Thursday, August 5, 2010
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Dessert was a cheese course of St. Andre, goat cheese, manchego, flat breads and fresh fruit over in the pottery again while the last of the guests made a small crock on the wheel - he was perfectly spirtually centered - and it showed in his pot.
At one point in our conversation around pottery and God, one of my guests mentioned that the artist tends to place his best self into his or her work by having a "favorite" kind of work. In other words, when asked what my "favorite" pot is to make, I immediately and without reservation, said "the two-pound bowl." A "Two-pounder" is a common eating bowl - like one would use for a dinner of rice and stir fry or a breakfast of cereal and fruit. It sits well in one hand, is curved around slightly so that hot things stay hot. It has a thicker but somewhat narrow bottom so that it sits well in the hand and is meant simply to go with a spoon and some comfort food for a one-meal-event. That is my favorite pot. My second favorite pot would be the tea bowl and then the tea pot.
We got to discussing how any artist (even if they do not yet know they are one - for we are ALL an artist by default, regardless if we have had the opportunity to find our medium in life) has a "favorite" element. For a potter it may be a shape like my one-meal-bowl. Fopr a computer programer it might be making a web site for a friend. For a painter it may be cobalt blue. For a chef it may be working with pastas or working with fatty pork products - slow roasted and caramelized like the clay pot pork dish I will be making in a few minutes. And for a poet it may be the use of couplets while for a parent it may be story time.
We all have these favorite things we fuse into our work as a theme. We each have our favorite thing which is in everything we make even if only as an echo.
For God, we considered - over lots of wine and laughter- for God that "favorite element seems to be "love."
"Love" seems to be God's "favorite thing" to use in his creating. Love is in humans like blue is in a blue painting by an artist who loves "blue." But when the artist is painting an autumnal scene on a cloudy day - a painting in which there is no overt "blue," that does not mean that "blue" is absent, since it will be used in the mixing of some of the other colors being used in the paining - blue in the back and white for the clouds - blue in the reds for the purple tinge to some leaves - blue in the greens for the teal of some of the late greens of fall and for the fir trees. "Blue is still there because the artist cannot help herself! He absolutely loves - LOVES- blue. So even when it is not a primary color in a painting, it simply finds other ways to make its appearance.
So too with God. Love is in everything. Love is God's favorite ingredient - His favorite color - His favorite medium - His favorite form - His favorite shape - His favorite word-play - His absolutely favorite thing to use when he creates anything. Love just enters into everything He creates because it is God's main ingredient and it is the action of the Trinity- that constant perichoresis - that flowing of love from Father to Spirit to Son to Spirit - to Son - to Father- to Spirit-to Son - all the time - every second of every day and outside of time.
So when we fight - we humans - and we do...then we still have so much love in us that we default back to loving each other - if we are living into our true selves. And when we walk in a forest we are seeing love as green. And when we are cooking we are seeing love as caramelizing. And when we are talking with each other we see love in one of its purest forms. and when we sin we see love as having been counterfeited.
Our friends are the people in whom we see love - God's favorite ingredient. And in our enemies or those with whom we are in argument - we see love as molten potential - the mast of a ship coming up over the horizon. We can't help it. It is how we were made. It is our primary ingredient - because it is God's and we are made in God's image.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Sunday, July 4, 2010
When I spend time with this photo done by my friend Jeremy Winnick, the light which comes from the house due to the overexposure of the photograph reminds me of the light which comes from a kiln at its highest temperatures. The white, hot light which comes from a reduction kiln at 2,300 degrees can look just like this when you remove a brick and look into the kiln with a face shield much like the ones on space helmets.
When you pull that brick from the wall of the kiln which has been maintaining a mild explosion of fire for 12 hours from two gas blasts of flame which are more than 8 feet long and wrap around the barrel-vaulted kiln in a figure eight - that heat is white hot. And what you are looking for in the kiln is transformation - and nothing short of it. You are looking for the violence of the fire to wrap around the pots and among the pots and inside the pots licking the glaze and changing its chemical make-up and that of the clay - transforming them both into a completely new thing.
A potter knows that the very best glaze results come from a pot that has been in fire and not just heat. And he or she also knows that the best results come from the highest heat, raised very slowly so that the glaze on the outside of the clay (dipped in the glaze bucket the night before) and the clay of the pottery mug, are so fused together in the heat of the kiln that they become one thing. No longer is the coating of the glaze different from the clay pot. The two have become one new thing.
