thinking theology

Archive for May, 2017

Neither Up nor Away

Every ascension day, I remind people that there is neither up nor down in a round universe. Jesus also said there was neither first nor last in the domain of God. These are round images, spiral images that are not bound by beginnings and endings.

Part of the good news is teaching us not to let ourselves be caught in absolutes or dualities. In the good news there is only becoming and being born into new understandings of complexity, of paradox. A lot of folks find this uncomfortable and would prefer just single answers to tough questions, but if you notice, Jesus never gives straight answers because he understands the purpose of the sky-space-dark-galaxyquestion. The question leads to deeper awareness, deeper sense of the mystery of life, deeper awe and humility that we are even invited to reflect upon the vast nature and being of the Holy.

The path from Easter to Pentecost is, in one way, the story of the disciples of Jesus moving from literalism to the freedom of metaphor and image. To experience the divine is usually to be struck with wonder. There is no language but awe for an encounter with the divine. Nonetheless, being creatures of language, we must use imagery to express these moments.

The various Easter stories tell of a variety of ways people come to understand the continuing presence of Jesus in their lives. The story of the ascension of Jesus marks a shift in consciousness. After anyone we love dies, we often attach ourselves to the things that remind us of them. In my case: my father’s hat, my mother’s kitchen tools and recipe book. In the process of grieving, we gradually release our physical connection to them. This is an essential stage because then we can let them live within our hearts and memory. Unless we break the physical connection and open ourselves to an eternal connection that is love and spirit, we cannot move on with the new learning that will present itself to us.

I think the story of the ascension is about this phenomenon of letting go of Jesus the man. In the church’s liturgy, the next event is Pentecost in which all is spirit and innovation, energy and communication, wind and flame, inspiration and possibility. Jesus becomes the parable for how God can inhabit human life when we open ourselves to the Divine Presence.

Why indeed are we staring into a past event rather than preparing ourselves for the big event for which Jesus has tried to prepare us: the passion of God sweeping through the world making all things new. And more amazing, we are the agents of this incredible ongoing event.

I want to end with excerpts from the 9th Ode of Solomon:

You exist, always beckoning to your servants
You renew me, by holding me in your light
I am like land deep and happy in its orchards.
You O holy One are sunshine on the face of the land.
You take me to Paradise where I know joy
Blessed are the bearers of your living water
Praise be to you, the eternal delight of Paradise. Hallelujah

One Package, Infinite Possibility John 14:15-21


In this gospel passage, we read of Jesus gently chiding his disciples who want to see God. He tells them that when they know him, when they understand what he is about, then they will see the Divine. This clearly is not very satisfying for the disciples at all. In the Gospel of Thomas also, Jesus has these interchanges with them.

Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to his disciples: “These little ones being suckled are like those who enter the kingdom.”
They said to him: “Then will we enter the kingdom as little ones?”
Jesus said to them: “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside and the above like the below; that is, to make the male and the female into a single one, so that the male will not be male and the female will not be female — then you will enter the kingdom.”

It would seem that the non-canonical gospels are even more obtuse, but wait. What is going on here? Jesus seems to be teaching that it is when we separate things with our mind and our literalistic sense, that we are confused. It is when we are able to perceive interconnectedness, we learn that all things are one; and in that experience, all things make sense and are coherent. That experience of oneness is the experience of the Divine. Perhaps it is even how the Divine experiences reality, so when we open ourselves to this, we taste eternal life.

Jesus says elsewhere that there is no marrying in heaven. Is that because heaven is existence that is aware but not separated by perceptual boundaries? Animals often show this integrated awareness. I’m sure you have been alarmed by an animal companion staring intently at something invisible to you.
Most of you have experienced the stunning beauty of nature that makes you forget yourself totally as you stand in awe. I also often experience it as someone dies and their spirit pulls everyone together in one last moment of shared grief. In that moment, the sense of connection binds that pain in and of the moment. These moments of love, beauty or suffering are gifts that break through our normal isolation and aloneness.

It is easy in our busy, working time to forget these sacred moments, but Jesus cautions that we find God as we lose ourselves in love, in his great compassion, in acts of solidarity, in appreciation of life.

Linda Hogan writes in “The Great Without” : The world inside the mind is lovely sometimes, and large.Its existence is why a person can recall the mist of morning clouds on a hill . . . . or the black skies of night that the Luiseno call their spirit, acknowledging that the soul of the world is great within the human soul. . . (But) the inward may have been all along the wrong direction to seek. A person seems so little and small, and without is the river, the mountain, the forest of fern and tree, the desert with its lizards, the glacial meltings and freezings and movements of life. The cure for soul loss is in the mist of morning, the grass that grew a little through the night, the first warmth of sunlight, the waking human in a world infused with intelligence and spirit.

