Harmony – perhaps the greatest communal work of this century

As I write, I am headed to Melbourne where I will address various communities throughout Victoria this May. A highlight will be speaking at the Harmony Festival in Warburton with folk like Andrew Harvey and David Tacey among others. Harmony – I see – as the great requisite communal work of this century. And we are just beginning to learn what “harmony” will require. As part of the festival I will be naming how I see the work and inviting various audiences to join me in its exploration. The dates 16-18 May.

On the eve of the Festival, I will take part what we hope is a dialogue that might move toward healing between Christians and Pagans.We realize this is treacherous ground as millions have been killed over the centuries by misunderstanding and fear of the other.

On Friday, I will present a long workshop on “The Dark Mother” – helping us explore the movements of Quadratos through the myth of Inanna. On Saturday morning, I move into my signature work – presenting the Four Mystical Paths of The Christ. Finally Sunday afternoon finds me in a panel discussion.

Join me and many others in this festival of exploration: www.warburtonharmonyfestival.com

Living Holy Us

Based on John 3:1-17 for Holy Trinity

Perhaps we could say that religion is like the house or the temple or the building dedicated to the Living Holy Other of that which we call God. But surely even using the word “God” already conjures up a variety of images and doctrines that either offer us some limited comfort of a tradition and/or a healthy congregation, or conversely, torment us with wounds and stridency from our encounters with “people of faith”, or with how we have been warped by bits of pieces of philosophy and theology we’ve breathed in from the world around us, from our parents, or peers.

Who or what is “God”? It turns out that our problem with “God” may be just that: “God”, the quotes suggesting in an ironic way that our “God” is a construct of what we have learned, heard, experienced often in the context of a particular religious tradition, or the lack of a tradition, in which case our sense of “God” is an amalgam of bits and pieces of our place in cultural history.  We struggle to find words to adequately express the nature and qualities of an encounter with the divine.  Religion becomes a distillate of experience, enshrined in normative dogm and practice.

Thus Christ, in John 3 is, like a good teacher, engaging Nicodemus in an adventure of a different sort of faith, an adventure of letting go of old constructs and opening up to the possibility of the Living Holy Other lurking within Nicodemus’ religion: GOD. GOD is beyond all definitions and beyond the strictures of religion. GOD as Living Holy Other can never be grasped or manipulated in the ways we attempt to do that with each other.

But this same Living Holy Other, as the very presence of the Christ, is the white light of yearning for depth relationship with creation, with creatureliness, with us. Indeed, in the Christ, we glimpse, as did Nicodemus, that which brought him to the Christ in the dead of night:  the possibility of a Holy Living Us!

This, then, is how I understand the complex and incomprehensible concept of the Trinity. As Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity portrays, it is about profoundly relational love. It is about “God” beyond all our abstractions. It is about “God” becoming for us GOD, the Holy Living Other become the Holy Living Us.  The Spirit invites us, the Christ takes up residence among us, and the Creator molds us all into a Holy Living Us, an abiding wholeness and life, born from above and beyond mere religion.

Here we are again: Mark 1:9-15

“This is the One, the Beloved.” At first, I thought I’d picked the wrong reading. Didn’t we just read this?

Yes, we did. We read these words as Jesus met John at the Jordan. Last week we read these words as Jesus the Christ was transfigured on the mountain. As we hear these words yet again on the first Sunday of our community retreat, it feels as if we’ve come full circle. We’re back where we started—or are we? Three times now—three times in just a few weeks—we’ve heard the words spoken: “This is the One, the Beloved.”  When I got past the feeling of whiplash, I heard the key word in all these iterations: Is. Not was. Not will be. This is the One—the Beloved. Wherever we are in the cycle of our lives, the Beloved, the Christ is with us.

Jesus the Christ is with us as we enter the retreat that begins our 100 day journey from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost. As we step onto this wilderness path, we are buoyed by the reminders we’ve received in the readings during the weeks of the Manifestation of the Christ. We’ve experienced Jesus the Christ calling everyone he encounters into new life. We’ve experienced him facing the demons that split us from one another and from the Holy. We’ve experienced him taking our hands and lifting us up into new life. We’ve experienced him clearing away the visible barriers that fracture our communities. We’ve experienced him drawing us into life that holds the tension between where we’ve been and where we’re going. And just in case we’re unclear about the path ahead of us, we’ve heard the Voice telling us that we are to listen to him—to listen to Jesus the Christ.

The message is clear: listen to the One who is always with us. When our suffering seems to have no end, listen to him. When we experience the separation of the wilderness—when we face the temptation to cling to the known and comfortable ways of the past—as we are tempted to bemoan our sins rather than open our hearts, minds and lives to transformation—as we are tempted to focus on our individual needs and desires, listen to him. This season of preparation for the Easter feast invites us to listen for the choices that stretch us to live together as the Body of Christ—to discern the path that is life-giving both for ourselves as individuals and for our common-union—to seek re-union and new life. Our retreat is a time of self-examination that leads us to reaffirm our baptismal covenant vows with renewed courage and in deep joy. Our retreat is a time of growing up and growing together and of growing closer to the Holy.

