The answer is found in the refusal to retaliate and the refusal to submit. It is the hard and long road. Resolution does not come quickly or efficiently. It costs. It requires sacrifice, holy work. It requires everything we have because it is not only about acting in compassion but also about not acting with violence of any sort. That includes the violence and hate and rage we have seen on the internet, in grocery stores, in borders that refuse entry, in better care for the affluent than the poor. We must learn compassion if we would save our world as it could be, and let the world as it has been wither away. The more we each have, the more will be expected and the greater sacrifice that we should want to offer. The revolution that we need is of the human heart. We need to re-learn compassion as a life skill that is as important as survival. We need to learn resistance to complicity with the lies of domination.

Liberation from fear allows us a freedom to experience how precious we are to the Holy One who did not count Jesus’ death on the cross as a failure. Rather Jesus’ death led his disciples up to this present day to have a vision of the peaceful kingdom, a dream of realized life, the truth that we are all part of the transformational life of matter and spirit. Liberation from fear teaches us how to embrace the deep laughter of the one who is making all things new and leading us more fully into awareness of the light within and around us.

Holy Saturday
In the dark, a candle is lit and a voice rises in the night calling us from death to life. Jesus says that our God is the god of the living so — leave death for the dead. We affirm that death is a means of passage, but life is the nature of existence.


Death is the absence of transformation, a mausoleum of the imagination. It is through our imaginations that scientific discoveries are achieved, facts become mutable, a life of spirit is possible. Our response to our paschal celebrations is to throw off the intellectual shackles that tell us we are separate, finite, limited. We are invited to understand our minds as fuelled by endless possibility for change, growth, renewable life. We yield the security of naive faith, for the mature faith that recognizes the Holy Spirit in science, in study, in the transformation of old metaphors for the explosive light of new insight.

We give thanks for the body of Jesus that reminds us that we, with all the created order, are precious and unique expressions of the divine. In our relationships, we remember that Jesus taught us that the linking of vulnerability leads to resilience and power not over, but with.

With our souls, we engage in the awareness that we know so much less than the wealth of our experience can name. The life of the spirit is always beckoning us on, to new knowledge, to a deeper sense of connection.

One day, we will heal the planet. One day we will heal ourselves.

One day we will be at peace.

One day we will know the joy of abiding within the goodness and love of the divine.

One day we will cast away the torn shroud of uncertainty for the baptismal gown of hope.

One day, we will all be anointed by and for love in the household and tribe of love.

Hosanna! Save us! Oh, save us! 

The folks of the lower town — the people not welcome or not well enough, not affluent01dandelion enough, even without enough status — called to Jesus, greeting him with their rags, with the weedy palms along the road, hailing him as their hope for a better life. They missed the point… and we still do! Jesus came to show us that salvation was present from the beginning. Within the garden of earth grows everything we need for sustenance and for healing. Within community, there can be strength and love and safety. We have what we need. In every religion and philosophy, there are even instruction manuals.

But do we really want to be saved? Or rather, are we willing to pay for our salvation with how we live and with a value system that is egalitarian and inclusive? I am not sure. The holy books offer conflicting ideas about all of this, but if we look to the models we see in holy people, we will recognize generosity, forgiveness, learning, change, kindness.  

This Palm Sunday sees the powers and principalities of our world, paralyzed by a virus, but still working on nuclear proliferation, on grasping at supremacy, or destroying eco systems. Power cannot acknowledge salvation.

03pussywillowWho came to Jesus’ parade? The ones who recognized that Rome would not save and would ultimately fail. Jesus offered a different hope that did not rely on the politics of the moment, a trust in what could happen when people came together as one, that miracles would be the norm, and blessings would abound.

I recognize the spirit of Jesus in much of the outpouring of compassion and communal cooperation in this health crisis. I wonder what will change because of it. I suspect lots of people just want to get back to their lives BTP(before the plague) but I hope that something has changed in our values and in our communal goals. I hope that we have learned something useful for future generations.  

Some people have suggested putting signs of spring in our daytime windows and candles at night to remind us of better days ahead, of a break in the loneliness around us that we can usually ignore. At the end of this week, we will remember that Jesus died alone, a hope seemingly defeated. If we want to take resurrection seriously, we have to begin with a dream that either resists death and oppression, or we will give in to the version of reality that facilitates oppression and denies healing and community. May weeds become cherished, May weedy people become family, may Jesus’ ancient path become our 02dandelionembrace of his vision for our broken world.


Loving Maker,
you reveal the stars from which we are formed.
You greet us in the greening of the earth, in the creatures that leap in joy.
You who are within and around, help us to delight in our lives.
Provoke us to acts of compassion and generosity.
May we all fall to our knees in adoration of all your works,
and especially in the life of Jesus,
who showed us that fear cannot control us,
and even death must give way to the life that is you.
In all things we praise your holiness and love.

Gracious God,
you cradle us in life and encourage us to grow into hope and new life.
In this time of violence and disease,
we also see the green shoots of generosity and sacrifice.
Help us to value these human gifts that provide food and healing,
hope and faith, to a desperate people in a desperate time.
May we who have more appreciate the struggle of those who have less,
and may we be stirred to compassion today.
May our hearts be transformed for tomorrow.

 Holy One,
you lavish us with possibilities and creativity.
May we not hide from injustice and harm,
but stand on the side of the crucified.
May we follow him at the expense of our peace of mind,
and our personal security.
May those who have, act with generosity.
May those who have less, accept help as we also learn
the lessons of transformation of and within community.
May the name of Jesus bless all those who are the sacrifice,
the Holy offering of their lives for others.
May we revere the holiness within all life for that life is You.