Pruning Enlightenment (John 15:1-8, 5th Sunday of Easter)

My yard calls me outside every weekend with its tangle of lush, wild growth. It’s spring, just as it’s spring in the joy of the fifty-day Festival of Easter. Does that mean it’s time to spring into action? Not yet. It’s time to BE – to be embedded in the great miracle and mystery of the oneness we share in the living vine of Christ and to allow God to do the necessary tending of the body we are together. The I AM is expressed in the well-pruned we are of the one body.

Contrary to how ‘enlightenment’ is  often seen in modern American culture – an achievement signaling arrival at the pinnacle – this  new dawning of light simply signals another season of growth. Awakening to our essential unity and gifting for the work of God in the world does not mean we are ready to enact it. The old ways of seeing and being still lie close at hand, something like the phantom limbs in the body  memory of an amputee.  It takes times for the new reality to penetrate our life together. Without that time, we run the risk of pouring the new energy and perception into old forms that serve the small self.

Rather than being purified into enlightenment, our enlightenment needs purification. In the same way a living grapevine needs pruning over and over again throughout its productive life, so does our common life. That’s the wisdom of the great, repeating cycle of Quadratos. The annual practice of praying Lent as our communal story opens into Easter, awakening and reawakening us to the essential unity we already are. In the words of Thomas Merton, “We are already one.  But we imagine that we are not.  And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we already are.” (The Asian Journal).

The practices of the journey plant us in the soil of ongoing life in which we touch and retouch that deep truth. To bear fruit out of this truth, we need a master gardener who knows well the art of pruning. Growth is to be disciplined (the same root as the word disciple) rather than being left to its own natural state. Not all shoots are equal; the question is which ones will bear the most fruit and the fruit of highest quality in a particular environment. Why? The new life given is not merely for our own building up but is fuel for eventual service in a hungry world. First, our enlightenment needs pruning.

Rather like steps 6 and 7 step of the 12 step process, the work of pruning is God’s work, not ours. It is the nature of our personal and communal life that we are unable to assess what has ultimate value. The annoying shoot we would lop off may be what is most needed for the eventual health and productivity of the Body in a changing world. Following honest self examination and confession of how it is with us (something like the work of the annual Lenten retreat), the 6th step says simply “Were entirely ready to have God remove our defects of character.” This is followed by step 7, “Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.” Our part is to allow ourselves to be acted upon by BEING ready and then asking God for the necessary pruning.

Our primary work in this season of Easter joy is to abide, a word that appears eight times in four verses. Throughout the Festival season, we are to dwell in the Gift we have received, trusting the pruning of the Spirit to reveal what in us is gift and what needs to be let go or refined. Trust is key; there is no need for hyper-vigilance. The pruning is not a radical rooting out as much as attentiveness to creative purpose: “You have already been cleansed [pruned] by the word [Logos] that I have spoken to you.” The Logos is a living word that creates afresh with us for good beyond what we can now see. What we can ‘do’ in the meantime is to abide in our essential and newly reclaimed unity. Definitions of the word abide (μένω or menō in Greek) all resonate with the need to remain, to tarry, to continue to be. Most especially in this season we are to remain as one, not to become another or different oneness.” (Strong’s G3306)

What a charge! In this season, brothers and sisters in the One Body, let us stay, tarry, remain, BE who we already are, trusting the loving hand of the Gardener to shape us together toward a greater fruitfulness than we can now imagine.

Living with More Vitality: Trans-Figured

Last week we passed the two-year mark since The Hidden Power of the Gospels was published. Yet Quadratos is a work that has been emerging in my consciousness for almost twenty years. To see the Gospel through a Quadratos lens is one expression. Another is to see the cycle of the Christian years and its feasts through this lens. And perhaps the widest view is to see all of life, every growth and change process and perhaps even the dynamics of the cosmos itself as an expression of Quadratos.
As many know, I am spending some six months between New Zealand and Australia. In part I am here working on a new book that opens Quadratos for everyone. Yet, I write as one devoted to the path of Christ for this is the path that opens and touches my heart.
In the Christian cycle we have reached the point of the community retreat, celebration and festival. If your tradition is not Christian, I hope the reflections over the coming weeks will continue to be rich leaven for your relationships, marriage, family life and spiritual community.

