Where are You hiding? Prayer

 

Where are You hiding in this bleak time?

The grey sky is covering where I stand.

I cannot think.

I cannot reach out to You.

.

This is Your time to see me

To hold me

This is Your time to sing my praises,

Dig in the rubble

And search for my heart.

Or at least to hold my hand.

.

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Prayer is Music

“We are a community of believers, questioners, and questioning believers. We strive to be open and affirming to all. We sometimes disagree, yet love one another as we wade through the joy and pain of spiritual growth. We endeavor to worship God together, follow the example of Jesus, embody the Holy Spirit, support each other, and serve our neighbors, near and far.”   Official Statement of 1st Congregational Church, Ashfield, MA, UCC

 

What does prayer mean to a congregation of “believers, questioners, and questioning believers”? Does God hear our petitions and decide whether to answer yes or no? Does prayer focus our energy on someone who is suffering and that energy aids the person? Does prayer do anything?

Each Sunday, joining in prayer is singing with each other. Regardless of the words in a song, “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” or “Ubi Caritas,” the music shifts our spirits and we join with each other. Prayer is music, it brings us to a place of sacred attention when we are alone or all together. However each of us envisions God, we yearn to align ourselves with Wisdom, Compassion, Justice, and Love. Wherever we seek God, in nature, in our neighbor, in church, in silence, we yearn to find the Source of All and trust that it is good. Prayer is an expression of that yearning, of our deepest concerns and desires.

While praying we release ourselves from the necessary questions such as “Who or What is God?” We enter the space that we want to understand more about and explore. Afterwards we read books and discuss and give our brains a good work out.

If nothing else, prayer allows us to open to each other. It gives us, as Buddhists would say, an opportunity to glimpse the Interbeing of all. Prayer is a map we both follow and draw as we go.

Those old prayers and hymns we sometimes recite and sing are the memories of those seekers before us. Something in those prayers opened their hearts, gave them courage, and urged them to follow their path.

Prayers are not recipes or formulae, they are love poems. They need not be factual, but they must be true.   

– Kate Braestrup, “Beginning Grace”

 

Touching the Water: A Poem

Rev. Kate Stevens led a prayer circle in solidarity with Standing Rock Water Protectors. A bottle filled with water from the Missouri River at Standing Rock and local sacred waters sat in the middle. Kate put her hands on the bottle and everyone touched someone who was touching someone who was touching the water.

Touching the Water

For our ancestors, wise and unwise

..

Their blood flows like water through time

and settles for a while in our veins,

warm and nourishing and

with a long blood memory.

..

There is no “my blood” to sacrifice or

“my water” to drink,

no “this blood”

“this water,”

only blood

only water.

..

The Jew said,

Hath not a Jew eyes,

organs, dimensions, senses,

affections, passions,

healed by the same means,

harmed by the same weapons,

warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer

as a Christian?

If you prick us do we not bleed?

..

Only one blood to spill

One water to sail upon

One blood remembering all as it flows through us,

as we struggle to forget.

One water aware of all as it flows around us,

as we flounder in forgetfulness.

..

One sacred duty for our very brief time here:

Remember.

 

Explaining Post-Jesus Christianity to Liberals

Slightly Revised edition

post-jesus-bus

by Rev. Kellie Banter, preacher to the 1%.

(Republican Church and its enforcer Donald Trump. Bible by Ayn Rand)

Chapter One: Blessed Are the Rich, for They Inherited the Earth

Jesus insisted that the poor would inherit the earth.  He was wrong.  The rich have inherited the earth. It is all theirs. They can chew it up and spit it out if they want, as they do. Let’s just call it a bad financial forecast.

I’m not a rich person right now, but The American Dream may still hit me a home run. In the meantime, I am preparing the ground for my arrival in the Promised Land. For example, I’ll vote with Post-Jesus Christians (aka Republicans) on their budget plan once they get one. The only people who would increase taxes of rich people are those who have given up  hope of ever becoming a rich person.  That attitude is both un-American and communistic.