When I look at this photo, I am reminded that God is doing that to me.
That light may not be 2,300 degrees of fire but it is transforming me and making what I am on the outside - what people see- more integrated with who I am on the inside - what people see when they get to know me and what God sees completely. Blackwater Bluff - my home - is a place filled with the light of my friends, my dog, my meditation time, my vocation in the diocese and my contemplation of life. It is not hot, but it is intense. It is hard to become who one is being made into by the loving and strong hands of the Creator. But I am convinced that the courage, reflection and suffering that comes from life can contribute to our transformation into something far more beautiful, far more valuable and useful to others than we are now.
I live a life in which I am seeking truth. That truth is sometimes hard to hold - is sometimes white hot like the inside of a kiln. Sometimes I want nothing more than to just go with the flow - give up this transformation and just pop in and out of church and do what I want - be who I want. But I am sure, as I look at this photo of the stars moving across the sky, that I am part of something much bigger than me and that my transformation and my re-creation is part of THE transformation and THE recreation.
When I open a kiln after 24 hours of firing and 48 hours of cooling, I am stunned by the glittering, sparkling array of glazes and pots I see winking before me in the light. They have gone from being a mug and a goblet to being a work of art. And yet, all I did was thrust some clay into some emulsified glass and chemicals. The fire is what did it. Those fantastic colors of glass crystals- the blues and golds and ochres and mauves and tans in that glaze dripping here and pooling there and falling there - that is not me. It was helped by me and sort of set up by me as an artist - but the transformation came in that blinding heat of the kiln.
We live - and what we do contributes to our life - good and bad. But the real wonder is what God does with it all - that heat of God's spirit flowing through church and friendships and tragedies - that God-heat is what makes us the stunning works of art we all are becoming, if we allow the pain to transform us.
Friday, July 2, 2010
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Sunday, June 20, 2010
The doorway is a liminal place and I think we have liminal places in life too. They are the in between places - not where I once was - not where I will soon be. In our interior life - our development into that person who is the hope of God - we have liminal places there too. In our "Nefesh" as the Hebrews would say - our everythingness, we have these liminal places in which pain and suffering, regret and sorrow, grief and loss are like spiritual chemotherapy - life-giving if they do not kill us. And on the other side of the breathless fog in which one hangs perilously on the edge between hope and despair, we pass through the doorway to the other side and, feeling our souls with the hands of our prayers, begin to realize - somewhat amazed - that we have survived. And not only that we have survived, but that we are better - transfigured - more of the hope God has for us and less of the reptilian seeking immediate pleasure, anesthesia, power or control.
It is these times in which we have awakened to a new self-realization that suffering deepens us if we let it. This may be what scripture means when we give up childish things. We give up our grabbing and our fear-based acting out in favor of a humility which can come only from deep and long suffering, isolation and post-catastrophic reflection.
When I go through the door in this photo, I am in a dark place - out of the sunlight and surrounded by ten chickens - most of whom are happy to see me and think I am their mother. I hold them and stroke their backs and they seem to purr. They used to run from me but now they simply crouch in preparation for being lifted up into my arms for a petting and a bit of cooing. For me, the chicken house is a dark place; but for them, it is a safe place. That is what my faith does for me - it turns the darkest places in my life into some of the safest places in which I can look inward and learn and learn and learn to be a better person - a better human - a better Christian - a better friend to my friends and even a better friend to me.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
As soon as I open my eyes however, all bets are off. The open eyes is his invitation to get the tail moving and to lick my forehead. He then lays down and places his face on my neck while my body wakes up and my mind opens to the reality of a new day. He sits vigil, his puppy-breath sweet and warm, hits my jaw and one paw is on my chest. It looks like he is pinning me down but in fact he is just very, very present - like he has just saved me from dorwning. And sometimes he has. His body says "I am here." His eyes say "I see you and I love you." (or perhaps "I see you, love you and want food." ...not sure)
The presence of a dog is so similar to the presence of God and too much has been written on the subject for me to much weigh in except to say that the presence of my dog and my other hairless bipeded friends inclines me to feel that all is well or will be.
