thinking theology

Archive for March, 2016

Easter Morning 2016

On Holy Saturday, we step into the night of mystery, of travelling by faith alone. In the darkness of the tomb, we rest and wait, with quiet assurance that we do not wait alone. It is the trust that Jesus has in the Holy One that supports us. We know that in death and in life we are held in the palm of the Maker. We know that Jesus promised never to abandon us, but to remain with us in our time of living by faith alone.

In the bright sunshine of Easter Day, we emerge to discover a new day, waiting to bring us surprises and new experiences. As we live through another Holy Week, we begin to learn that death is a passage to deeper, fuller life. All the little deaths of our lives help to teach us not to fear, but to understand, that at every crossroads, Christ is waiting to lead us into life. Death is a transition but life and love are forever. They are the web that weaves the stars together. They are the music of the universe. They are the spontaneous laughter of a child with an Easter egg, and the delighted chuckle of the adult who loves the child.

May you who have walked through dark valleys find that home is waiting for you. May you who carry heavy burdens discover that soon they will be lifted. May you trust when you cannot know; allow yourself to experience the mystery that is life, that will lead us to peace and joy in the unfolding of the universe of God’s love.

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Holy Saturday and the Cloud of Unknowing

When you first begin, you find only darkness, and as it were a cloud of unknowing. You don’t know what this means except that in your will you feel a simple steadfast intention reaching out towards God. Do what you will, and this darkness and this cloud remain between you and God… Reconcile yourself to wait in this darkness as long as is necessary, but still go on longing after him whom you love. Cloud of Unknowing

What is darkness? it is not really the absence of light so much as an experience of uncertainty, of potential danger. Many people lock their doors at night, but not in the daytime. We like to see what is coming. We like to know how to manage both what we expect and how to prepare before something unimaginable comes. We are impatient about waiting in the dark, letting things come to fullness without our intervention.

On Holy Saturday, no matter which Gospel we read, we are waiting in the dark with the disciples of long ago, waiting for we know not what. The logical expectation is a burial and a service of mourning. Indeed, that is what all those close to Jesus expected it seems.

In fact, we have no idea what happened in that darkened tomb. It is shrouded in mystery, much as the way our consciousness unfolds in the womb. The only memories of the womb any of us carry are warmth, rocking, darkness. The darkness of womb and tomb is passage from one state of being to another.

I think it is unfortunate that people need the reassurance of after-death experience to shore up faith. We have lost our capacity for mystery, for not knowing, but waiting. We live in a bright world, lit night and day with artificial lights. We want answers for everything and we are impatient when information does not give us control. We want to see and what we want to see is what will fit our expectations.

That is not the experience of the Holy, though; that is human experience. To experience the Holy, we must learn to wait in the dark, to let not knowing wash over us like a mountain breeze. It is in the not knowing that the becoming happens.

Jesus is our model for this. God is silent in the garden and on the cross. God is silent as Jesus is placed in the tomb. Jesus, however, trusts in God’s will for him and for all of us too. About our own mortality, and our hope, this is what we can say. We can say with the psalmist,

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Psalm 139:14-15

And so tonight, we celebrate that God works for good and without our attention or work. Tomorrow will be the time to take up the mission of Jesus again. Tonight, with him, we rest in God’s love and let our souls reach out with that same love that is at the centre of our trues selves. We reach out, trusting that the one who made us will never forsake us. We reach out content that we are in the hands of the Holy One, tonight and forever. We reach out trusting that we will meet again in the garden of God’s love.

Good Friday 2016

Why do I dread Holy Week? I think it is because I am a fairly self-contained person. To engage authentically in the stories of this week, I have to be vulnerable; I have to let the abrasive winds of loss and regret scour my heart to leave it open enough for Christ to rise in it again. My heart and mind require openness so this ancient story will be a pathway to and from the cross again.

People often say about the cross, that Jesus died for our sins, remembering the story of the garden; but there is another way to think about this link between the garden and the cross. Genesis speculates that humanity was formed in a particular kind of image of the divine. All creation bears the stamp of the Holy, but humanity is invited not only to live but to walk with God. I think that means not only to be alive but to reflect on what it means to be alive. We were shown a way in which we could choose how we would live, beyond mere reflection. We chose to bite into moral choice. What accompanies that choice is self-consciousness, awareness of being separate and mortal. And so God clothes us with ego, to protect our vulnerable souls as we learn how to cope with being human.

As Holy Week unfolds, we notice the quiet also growing. When a person dies, we whisper. There is a quiet that fills the space of breathing until the sounds of our grief replace it.

I think that quiet is found also at the centre of the cross; the place where all contradictions, all choices, all possibilities, face each other, held in a dynamic tension. In that place, we are invited to place every loss, every disappointment, every regret, every unfulfilled dream. Jesus’ arms are stretched wide to accept all the loss we feel since the garden changed for us.

Jesus does not die for our sinfulness, but to complete the garden story. In the cross we see a sign of how everything harmful will be captured and rendered ultimately futile. Jesus dies as will all that lives, but he dies as one who heals and loves and forgives. This is how we are invited to live in his image now. We are called to grow beyond the burden of morality, a set of standards limited by culture and custom, to the responsibility of compassion. Morality may be the size of an apple, but compassion is the size of the cosmos. Love and mercy become the new standards. Restorative justice replaces the delusion of impartiality of the law. This is the radical freedom of which Paul teaches. Free yet bound by the constraints of compassion and empathy.

In the silence, after the weeping and shouting, comes the time when we wait with God. We thought we had been exiled, but now we see that we are always at home in the garden of holiness. We thought we were being punished, but now we see we have been invited to share in the sorrow of God. We thought we were supposed to be conquerors, now we see we are meant to be healers. We thought that death meant ending, now we see it means changing.

The cross holds all the misery and cruelty of life, but it also holds promise and freedom.

We Can Pray

What is prayer? Is it an activity of the divine or is it something we initiate? What if we think of prayer as connection, attention, and response?

If we think of all the energy in the universe — connecting planet to planet, star to star — it looks like a matrix of light and echoes a web of sound. Let us think of the earth with its tides, and winds, all its creatures and vegetation, connected together with lines of energy, itself spinning in space. And there we are, in the midst of it all, mostly never noticing our own participation in it all. When we do pause, we can connect in like plugging into an electrical outlet. At those points where we connect, we forget everything except being vibrantly alive. Intercessory prayer is less about asking God to do something we want and more about connecting ourselves with those we love, to share energy and grace. When my father was very ill, he was astonished that he could feel others praying for and with him. It is God who connects us within the divine heart, God who is the power and possibility into which we can tap ourselves and others.

sunrise

Prayer requires attention. To pray, we must seriously see the situations and issues, not as items on a list, but as experience and centres of life. The woman who anoints Jesus acts in silent adoration. Unlike the other disciples, she neither denies the reality before them nor does she protest. Instead she does the only prayerful thing; she unties her hair in mourning; she anoints Jesus as sacrifice and saviour; she washes his tired feet, and supports his aching heart. She sees him in focus, not as she wants reality to be. She does the only thing she can. She shows her love and understanding.

In prayer, we are empowered to respond authentically to what touches our heart. That means we can see ourselves honestly without fear of judgement. We can see others without our own projections and prejudices. We can experience the sometimes gentle, loving touch of the divine creator, the urge to act with compassionate justice that is the connection with Jesus, and the whirlwind of creativity that is redesigning Spirit, closing the worn out and opening the new possibility.

We can pray in the beauty of creation, we can pray in the rich silence in our souls, we can pray as we pay attention to our actions, and we can pray by paying attention in loving relationship. The important thing is, we can pray.