Friday, September 21, 2018

You're Already One with God

I get a meditation from Richard Rohr every day in my e-mail inbox (if you want to receive them, go here).  Each week, he explores a different theme; each year has a unifying theme. 

Some weeks, I'm more interested in the topic than other weeks.  Some weeks, I'd like to save the whole thing or find the larger book--but often when I find the larger book, I'm disappointed.

Let me record an interesting insight that came Wednesday from Richard Rohr:

"What we call sins are usually more symptoms of sin. Sin is primarily living outside of union; it is a state of separation—when the part poses as the Whole. It’s the loss of any inner experience of who you are in God. “Sins” often have more to do with ignorance than actual malice. Disconnected people may become malicious, but they did not start there. They began in union, and disunion became their experienced lie.
You can’t accomplish or work up to union with God, because you’ve already got it. “Before the world began you were chosen, chosen in Christ to live through love in his presence” (Ephesians 1:4). You cannot ever become worthy or “perfect” by yourself; you can only reconnect to your Infinite Source. The biblical revelation is about awakening, not accomplishing. It is about realization, not performance. You cannot get there, you can only be there. Only the humble can receive it and surrender to such grace."
Thursday's meditation had a great nugget too:
"I’m convinced that when the great medieval spiritual teachers talked so much about attachmentthey were really talking about addiction. We are all attached and addicted in some way. At the very least, we are addicted to our compulsive dualistic patterns of thinking, to our preferred self-image, and to the usually unworkable programs for happiness we developed in childhood—which then showed themselves to be inadequate or even wrong."

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Shelter Week and Beyond

A friend asked me how we're eating, now that our kitchen has been dismantled.  So far, we are doing most of our cooking on the grill--the stove was moved into the front bedroom 2 weeks ago. Now that we have dismantled the sink, it gets a bit harder. Plus, I didn't realize how much I need countertop space until I didn't have a counter. So, we're eating simple things. My spouse made a pot of mac and cheese on the burner that's part of the gas grill--like having a one burner stove top ring to the side of the main grill, so that's been handy. I eat a lot of cheese and crackers and wine for an evening snack--my favorite, and if I added some veggies, I could almost count it as a meal.

During most weeks of the year, we don't have a regular evening meal every night, like some families do.   During regular weeks, I'll have more of a snack than an evening meal, so our current life doesn't feel too different--at least in terms of dinner.   Making coffee is a chore--I have the coffee maker set up on a small table that's usually an outdoor table.

I am in that summer phase of eating, where it's just too hot to eat, and I'm hungry but nothing sounds good. Sigh. So, having the kitchen dismantled isn't making me too grumpy. Later, when I wish I could bake something, it might.

But I have a house. I have that on the brain because my church is doing a shelter week this week. It's this program where area churches serve as temporary shelter for homeless families that are in transition to having a home. So families come to the church for an evening meal and to sleep the night. Church members sleep there too, just so that everyone feels safe.

This week, between two families, there are 7 children, all of them under the age of 4, except for an 8 year old. I went over after work Tuesday night. I changed out of my work clothes and helped get the kids fed, and then we did some reading together.

I had planned for this.  I had gone to the used bookstore that is near my school to pick up some kid's books--they had a great selection, so I bought a lot. It was a treat to shop for them.  I also picked up some used books that I have in mind for a Halloween display at the school library.

I envisioned that I would read and all the kids would gather round. Nope. But the bright girl who was only 3 years old "read" to me--she looked at the pictures and made up a story, with book after book. It was a delightful, though exhausting, way to spend an evening.

I know that I am lucky--I have a house to go home to, even if it's under reconstruction.  If I need a quiet evening, I can plan it.  I can't imagine being a single mom in charge of 4 small children with no home.

I am also thinking of all the people in the Carolinas who will be displaced by Hurricane Florence.  Some will rebuild; some will never recover.  I listened to the clip of President Trump yesterday promising that residents will have every resource that they need and promptly.  I tried not to laugh with bitterness.

I'm lucky.  I had savings, so I didn't have to hope that the government could help me.  The government wasn't going to help me, because I had insurance--again, I'm lucky.  My damages may end up costing me more than the insurance paid--we're trying to be frugal, while getting everything done properly.  But I stress again:  I'm lucky to have savings and other resources. 

I'm most lucky in that my house has been a livable structure while we've been working our way through these repairs.  The flood waters didn't swamp the main structure.  The rest of my South Florida community wasn't so damaged:  so I could work, and I could get supplies, and my friends didn't all move away.

I have these things on the brain today, the first anniversary of Hurricane Maria's devastation of Puerto Rico.  I know that my experience could have been worse.  And the ever present fear:  that there may be a worse time coming.