As I have said before in articles and sermons, God has placed Kai in my life as a plant. Kai is one of God's many beings assigned to me to help me to live alone in the woods as I do. My work is my joy and I do it well and love to do it. But when I get home, to an empty house, there can be many long hours of solitude which on some days is soothing and other days a painful echo-chamber for my less optimistic thoughts. But I pray God to deliver me from my darkest thoughts and then, invariably, Kai sneaks up on me with tail wagging and big pink tongue flopping and huge brown eyes staring and massive black paw offering me a hand out of my place and into his. Kai's place is a place of the present moment - a joyful place of a stick and a river and the wonderful possibility that the combination means a swim today during our four-mile walk.
Every day we live with our successes and we live with our failures and I have many of both. I am a very able man and at the same time I make terrible mistakes daily - hourly. But all we can do is to live the best life we can and let a dog or a friend or the Holy Spirit or some combination of the three save us from both our self-satisfaction and our self-flagellation. A dog seems to say "You are taking yourself way too seriously...here...throw this stick and lighten up!"
That panting face with those big, brown, searching eyes and that flopping tongue melt me. And in melted states we can move again.
Friday, June 4, 2010
Speaking with a friend yesterday, we were discussing simplicity in a round about way. We were discussing how easy it is to let our insecurities get the better of us, causing us to over-function. I do that a lot and it does not serve me well.
We all, from time to time, find ourselves asking - even if sub-consciously - questions which betray this basic insecurity. "Am I OK?" "Do the people around me care for me?" "Do I have enough?" "Have I done enough?"
These haunting questions tend to make me over-perform which is both exhausting for me and uncomfortable for those around me. Doing enough and having enough seems to be an art of life I am still learning in Jesus' little school. When friends come over does dinner need to be impressive? Does it need to have multiple courses with extravagant ingredients? And if it does, is that because that is the best meal I can provide or is it simpler than that? Is it just that I do not feel that the "Charles" I am presenting to my friends is enough? Am I trying to make me "enough" by feeling the need to impress?
In my prayers and in my meditation time it seems Jesus is just trying to get one thing across to me in various forms" "I love you and I like you and you are enough just as you are - warts and all."
I think we know God loves us - it is basically His job description. God HAS to love us. It's sort of a celestial rule. And let's face it ...we are all still a little concerned about that big flood in genesis and would rather not be wiped out again - myth or no myth. So yeah - it's great that God loves us.
But that God LIKES us - that is revolutionary. That changes the game entirely. It even makes me want to please him by not doing things that annoy him - not because he will fry me in some levitical volcanic blast of frustration - but because we enjoy delighting each other. So perhaps a simple sliced tomato is every bit as good on a summer's evening as pan roasted fiddle heads in a brown butter with pine nuts and truffle oil (yum!). The filled heads are great - but the tomatos are cheap and plenmtiful and - enough.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
At this time of year, in the pond off the meadow, behind the pottery studio, there is a large stand of wild, yellow orchids which grow out of the water near the edge of the pond. This is one up close.
Its architecture is wild and untamed. The color is gentle and vibrant but the shape has a menacing quality to it - like a dragon or an alien. It seems to have order and yet, at the same time seems to grow into points and curves which defy the average hot-house flower. It looks like the kind of flower which might be the garden bully were we to anthropomorphize them into human characters -staring down the black-eyed Susan and the tulip with a withering glance.
Intimidation is a tool used in nature to control and to defend. It is the way species are protected from other species and it is the means by which domination is achieved.
This flower reminds me of the bible verse about being as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves. Nature's gentle beauty enmeshed within its immense power is a good icon to how we humans were made as well - gentle, powerful, beautiful, strong, resilient. Being good humans is nothing more than simply being how we were made.
We were made for goodness and beauty and strength. Of course life's storms can blow us over just as a terrible storm can fell a tree which crushes an orchid. These things happen. Bad things happen to good people all the time. But I am increasingly convinced that when we live open, honest lives of mutual loving care and self-loving kindness, things seem to work in the ecosystems of our lives like they do in my pond. There are occasional bad smells, some mosquitoes and even the occasional creepy snake. But in general - it is all so lovely and it all works together to sing God's glory along with the peeping frogs keeping beat with their bigger brethren and the occasional wood pecker for beet and rhythm. I agree with the mystics - on my better days: I am not sure about coincidences but I am unable not to notice that when I pray, there are a lot of them. It all is very scary, but it all seems to be working towards goodness and all we have to do to participate is to choose goodness over and over again.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Yesterday my life changed. I was able to see something about my childhood and how it affects my adulthood that I had never seen before. It had been staring me in the face for 46 years but I had just never seen it before.