Chapter Two: The Donald Trumps of Their Era

On one web forum, I made the mistake of referring to the twelve disciples as “poor fishermen.” Almost before I could click “send,” I got a response from a student of the Bible: “The twelve disciples were the Donald Trumps of their time.” Apparently, they each owned three houses and had many servants. Who knew? This revelation turned the New Testament right-side up for me.

When Jesus said he would make the twelve apostles fishers of men, they thought he was letting them in on a new mortgage lending scheme. Imagine their horror when he started antagonizing potential customers by insulting them, and trashing competitors‘ tables outside the Temple. Some people just can’t take a little free market competition.

The Apostles kept trying to show Jesus the error of his ways.  He got impatient with them, but they never lost patience with him. Until the inevitable happened.

They weren’t surprised when he got the death penalty; that’s where people like him end up. You didn’t see them holding signs, “Crucifixion is Murder!” or “Torture is Against God’s Law!”  Everyone knows the best way to avoid the death penalty is to get rich. Jesus was not much of a role model in this regard.

Chapter 3:  All Kinds of Sickness that You Clearly Deserve

(Matthew 4:23) “And Jesus went about all Galilee… preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.”

Tell me this: if Jesus could actually heal the sick, why is there any sickness left?  He told his followers to go heal the sick. They didn’t have much luck, so they invented health insurance.

Jesus told us we must heal the sick, the poor, the hungry, no matter who they are… a kind of Judean Obamacare.  No profit there. Repeal that.

I used to think that the Kingdom of God was a  land filled with all kinds of people from all over the world and their pets, laughing and eating and sharing desserts.  That was before Ron Paul painted a new picture for me. At a past Republican debate, he preached the new Post-Jesus Christianity: the Kingdom of God is where we step over people who are in comas because they were too stupid to get health insurance.  After all, fair’s fair and freedom is freedom.  He didn’t actually call it Post-Jesus Christianity, but those who have ears shall hear.

Next month: Blessed Are the War-Makers for They Get the Spoils

 

 

 

More Bible Stuff

smith1webWith “Color-Coded Bibles” and “Leggo My Jesus” posts, I thought I’d finished writing about the proliferation of bible versions. After the American Patriots’ Bible and the Leggo (Brick) Bible, what more interesting could be said? So far the Adam-was-white bible version has not been published. They may still be writing verses to boost their claim. (Now that Steve Bannon is advising the Trump team, it may appear sooner than we’d like.)

But lo! In the New Books section of Meekins Library, this appeared: The Murderous History of Bible Translations !  The revealing subtitle given by author Harry Freedman is “Power, Conflict, and the Quest for Meaning.”

Of course I went straight to the index to look up Leggos, but found only “Logos”: not the same thing.

I did find a fascinating chapter on Julia Smith, born 1792, the first woman to translate the bible from original texts (no, not that kind of texts). She did the translations, not for publication or public use, but because she was interested. She somehow got hold of a Hebrew Old Testament, a feat in itself at the time. I won’t attempt to summarize the life of Julia and her sisters; just know that they are foremothers of all independent, thoughtful women. Julia made her last public appearance addressing the Connecticut State Suffrage Association at age ninety-one.

I highly suggest this book, if only for the chapter on Julia Smith. Here is one quote: “….one newspaper, which had not even seen her translation, declared it simply proved that some women will deign to do things for which they are not suited.”

A good motto for all of us.

Many Doorsteps

That Doorstep

That doorstep trips you up every time.

Look down, the key is under the bucket.

Look up, watch your head.

Watch, don’t let the cat out.

Look behind, or the screen door will hit you.

Put your bag down; it tips over.

Look down, the key is not under the bucket.

Look up, bang your head,

Hold the screen with your elbow,

Kick the door with your heel. No one answers.

The cat sits between your legs.

.

The Stoop

The concrete is hot. It must be summer.

The streetlight sputters on. It must be evening.

The Mallory’s slide open their window. There must be a breeze.

Cousin Jimmy has his guitar. There must be no work.

Mom and Mary Ryan sit down to stretch their legs. Dinner must be cooked.

I sit on the bottom step, feet planted on the sidewalk.

A cat between my legs.

.

The Wheelchair Doorstep

Someone must see it is raining.