Beginning this Sunday with the Transfiguration and continuing fourteen Sundays till Pentecost, many Christian communities enter a time of retreat (lent), celebration (easter) and festival (easter season). Used well, this span brings renewed vitality to community life. This retreat is simply a regularly scheduled yearly check up. It reminds us that every relationship needs a time of reflection preferably far ahead of crisis. But if your relational life is in crisis, this retreat is a lifeline.

It begins with a lesson on Trans-Figuration. What relationship, marriage or family does not know its need to live a larger life? … to reconcile disparate aspects of its life into renewed vitality? … to be trans-figured?

Mark’s text this week drips with beautiful teachings on the mystery of relationship. In this reflection, I’ll focus on two pillars of good relating. The text opens with “six days later.” The image of six days holds two reminders. On the sixth day of creation, God created female and male in God’s own image. There are many ways to understand this. Here on this Sunday of Trans-Figuration, we need to hold to the majesty and power of how two form one. The way I understand this is that within God is a flow of what we perceive as opposites. God is a dynamic oneness comprised of “opposites” in on-going flow. As we come to the moment of entering the community retreat, we remember that “polarity flow” is an inherent in dynamic oneness, relatedness, marriage, friendship and especially vital community living.

Our invite to retreat begins with the vision of our God who created us to be a diverse harmony- each and every part with its honored place in the dynamic flow of union. In this harmony, everything belongs. Each of us individually and all of us together are a trans-figuration. Each of us and all of us together are a Jeru-Shalom.

However, we have work to do to more clearly reflect that reality. And that work brings us to the second meaning of “after six days.” In Mark’s text it is six days since the Jesus and the disciples stood in the region of the springs where Jesus asked “Who do you say that I am?” Those springs are the head waters of both nurturance and destruction. In essence, Jesus asks us, “Can you go to the place of your deep fear and anxiety and know the I AM is there?” And what is that place of anxiety in relationship and community? It is usually some form of polarization. We see that “polarization” pictured in the text info herpes as Moses in Judaism represents tradition, the law and discipline and Elijah who represents compassion and prophecy. And we know that very polarization all around us these days – progressive or conservative, Mary or Martha, man or woman, ordained or lay …

Our retreat is to remind us that we are already one, made so in the image of God. Yet we need to stand back from our diverse passions and understand that relationship and community has an energy at its base that we might describe as polarity flow. In our retreat – time let us seek to see beneath the Moses-Elijah dialectic within and amongst us. Let us seek to see “only Jesus.” When we do, God’s grace will flow and we find our relationships and communities as more in union with each other and our one God.

Sunday Gospel Text: Mark 9:2-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Pentecost: John 20:19-23 (NRSV) Sent as Artisans of a New Humanity

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

What does this mean?

I hope that it does NOT mean an authorization for the church to become the judge of humanity and of doctrinal purity and of ideological correctness. I hope that it does mean the church as a sign of one of the core practices of the Quadratos understanding of life’s journey: Jeru-Shalom.

Jeru-Shalom: truthful community where “tribal” divisions break down and opposites find they can dance together, in peace and harmony, the quality of communitas celebrated in both John’s Gospel and the Letter to the Ephesians. Jeru-Shalom: the reconciling Way of God, sent into the world and manifested as the Christ. Now the disciples—Jeru-Shalom—continue the “sent” mission as followers of this Way. The sending is possible only because they/we receive the Holy Spirit. The breathing on/in of the Holy Spirit is what knits us together in the ever open way of Christ–something that we may characterize as a yearning and cruciform commitment to transcend all unforgiving tribalisms in order to be birthed as “artisans of a new humanity” (cf. Juan Luis Segundo, The Community Called Church).