God’s Spirit is calling us to relinquish our small dreams, our ragged and unhelpful boundaries and open ourselves to freedom that is another way to experience the compassion of being all in the One as the One abides within us all. Jesus shows us how being connected in body to the earth and in spirit to the divine, integrates a human, brings worlds to gather, makes us human. Being the nexus of immanence and transcendence is both the human task and our destiny.

One More Place John 14:1-14

I am constantly amazed at how much of my theology has been shaped by my family. My mum and dad were very spiritual people, seeing the holy in everything. My mum especially in people and my dad in the world around him. Even in their elder years, they would look at life with wonder and joy. Today, on mother’s day I want to tell you a story about my mum. One thanksgiving when we all shared a home, all my adult children said they wouldn’t be coming home for the family feast, so mum and I planned a special treat for the four of us. As the day wore on, each child called to say actually they would  come home, and …..that they were bringing multiple friends with them. Instead of feeling cranky, which I must admit was my disposition at the time, mum whirled into her role as creator of abundance and sent my father and I off on impossible missions for food when everything seemed to be closed. At the end of the day, we had a remarkable feast. My mum had her grandchildren and lots of others to entertain.

When I hear the passage read, “In our Fathers house are many rooms”, I think of mum who brought us up to believe that there was always room for one more at the table, one more child to love, one more friendship to make. It was not even a stretch for me to expect that everyone would find what they needed in our home. So it was likely that God’s house would be equally welcoming and satisfying for everyone.

Thinking about the later part of today’s gospel, we hear Jesus saying, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” First, I must first caution you about Greek. In Greek, there is no definite article so this passage could be translated as the way or a way. History shows how we have limited the discussion. I think it is unfortunate because I think it can be read both ways with authenticity.

To read it as a way, a truth, a life, is to accept that God is not limited by the human constructs of religion. Rather the life that God has given is for all. The way may vary in cultural terms, but it is always a way of compassion, in every religion. It is always the deep mystery that truth is a precious gem to be glimpsed but not seen in its entirety.

When we use the definite article, I think we are talking about those of us who are called to follow Jesus in particular; to meditate upon his teaching, to practice forgiveness and reconciliation, to be generous and hospitable to all. We find life in service, in shared joy and in communal struggle. We also testify that we have seen death, we have experienced loss, and fear, and doubt, and we have come to the other side of the lake with Jesus. We live the resurrection in our bones, in our hearts and in our souls. Resurrection is embodied in how we live our lives, by our compassion, and in our hope. Indeed, this is the only way for us, for those who love Jesus and hear his voice in the wind, and see his face in others’ lives. The truth is not a doctrine, but the truth of relationship. And life is.

Community of Joy

T(Based on Acts 2:41-47)

Today’s lesson from Acts concerns the community gathered around James the Just in Jerusalem, the patron saint of our neighbours in Fergus but not the Saint James in Guelph.

This community was Jewish and continued to see themselves as faithful to their roots for a very long time. For them, the switch to change the practices of the faith were as gut wrenching as some of the changes that we have experienced in our era. As well, it was this community that was decimated in 70 when the Romans razed Jerusalem, destroying everything of meaning.

Many commentators puzzle over the common sharing of property and the communal way of life of this group. It is important to remember context. If this was written or remembered as the time when Jerusalem had been free of Roman occupation, 66-70, then we would expect that it would be very much a pro tem or “for the time being” kind of situation in which people were living under siege restraints, with rationing of food and other supplies. Even if the occupation preceded that time, we can be reasonably certain that it would have been the poor or the highly committed who would have participated in this community.

A common observation is that it is only those who have things who are unwilling to share. Generally speaking, the less one has, the easier it is to be generous. As well, in a time of difficult circumstances, one must depend on one’s neighbours to survive. In any case, I think the motivation of those people is not really the interesting part of this narrative.

Why were they a  growing community? What was the attraction? A free meal will only carry a group so far after all. Could it have been not just the generosity but the joy, even in the face of other anxieties or difficulties? Was it perhaps the hope, the engagement in the mission, despite the problems, that made them so attractive?

Research into why some churches are thriving in our time would indicate that many people appreciate the Way and the message of Jesus and they want to learn how to be faithful so that they can experience that same joy and hope of a community, especially one living in dangerous times.

We have come through a time of winnowing in the church when we have wondered if our message, our friendship, our mission would survive. Really that is not our concern. Our concern must be to be clear about where God is calling us at this time, to be free so that we can be joyful. Of course, we have to work hard, we have to talk together, we have to plan, we have to dream, and we have to eat and pray, and tell stories together. And we have to trust in the angels who come when we need them, usually disguised as other human beings but carrying what we need.

And so I say to you it is time to rejoice, to open our hearts and hands, to cast worry away, and to look to the horizon of the Holy Spirit, who is shaking us loose and shaking us up. As it says in the Song of Solomon, “Now is the time of singing”.