Someone must be working the door.

It can’t be long now, can it?

Surely someone will come soon.

I back up, rev up my arms and rush the doorstep.

The tiny front wheels catch the lip and tip me forward.

Surely someone will come soon.

See me in the rain outside

A cat upon my lap.

.

That Last Doorstep

He’s lain there unmoving,

Waiting for God knows what.

The nurses lied on his chart –

He has not eaten in days.

His eyes have not opened,

His throat has not moaned.

He’s lain there unmoving,

Waiting for .…

.

He is waiting for the precise moment.

Relax, he’s been waiting a lifetime for this moment.

The exact right moment.

Some sound in his silence,

Listening for that precise breath

To choose to be his last.

Before stepping over.

.

I nestle under his chin.

Feel my purr echo in this chest.

A Donald Trump of the Mind

A blogger [The Buddhist Christian] described his temporary inability to write by saying he had laryngitis of the hands. Here it is, the day before the Ashfield News article is due. My fingers rest uselessly on the keys. I’ve tried: over the past few weeks I’ve started writing about mercy – “Mercy me!” “Merciful heaven!” “Heavens to mercy!” etc. The article floated to a merciful end. The next subject I tried was about how Trump videos have replaced cute cat videos on Facebook – why IS that? That one bumped to a unsatisfactory close.

Writing this article monthly is a spiritual practice. But what happens when a person’s spiritual practice gets laryngitis?

Someone said that we try to live our lives with our hearts and try to keep our minds from screwing things up. I disagree. Only our minds can illuminate our hearts. Yes, okay, being cut off from our emotions, is bad and very 1950’s. But if we can’t learn from our hearts, our emotions (hearts), what’s the point? My own emotions hit a logjam this month. I haven’t been able to make sense of all my own heart has gone through over the past few years, and now feel a little dumbfounded and dull. I can tell because my sense of humor is a bit dim.

Our minds are great lassos. They lasso emotions to give them shape, to see them clearly, to pull them in, to illuminate them. Unilluminated emotions can be poisonous, or at least irritating. Unilluminated emotions can lead to….well, Trump for example. I am suffering from a Donald Trump of the mind.  A little 1950’s distance is needed to clear up the logjam. Not only in my own psyche, but I daresay, the country’s.

The path to our well house gets clogged with water streaming from further up the mountain. Not a big lake, just enough to make your socks wet and cold. How satisfying it is to take a stick and scoop aside enough leaves to free the stagnant water! Watching it suddenly burst out and rush down the hill is just about orgasmic. My March spiritual practice is to take a stick, gently stir things up, to not stand still in dumbfoundedness.

And to vote for……………

Loss, by Popular Demand

I stepped from plank to plank

So slow and cautiously;

The stars about my head I felt,

About my feet the sea.

I knew not but the next

Would be my final inch,–

This gave me that precarious gait

Some call experience.

—Emily Dickinson

I used this poem in a previous column when I wrote about healing from injuries due to an accident. Reading Dickinson forced me to redefine what healing means, what a wound is. Laurel Turk’s play BREASTLESS made me take a closer look at what a wound is.

In Celtic tradition a “thin place” is a place where the veil separating earth from heaven lifts.  “A thin place requires us to step from one world to another and that often means traveling to a place where we have less control and where the unpredictable becomes the means of discovery.” (Maddox)

Turk takes us on her journey to such a thin place, through pain and discovery and the places we are afraid to go to, where we would never go willingly.

Wounds are thin places. They cause great pain and grief, not just for the wound-carrier, but for those around her. Healing starts when the wound begins to lift the veil between ourselves and the world, ourselves and our hidden selves, and “a terrible beauty is born.” (Yeats)

Laurel Turk wrote the play BREASTLESS about her experiences with cancer, with a double mastectomy. As the shows continue, the audiences get larger. The play moves so many people, not just because her words and movement are about cancer. The play is about about fear, trauma, wounding, and all the care and revelations those things awaken. Turk forces us to see that the unimaginably painful is not simply bearable, but tender, humorous, open. Turk, and the audience, begins to imagine a world shifted into one more alive, more livable.