I was with a friend and we were discussing our lives - what is going on - who is pushing our buttons - where they were sewed on by our parents. We were working on our "stuff" trying to become better people. Trying to figure things out so that each year of life that passes involves a few better choices made, and a few less poor choices made.
Working on life is so important. And it is work. To look up close so that we see past the glittering image we want people to see and look deep into the detail - that is "doing the work." My friend Ian says "I only want friends in my life who are 'doing their work!'" And I agree. I am doing my work. I am asking hard questions and looking into dark corners and turning up the lights in my life - welcoming wise others in to look at the cob webs and help me sort out how to live my best life. And they, in tern, invite me into their vulnerable life and ask me my opinion too. As we "do our work" of looking hard at life and seeing - with wide-awake eyes- what needs to be seen, we are becoming God's hope for us.
Blackwater Bluff is a lovely home - comfortable and deeply soothing to me and to others who come here for rest and conversation. But even in the house of this over-functioning solitary, there are the occasional cob webs if you get up close and look from the right angle. My friend Jeremy took this photo one night at a dinner at my house. To him it was a photo but to me it seems an icon. When I first saw the photo in his collection I was embarrassed. But then I realized, with a smile and a shrug that the shame is not in the cob web being there. The only shame would be in the cob web being left there or thinking thatthere are no others.
We all have these cob webs in our lives. We all have "our work to do" as we become more self-aware without becoming more self-absorbed. We beg God to open our eyes to see the cob webs. Then we beg God to remove them. And God shows up in other people - in our sages - in the people we love and trust and consider wise. Our friends bear Christ to us like an inn-keeper bearing a lantern to a traveller in a storm.
They say that cob webs tend to appear where there is air flow. Spiders make their webs there because of the increased likelyhood of a tasty bug being swept into them. Makes sense.
This cob web on my lamp in the living room reminds me that there will always be the occasional cob webs (and even dust balls !) and sometimes we will find new rooms in this "house of love" we call life; and when we open a long-closed door we will find a room so swagged in cob webs that it looks like Disney halloween on meth. But if we go in and invite God in with us - bring close trusted friends in with us, we can clean those rooms up a bit and consider where the drafts are coming from and fix the cracks and let God fix the ones we cannot reach. We "do our work" with courage and integrity. We live our lives not with the lights kept low, but with times of bright self-exposure to those we trust so that they can help us to reach some of the spots we just can't quite reach on our own.
Merton was right. No person is an island. We are all connected. We are all placed here to help each other to become God's hope for us. But for that to happen we need to find our sages, open up to our sages and then, gently, deal with what we see - together.
Yesterday, I realized that an unhelpful pattern in my adulthood was connected to an abuse in my childhood. This realization was like finding a lost combination to an old bank safe. Inside my psyche I could feel the bank-vault internal door wheels turning inside me as the right combination was being entered by a wise friend with a lamp trained on my soul. As the wheels moved and turned and the turning wheels and gears turned the door bolts - all working simultanioulsy in a brass and chrome symphony of turning and grinding, all of a sudden a door unlocked and as it opened, a swoosh of air anounced a new openness. My soul felt that a bit of progress had been made in this house of love I call my life. Inside that door there may well be cob webs, but the people in my life are with me and we all have our trusty feather dusters in our back pocket. The next time we gather for a good meal and some red wine, we can start talking away the cob webs.
Our life is not given to us to be lived so that we are perfect. Our life has been given to us so that we are letting God - through our sages and friends - tackle those cob webs and brighten those windows to our souls. As we do that, there is more Christ-light for everyone.
"...and the light was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."
Monday, May 17, 2010
This piece (photo by Jeremy Winnick) is one of my favorites and is the second of its kind. Both versions of Leviathan are in private collections now and both were in exhibits in the last couple of years. Leviathan is the word given in Hebrew scriptures for a great sea monster and what I find so interesting about it is that in scripture it is both feared for its power and fury as well as being acknowledged for its placement in the creation by God for its playfulness. It is considered evil and needs to be destroyed for the good of other and for their feeding one moment and then it is portrayed as a big beast that plays with ships. One moment its destructive powers are horrors and the next they are given a charming character as if to say "well, monsters will be monsters!":
“ "Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness." ”
—KJV, Psalms 74:14
“ "O LORD, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts. There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein." ”
The word Leviathan comes from the Hebrew and refers to its twisting and coiling - giving it characteristics of the snake. And the dragon is revered in China as a portrayal of both power and diversity of culture.