But let me try to move my brain away from that idea.  I've spent a lot of my life worrying about stuff that never came my way.  Let me stay as prepared as I can, while living my life.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, September 23, 2018:

Jeremiah 11:18-20 or Wisdom of Solomon 1:16—2:1, 12-22

Psalm 54

God is my helper; it is the LORD who sustains my life. (Ps. 54:4)

James 3:13—4:3, 7-8a

Mark 9:30-37

This week’s Gospel reminds us of the order of things in God's kingdom. In the fallen world, the rich are first; everybody else gets along as best they can. In our modern world, as was true during most of human history, the lives of the non-rich feel increasingly precarious.

Jesus comes to proclaim the new Kingdom, where the situation is reversed.

Many preachers will focus on the warm and fuzzy angle of children in this Gospel. While I do think Jesus loved children, I don't think that's why he refers to them here.

Children are some of the most vulnerable members of society. Many people have said that we can judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable members, who are often children, the elderly, the ill, the mentally unstable, the poor. Many Bible stories remind us that we, as individuals, will be judged by God based on how we treat the most vulnerable. The child in this Gospel is a metaphor for all of the most vulnerable. We are judged by how we receive these people.

We live in a world that doesn't value the vulnerable. We live in a world that worships power, fame, and wealth. Look at any magazine on any given week or month, any news show on any given day, any newspaper on any given day--who makes the decisions that shape society?  It's rarely the poor and the destitute.  Look at advertising--it's designed to make us want power, whether that come in the shape of controlling government or being the boss or being the richest, the prettiest, the thinnest . . .

Those of us who have worked to adopt the servant ethos can tell a different tale. Those people might talk about how good it feels to serve, how their own desires disappear in the face of those that are needier than they are.

But there is a bigger reason why we're called to serve: God hangs out with the lowly. Go back to your Scripture. See how often God shows up with the poor, the outcast, the lowest people in the social structure. We serve, so that we meet God. We serve, so that we serve God.

This Gospel reminds me of the 25th chapter of Matthew, where humans are separated depending on whether or not they fed Jesus or clothed him or visited him while sick or in prison. And the ones headed to eternal punishment say, "When did we ever see you hungry or naked or sick or in prison?" And we get the classic rejoinder in verse 45: "Truly I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me."

We serve God by serving. Leaf through the Gospels and let yourself be struck by how much of the message of Jesus revolves around this message. We are called to serve. We elevate ourselves not by making ourselves better, but by serving others, by serving those who have the least to offer us.

Again and again, Jesus reminds us that the world at large is not the world we're to emulate. We're called to create the Kingdom where the least will be first, where we each serve each other.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Planning to Attend the Retreat to Plan the Retreat

My parents called me yesterday; they knew I was travelling to North Carolina at some point in September, and they wanted to know both where I was and that I was safe.  I will be going to North Carolina this week-end, at what has become the annual retreat to plan the Create in Me retreat.  In past years, I have driven, but this year, I found a direct flight to Asheville (unheard of!), and it was cheap!

I leave on Friday, so I don't think that the remnants of Florence will disrupt that plan.  I was touched that they thought of me and checked on me.  I am also sobered by hearing about the highway closures in North and South Carolina; the governor of N.C. said that through travelers should detour through West Virginia and Georgia to avoid the state.  That's a big detour.

Last year, Hurricane Irma disrupted my plan to join the planning group by way of Skype.  The year before, Skype didn't work for me.  Through the years, I've realized that I miss being part of the planning team that does the work in person.  I am much more inspired by being at the camp.  I prefer seeing people in person to seeing them on a screen.

I do confess that having a cheap plane ticket makes the decision to attend in person a much easier decision.  I'm only having to miss one day of work, not 3-4.  But even if I had to miss more work and drive, this year I would have done it.

The past few years have issued a challenge to my habit of taking periodic retreats, and I really need to get back to that practice.  My spouse doesn't feel the same need to go on retreat--or perhaps we haven't found the right retreats for him.  I feel lucky that he realizes the importance of retreats and doesn't begrudge the time I take to go on them.

I do wonder what it would be like to have a spouse who liked the same retreats that I do.  So far, whenever we go on one, much like going out to eat, we spend much time dissecting the retreat and figuring out all the ways it could be better.  I don't do that as much when I'm on my own.

So, in a few days, I'll flee my house of reconstruction and get on a plane to Asheville.  I'll soak in the different landscape and the sacred spaces that have shaped me.  I'll do my part to create the best retreat possible--present me planning a retreat for future me!