Jeru-Shalom! Here is the truth: Gather any group of people together and begin honest, forthright conversation about things that really matter to the members of the group, and ”tribalisms”–lines/divisions/fractures–will soon be revealed, and along with it, attempts to cajole and convert others to my (obviously correct and righteous) point of view. Scott Peck in The Different Drum has analyzed such dynamics of group life well and truthfully. The realities of a community need to be voiced, but any group that wants to get to beyond the agonizing mire of ongoing conflicts will need to end up at the point of “dying”—that is, bracketing one’s dearly held convictions for a while to allow the deeper truths and yearnings of the human heart to emerge. In that kind of conversation, wherein no one is judged, community is born, and in the astonishing freshness–even holiness–of that experience, participants get a taste of what it might mean to be artisans of a new humanity. (A marvelous resource for such practice is Contemplative Dialog.

Therefore, Come, Holy Spirit, breathe on us breath of heaven, and enliven us with welcome for those still unforgiven by the world–the wounded, the outcast, and the spiritually bereft. As the body of the Christ help us wrestle together over things that really matter so that we learn, bit by forgiving bit, how to walk your Way, how to honor every person as your child, and how to live as artisans of a new humanity. In and for Jeru-Shalom we pray, Amen.

Pentecost Sunday – John 20:19-23 (Matthew Year)

Quadratos applied to Lent/Easter – Lectionary Year A (Matthew with John)
Church Year/Path: Year of Matthew with John – 1st & 3rd Paths of Quadratos
Easter Focus: Celebrating Our Gifts/Talents/Ministries that make up the Body of Christ.
Landscape/Season: Resting in the Glorious Garden/Spring
Church Season: RCL/RM: Easter Season – Second Half of the Great Hundred Days
Sunday Gospel: RCL/RM: John 20: 19-23
Placement of Text: Last Sunday’s text was from John Chapter 17. This week we move ahead to John Ch. 20 – and the second appearance of the Risen Christ in John’s text. The first appearance – Mary Magdalen and Jesus in the garden (John 20) immediately precedes this Sunday’s text.

Gospel Text: please scroll below Key Points/Reflection

Key Points/Reflection:
1. Recall that the word Pentecost roughly means “50th” in Greek. The significance of the number is two-fold. Our mother faith – Judaism – has a practice called, “Counting of the Omer” during which they count/name each day from the second night of Passover to the Feast of Shavuot. 1st night past Passover. 2nd night past … etc. The counting continues for 49 days (seven x seven) the fullness of time and/or completion of a cycle. Shav’out celebrates Moses receiving the Torah at the top of Mt. Sinai. In Acts, when we read of the disciples gathered together in Jerusalem – they were gathered for Shavuot – a feast that celebrates our desire for an ever deepening revelation. Then suddenly – they experienced a new voice/breath/fire/anointing from God. From the Jewish practice of counting the 49 days between Passover and the feast of Shavuot – we have a 49 day Easter Season with Pentecost being the final/50th day.

2. Yet Pentecost is not just the final day of the Easter Season but even more significantly is the final day of the Great Hundred (that opened at the beginning of Lent). And the 100 Day Retreat and Festival is for our renewal and deepening transformation as community – the living Body of Christ. However, it is not about navel gazing but about service. The ultimate reason for the season is to receive the command “to be sent”. Thus the final day for the Retreat/Festival is Pentecost. Again, feasts of the church are not merely an historical commemoration but teach and celebrate spiritual formation.

3. Sunday of the Transfiguration Sunday (RCL) closes the Sundays after Epiphany season announces the Great 100 Days – our annual community retreat and festival. In like manner, Pentecost closes the Great 100 Days and announces the second half of the church year – the remaining six months bending us back to the end of the Christian year and the Sunday in late November when we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King/Reign of Christ.

4. The gospel text for Pentecost is an unusual choice for it is largely the same text we read on the Second Sunday of Easter. Yet repeating it twice in six Sundays serves to highlight its importance. Its two appearances provide us an opportunity to celebrate/preach two different aspects. The critical line in the text as heard in the Easter Season is: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” On the Second Sunday of Easter, the emphasis is on “peace” (shalom and Jeru-Shalom) and on the “we.” On Pentecost Sunday the emphasis is “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And we might bring that down to one word: SENT! That one word has such purpose that its latin counterpart came to be the name for Catholic worship on Sundays: “missa” or “mass.” In the powerpoint presentation I have developed for this Sunday, the slide is shows a wide open door The forefront is an interior room in soft white. Beyond the door are fields of grain waiting to be tended. The screen has just one word: “Sent!”