“…recognizing that loss is a part of life…” says one character when describing a dream of a future world. We prefer to ignore loss, pretending we’re “just fine with it,” getting over it. When a play like this looks closely at loss and grief with an unblinking eye, and a rare sense of humor, it is a gift.

This is why after over a hundred years we still spend time deciphering Dickinson’s cryptic verses. And why, by popular demand, BREASTLESS will go on tour.

All Things Counter: A Subdued Christmas

 

This is the time of year that I usually enjoy looking back over the Christmas Wars: reporters speculating on what race Santa really is, fundamentalist atheists demonstrating, once again, that while the Nativity scene may not be historically accurate, Grinches are real. (See “Delicious Christmas Controversies”) The War was very subdued this year. Much spittle flew over the President and First Lady wishing the nation Happy Holidays, but that was fleeting. The only real bright spot was the wave of Pastafarians winning the right to have their license photos taken with colanders on their heads.

However, Pastafarians are gaining acceptance for wearing colanders while Muslims are attacked for wearing hijab. I’m not finding the humor in that. Screaming at refugee Syrians, picketing children from Central America, some Americans are celebrating The Slaughter of the Innocents. One woman screamed at a bus of children on its way to a refugee camp, “Jesus would obey the law!” I consider this proof positive that there are two opposing versions of the New Testament, the one our church uses and the one that woman uses.

Our country has an ugly history of immigrant-hatred. We just can’t seem to shake it: Chinese, Italians, Irish, Japanese, Puerto Rican, Syrians, and always front-and-center, African Americans. (I’m skipping over the irony that African Americans were kidnapped and brought here by white folks.) This Christmas season the never-ending trend is gaining political traction.

This year the war on Christmas seems real.

Usually the bracing cold of this time of year helps me snap out of this discouragement. Now I’m weighed by damp warmth. Christmas Day, Kate Stevens told us to remember the resources we use to fill the hole of discouragement. The resources do not solve problems, but give us the strength to face them. I’ll pass along my joy to you, a gift from Gerard Manley Hopkins:

“Glory be to God for dappled things –

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.”

Kitten Anti-Terrorism with Shingles

 

I’m miserable. Everyone who has ever had shingles, raise your hand; you know what I’m talking about. This is the fourth week of skin torture. I’m writing this after taking a pain med, but before it knocks me out for a blessed four hours. This is my “able to think about something other than shingles” hour.

Usually I scroll through Facebook while drinking morning coffee, a non-threatening way to start my day before facing Huffington Post or BBC News. Now I appreciate FB even more. I don’t have a lot of “friends” on FB, but the ones I have post great inspiring, thoughtful, hilarious things. Gets my mind off my rash. This morning I read about cute kitten anti-terrorism.

Authorities in Brussels asked the public to stop tweeting information that might reveal where police are working because ISIS could use the info. So Belgians began flooding #BelgianLockdown with cat pictures: cute ones, funny ones, cats in police uniforms, filing their nails, Darth Vader kittens, all to make it harder for terrorists to sort through while looking for information about police movements.

It’s hard to feel pain while looking at a Salvador Dali-like picture of a cat’s head poking through a Belgian waffle. It’s hard to whine while watching a country respond to a call for anti-terrorist cooperation with wit and humor.  It’s satisfying to think of hate-filled people being forced to scroll through cat pictures hours on end. Reportedly, a news photographer come up with the idea. It might be too much to nominate him for a Nobel Peace Prize, but maybe not. [Remember, I’m on drugs.]

A number of people on FB (and in the real world) remind us that the opposite of terror and destruction is creativity and union. Poets vow to keep writing,  teachers recommit to teaching, care-givers continue to give care, parents hold up their children with pride and love. Jeannine is working right next to me now to bring the play “Breastless” to Ashfield, teach drama at Whole Children, prepare to direct “The Crucible”.

Anti-terrorism work surrounds us.

I’d decided not to write a column this month because of the difficulty of thinking straight with a wicked case of shingles. Then I read about the people of Brussels and changed my mind. I may not win a Nobel Prize for literature, but I showed up.