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Feast Day of Hildegard of Bingen

Today is the feast day of Hildegard of Bingen, mystic, herbalist, musical composer, naturalist, and Abbess. Her life was full of accomplishments, an amazing feat considering she lived in the twelfth century.

I first discovered her when researching Julian of Norwich, whom I discovered when teaching the first half of the British Literature survey course. I wanted to include more female writers, and the Norton Anthology of the time had about 12 female writers, even after a recent revision towards inclusion. I thought there had to be more.

I had never thought of the twelfth century as a high water mark of feminism, but female monastics did amazing things during that time period. By studying them, I came away with a new appreciation for the Church, where talented women found a cloistered kind of freedom. In many ways, the cloistered life was the only way for medieval women to have any kind of freedom.

But Hildegard's life shows that freedom could be constrained, since women monastics answered to men. For years, Hildegard wanted to move her group of nuns to Rupertsburg, but the Abbot who controlled them refused her request.

We all face constraints of various kinds, and the life of Hildegard shows what could be accomplished, even during a time where women did not have full rights and agency. She wrote an amazing amount of material: theology, letters, scientific/naturalist observations, musical notation, poems, and a morality play. She wrote letters to emperors, kings, and popes in which she advocated for peace and social justice.

It's interesting to think about the different types of groups who have claimed her as their own. Feminists claim her importance, even though she didn't openly advocate equality. Musicians note that more of her compositions survive than almost any other medieval composer. Her musical works go in different directions than many of the choral pieces of the day, with their soaring notes. New Age types love her views of the body and the healing properties of plants, animals, and even minerals. Though her theology seems distinctly medieval, and thus not as important to modern Christians, it's hard to dismiss her importance as a figure from church history.

I often say that it's odd I'm drawn to monasticism, as I'm a married, Lutheran female who has all sorts of worldly commitments, and thus cannot fully vow obedience. But as I think about church history, I'm struck time and time again by how often monasticism has offered a safe space to women that no other part of society did. I shouldn't be surprised that it's a tradition that speaks to me still.

Today is a good day to plant some herbs or listen to some medieval music while we write letters to the important people of our time to advocate for peace and justice.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Hurricanes Assessments

Hurricanes make us think about the people we love, and they can also illuminate the places that we love.

We think of those in the path of the storm, but we also think about the water that's already there.

We usually think of rivers as contained.  We want to believe that they will run safely to the sea.

We think of communities that have lived by their rivers for decades if not centuries.  We assume they will always exist.

Hurricanes force us to assess what we treasure and what can float away.

Hurricanes remind us not to take our loves for granted.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Social Justice Work Then and Now

I've been thinking about this Internet meme since I saw it in Rachel Barenblat's blog post earlier this week: "If you want to know what you would have done during the Civil Rights movement, you're doing it now."

It's an interesting way of framing and reframing the Civil Rights movement. I think that many of us tend to think that during the 1950's and 1960's, citizens were either integrating lunch counters or holding the fire hoses that were turned on black citizens peacefully assembling, either registering people to vote in the deep South or murdering the workers who traveled south to inform citizens of their civil rights.

But most people were living their lives:  men who were working at their regular jobs and coming home to have dinner before the kids went to bed or women who were running households and doing important volunteer work.  Then, as now, most people had to earn a living and didn't have the luxury of free time to work on issues of integration.

I'm guessing that many of them did what I do:  worked for justice in much more smaller and local ways, while not doing as much to rework the structures that require the work of charity.  I write letters to my lawmakers, even as I'm not sure it does much good.  But the real work I do is much more local--especially in terms of the time I spend on each portion of my social justice work.  

Like many citizens during the Civil Rights era, I'm not putting my body on the line.  I rarely go to marches.  I can't imagine chaining myself to a fence or a tree to prevent injustice.  I'm not bombing buildings or destroying documents.

I am willing to admit that the most important social justice work that I do is to contribute money to groups that are doing the harder direct work of charity and justice.  I am willing to pay others who might have more free time and knowledge to do the work that I cannot do.  Part of me feels guilty about that, but part of me is willing to admit the reality of the economics.  

It's important that the charity and the justice work gets done, and money to groups can make that happen.  In many instances, it's the only way that the work will get done.  We imagine that those student activists of the Civil Rights movements were working without funding, but most of them weren't.  They were working in group structures, and those groups needed money. 

I want to believe that the work that I do for my livelihood is also moving the world towards justice.  Most of our students are working their way towards jobs that they wouldn't have without our degree, and those jobs, while those jobs may not pay well enough to catapult students to the upper class, they will give those students a job that will give them more options than they currently have.