5. Even though we hear the Christ (in the text and on this Feast) “so I send you (plural)” – the deeper wisdom is this. When we are filled with love .. filled with an intimacy with God/Christ … no one needs to tell us, “go and serve.” When you are touche by another’s love, does anyone need to tell you to share stories of that love? Stories naturally and effortlessly flow out of us. It is the very experience that Christianity hopes is our celebration on Pentecost. By our annual 100 Day Retreat and Festival – we are so touched and filled by love of God and love within our community – that it will now inexorably flow out to others and all around us. Is this true in your community this year? Tell the stories! If not, tell stories of others and other years.

Gospel Text: John 20:19-23 (NRSV)
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Actual Faces in the Living Body of Christ – Reflections on John 17:1-11

How many thresholds do we cross in a year, or a lifetime, or an age? Crossing points are liminal spaces, heads-up spaces, be alert and aware spaces. So too with the threshold that presents as we approach the last Sunday of this season of Easter. It has been a season of celebrating the incomparable gift bestowed in our created identity as the living body of the risen Christ.  Intentional celebration nourishes, encourages, empowers and renews as we prepare to move consciously back into our season of work in the world.

What a radical re-allocation of time this way of seasonal living is, especially in a culture like modern America where hurry predominates. We have taken 100 days to reflect on our common life, to celebrate our essential oneness, and to reclaim our gifting as members of the Living Body.  If a Sabbath is 14% of a week, the great 100 days is a double Sabbath in sanctified time – just shy of 28% of each year. Can we afford it?

The better question is “How can we afford to not dedicate this time?”  The work of facing fundamental change together hasn’t gone away – from this Easter we return to face the vulnerability of our climate, our economic systems, our relational lives and need for healing, and the political movements of change rocking the world. What’s new is that we can re-engage as a replenished people of hope, together, one gifted body moving through the particular circumstance of our time. Pentecost is around the corner; Easter provides the oil of joy that lubricates movement into the change at hand.

John’s Jesus is quite clear about who needs his prayer as the crossing point comes around again year after year. Chapter 16 (just before this passage) ends with, “The hour is coming… when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone.” From unity, a scattering of attention, focus and essential identity looms. “Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.” Appearance is deceptive. Underneath apparent reality is a deeper life already present and moving powerfully:  “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace [wholeness/ shalom]. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

Re-entry into the values and pacing of everyday life (‘the world’) from the inter-penetrating mode of shared intimacy is a passage of magnitude. There may be slippage that needs re-minding of the imperishable truth that even in our apparent scattering, we are one. No wonder he says, “I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me… And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

In this annual crossing when the need for protection is strong, I am aware of two authors from the great stream of tradition that approach different aspects of this moment, C. S. Lewis in Screwtape Letters and St. Teresa of Avila.

In the second letter of Lewis’ work, a devil-in-training receives instruction from his uncle about the necessity and the means of separating a recent convert from the truth of Oneness he is touching:

One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread but through all time and space and rooted in eternity… That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.

All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather in oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like “the body of Christ” and the actual faces in the next pew.

Yet, notice what happens when those actual faces in the next pew become part of John’s passage as Jesus the Christ states:  “I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those [faces in the pew] whom you gave me, because they are yours… Father protect them… so that they may be one as we are one.”

Then, as Pentecost approaches, we find ourselves instead in Teresa of Avila’s (1515–1582) exquisite poem.  I have modified the text slightly replacing the pronoun ‘yours’ with ‘ours’.

Christ Has No Body

Christ has no body now but [ours],
No hands, no feet on earth but [ours],
[Ours] are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
[Ours] are the feet with which he walks to do good,
[Ours] are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
[Ours] are the hands, [Ours] are the feet,
[Ours] are the eyes, [we] are his body.
Christ has no body now but [ours],
No hands, no feet on earth but [ours],
[Ours are] the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but [ours].