May we step into the mysterious waters of our retreat with courage and with faith in the presence of the Christ among us.

Course-Altering Confrontations (Mark 1:40–45)

Mark 1:40A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” 41Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” 42Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 45But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

After his dark of the morning solitary prayer and discernment, Jesus said to his disciples, “‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

What follows immediately is the confrontation with the leper, a man ritually unclean, a man who was not supposed to approach or touch anyone, and vice-versa. Yet he comes up to Jesus and kneels before him, saying, “If you choose, you can make me clean.”

Mark records Jesus’ response this way: Moved with (some sort of deep emotion—either pity or anger) Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!”

Check the commentaries and even the notes to the text of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, and you will see that there are divergent opinions about the nature of the forceful words used in telling the story of Jesus and the leper. Was Jesus moved by pity or by anger? The koine Greek text indicates either translation is possible, based on the textual evidence.

Let’s do a thought experiment and suggest that the word to be used in verse 41 is anger, not pity. Interesting things happen if we make that choice.

Biblical scholar and commentator Brian Stoffegren shows us the dilemma Jesus faced: “I wonder if Jesus’ negative emotions could have been caused by the fact that this leper put him between a rock and a hard place. The leper presented himself before Jesus with sufficient trust for a miracle to happen, but for Jesus to perform the miracle, Jesus had to bring the sick man’s uncleanliness and unsociability upon himself. This would make open entrances into the towns and synagogues more difficult, if not impossible. Jesus was forced to make a change in the way he had planned to minister to the people. Yet, the crowds continued to come to Jesus out in the deserted places.” (http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/mark1x40.htm)

The ministry of proclaiming the good news (and occasionally using words!) is sometimes lived out under radically disjunctive and/or hostile circumstances—a Markan path. There is no doubt that Jesus was deeply passionate about his mission, and yet the way he had envisioned it had just been changed. He faced a bind. For a time a least he could not do what he had just determined to do. Or, to put it another way, the Christ journey is an unfolding journey of discovery, and much of it is not pleasant.

Perhaps this is like the saying, attributed to John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” It seem to be similar for the purposeful life of ministry and mission to a world shadowed by misery. Something comes along to interrupt our agenda. A family crisis makes us cancel a pleasant day at the park. A problem in the church changes a congregation’s attitude about their new pastor. Or, just when it seemed that one’s life was finally finding a pleasant passage here came the existential earthquake and the storm. Or, just when the economy seemed to be barreling along, came the financial collapse. Millions of live and plans changed almost overnight, and the waves from that tsunami still are hitting us.

What then do we do? Notice that Jesus in his wisdom formed a community around himself. He sought out people who would walk with him, even when, as Mark’s gospel shows us, they were by no means clear on what this journey would be. They too had to face, with Christ, many changes of plan—and of heart.

In walking in the second path (in which suffering and confrontation with that which disturbs us is a regular feature), we need to surround ourselves with an intentional community, with people we sense we can trust and with whom we make mutual commitment of flesh and blood time and accountability.

And as Spirit’s wisdom confronts us in course-altering ways, in faith we continue our journey together, dealing with our anger, not trusting our visions as much as our trust in the journey itself toward others, toward the touch of the “unclean”, toward the communities that do not initially welcome, toward the uncomprehending voices, toward the cross on the far hill, and toward the new life in outback spring of God, to which the people still keep coming when they’ve nowhere else to go.

Demon Terrors Mark 1:21-28

This passage from Mark’s gospel tells of Jesus commanding an unclean spirit to leave the man he has possessed. The spirit recognizes Jesus as the Christ and is compelled to leave. Those present are amazed at his power and authority.

The world of Mark’s gospel is one with clear and precise boundaries. Ritual purity was extremely important and the rules separating clean from unclean were highly developed. Thus, one would avoid touching  or even being near a dead body. Similarly, all would avoid a person with an unclean spirit. To be in the presence of one so possessed was also to be defiled. Jesus ignores these cultural proscriptions , exercising his divine power.  As he uses his authority, he frees not only the “crazy” man, but all those around him as well Everyone in this story has been given their freedom to be in relationship to each other in a new, life-giving way.

We no longer live in the world of Mark’s gospel, but very often we act as if we believed that “craziness” is catching. Whenever we can, we “put away” people who are mentally ill. They scare us. At the very least, most of us are extremely uncomfortable in their presence. We have a difficult time understanding the demons that possess them.

We do the same with the “crazy” parts of ourselves. We try to pretend that the shadowy, little-known, mystifying aspects of our psyches aren’t there. Psychologists have long-known and have repeatedly told us how dangerous such a strategy is. We damage ourselves and others in our denial of those parts of us we wish weren’t there.

As we walk Mark’s path of suffering we will find our normal defenses stripped away. We will be forced to confront our demons. These times can be absolutely terrifying. But we can face our terrors knowing that the Risen Christ is with us. He won’t prevent us from making the journey that is ours, but He will accompany us. He is there, always working to free us, to restore us to right relationship with ourselves, our communities and with our God. We need not fear to confront whatever demons hold us captive.