thinking theology

Archive for the ‘Ascension’ Category

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

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The Heart Ascending

As we move into Ascensiontide, I am thinking about Buckminster Fuller’s comment that in a round world, there is no up or down.

In an interview with Damien Simpson in 1979, he stated that “man must learn to think for himself, rather than follow blindly what he has been taught. As the astronauts stated, the words ‘up’ and ‘down’ have no meaning. The correct words are ‘out’ and ‘in’. This was confirmed when mankind learned the Earth was round, not flat.”

Nonetheless when I hear a choir singing “The Lark Ascending,” or read George Meredith’s poem, I do feel my heart lift and tears threaten to rise in my eyes. For some time, we have been too literal, too earnest. Christians, after all, are people of the parable, children of the narrative, inheritors of the songs of praise and lament. Perhaps, it’s time to release our spirits to soar with bird song, to fill our minds with less thinking and more openness to wind and wave, ebb and flow, to trust our senses as much as we trust our intellects.

I would like to reclaim Ascension Day, not as event but as discovery. The disciples experienced a discontinuity between Jesus’ life and his death. Even their post-resurrection experiences must have been as confusing as they were comforting. Ascension Day marks the shift from perplexity about the role of a dead/not dead leader, to awareness of an intimate presence. In terms of constructed reality, the shift of consciousness moves to the possibility that life is not at all predictable or fixed.

The disciples discovered that the impossible is a problem of perspective rather than data. To manage their grief and loss, they focused on fear, the mind killer, and flight, the blurring of the moment. Until they could be still and contemplate the mystery of relationship, love stronger than the grave, their hearts could not find consolation or courage.

I love to visit the church garden where we placed my parents’ ashes. I feel their presence and I am comforted in my heart, although my mind knows that the ashes have long since disappeared into the earth and they are not there in any obviously discernible way. And yet my heart…

As a priest, I have experienced a sense of my hands within those of Jesus whenever I celebrate. The power of the experience is always breath taking and it happens unfailingly. With the other worshippers, my soul ascends in praise and humility at this privilege. Is it measurable? No, of course not. And yet, my heart…

I have four children, all now in their middle years, and somehow, still young to me and vulnerable. Every parent knows how full we are of these people who came to us and whom we love more than our own lives. When I look at them, I see their baby faces, and their teen posturings; I see their joys and their sorrows; I see age beginning to touch them softly now. I see my version of them. Is it the whole story? Of course not. And yet, my heart….

Some experiences in life belong to the soul, called the heart by ancient Egyptians. And these experiences open our minds to consider new understanding, the excitement of discovery/invention, and renewed action. We cannot help but spill over into compassionate action, into loving confrontation, into humble peace keeping when we have seen the planet from space, tasted the ocean, climbed the mountain, opened our heart to the heart of the earth. And so, my heart is rising still.

 

excerpts from The Lark Ascending by George Meredith

….For singing till his heaven fills,
’T is love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
….Our valley is his golden cup,
And he the wine which overflows
To lift us with him as he goes:
The woods and brooks, the sheep and kine
He is, the hills, the human line,
The meadows green, the fallows brown,
The dreams of labor in the town;
He sings the sap, the quicken’d veins;
The wedding song of sun and rains
He is, the dance of children, thanks
Of sowers, shout of primrose-banks,
And eye of violets while they breathe;
All these the circling song will wreathe,
And you shall hear the herb and tree,

….So touching purest and so heard
In the brain’s reflex of yon bird;
Wherefore their soul in me, or mine,
Through self-forgetfulness divine,
In them, that song aloft maintains,
To fill the sky and thrill the plains
With showerings drawn from human stores,
As he to silence nearer soars,
Extends the world at wings and dome,
More spacious making more our home,
Till lost on his aërial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

 

A Eucharistic Prayer for Travellers to Emmaus and Beyond

Presider: Be joyful as you go.
All: We rejoice in the presence of Jesus with us.
Presider: Let us give thanks to the Maker of the universe.
All: We give thanks for the journey to new life.
Presider: God of the journey into new places, with new people and new challenges, we remember that you made us in your image. We are yours and you are our beginning and our home. When people hurt themselves and each other, you weep with us. When we forget to care for the world and its creatures, you call us back to your way of healing and peace.
When we see your beauty in creation, we are reminded that all the earth praises the Holy One, with angels and all the saints, singing,

Sanctus (A time to remember Jesus)
Presider: Gracious God, you travelled with the families of the earth as they crossed deserts and rivers, as they found new homes and were exiled from those homes. You have been our God from everlasting and you abide with us in times of peace and plenty, and in times of war and want.

In Jesus, you gave humanity a servant healer, who would teach us to love you and each other. He consoled the downcast and taught a new vision of human society to those who would hear. He made friends with the beautiful and the unpopular. He challenged the oppressors of his time and encouraged those without political power.

On the night before his trial, Jesus, at supper with his friends, took bread, gave you thanks, broke the bread, gave it to them, and said, “Take and eat: this my body given for you; do this for the remembrance of me.”

After supper he took the cup of wine, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them and said, “Drink this, all of you,” as a sign of his life, given as the covenant of love and forgiveness for everyone. He said, “Whenever you drink it, remember me.”

(A time to remember Jesus)

We give thanks for the life of Jesus that lifts our eyes to new life and new possibilities for all people and for the earth, our home.

All:
 At this table, we proclaim your life, Loving Jesus, while you are coming into our hearts.

Presider:
 Bless these gifts O Holy One, and fill us with your Spirit, that we may follow Jesus in sorrow and in joy as we travel beyond the cross. May the resurrection of all hope and dreaming extend from this table to fill the world with love. Through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ, in unity with the Holy Spirit, all praise belongs to you O Maker of all.

All:
 Amen, amen, amen! Amen, amen, amen!