It is the Chinese influence which places these dragons or gargoyles on my pots from time to time. I like their menacing quality but also their playfulness. They remind me that I have the ability to do great good and great harm.
In the end art is from the artist and is, when it is best done, a portrayal of some aspect of the artist or what he or she sees or experiences. I think we all are connected to the entirety of the world and its natural creatures and so we are even connected to Leviathan and have some of it inside us. Whether it is playful or menacing seems to be a daily and moment by moment choice we make. God help us to make good choices.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
My life has been unalterably changed by Archbishop Tutu's little new book called Made for Goodness. It is a small volume- I read it in almost one sitting on a recent trip and have had to re-read it twice since. It has lots of yellow highlighter in it and lots of black ink in margins with exclamation marks and asterisks and notes to myself of things to consider in my times of prayer and my time of re-collection (the daily three questions: what went well, what went poorly and what could I have done differently or do differently in the future.)
The book is hard to read because I must look hard at where I have chosen evil rather than good. Tutu makes the point that we are all made for goodness; that "goodness is not just our impulse. It is our essence" which is why evil so bothers us when we are paying attention and are centered in life.
As the child of alcoholics and powerful manipulators, I have learned some unfortunate ways of being a human and my conversion into becoming God's hope for me is not the glorious transfiguration of Jesus as much as it is a long, slow hot shower: the steam opening the pours, the dirt of life coming off so slowly, the tar from the pathways vigorously clinging to my ankles and my tense, self-protecting muscles relaxing under the spray of hot water- acknowledging even if reluctantly, that God will keep me safe but not always cheerful.
I find it easier to see the evil in others than the evil in myself. But when I am willing to forgive myself - when the hot Jesus-shower is working its magic, then I am able to forgive myself enough to be less judgmental of those around me.
This icon, pictured above, was written by a friend in 2000 on Mount Athos, Greece. The image of the Transfiguration of Jesus shows Jesus in all His glory with a bodily nimbus of turquoise which extends deep into the future and the past simultaneously behind him and around him. The geometric shapes are a trick of the eye to show the pray-er that Jesus is of and into eternity. The characters around him on the earth- Peter, James and John are in the image on the left as pre-story, on the right as post-story and beneath Jesus as story - a jumbled mass of quivering fears and gelatinous strength; completely unable to accomplish anything except perhaps staying with the terror and wetting themselves.
Life feels a lot like that for me most of the time. I am afraid and generally feel unprepared to accomplish much; but am willing to follow Jesus on the condition that we both recognize that I am mostly a jiggling mass of fear in as much need to a therapist as of a priest. Jesus seems to be OK with that. Personally, it does not seem like a good management model. I would have chosen a better quality of followers if I were trying to change the world. But God seems to do God's best work when we are weak and willing - and we seem to mess up God's best work when we are righteous and competent. Whatever!
In this life - this "little school of Jesus" as a past, great spiritual director would say; in this life we are being transfigured as we choose goodness.
Tutu says in the opening chapter of his book the following:
"Goodness changes everything. If we are at core selfish, cruel, heartless creatures, we need to fight these inclinations at every turn and often need strong systems of control to prevent us from revealing our true (and quite ugly) selves. But if we are fundamentally good, we simply need to rediscover this true nature and act accordingly. This insight into our essential goodness has shifted how I interact with other people, it has even shaken how I read the Bible." (page 7, Made for Goodness, by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu.
Tutu goes on to say that "Each kindness enhances the quality of life. Each cruelty diminishes it."
I am deeply grieved when I re-collect on my life or even just my day, and see where I have lied, manipulated, taken what was not mine, used people to get what I want, confused wants and needs, hidden and projected a false image of who I really am, etc., etc. But there seems always to be hope. There seems always the invitation to turn around. There seems always the invitation to choose Goodness. There seems always the invitation to start afresh and follow Jesus by choosing goodness for our own lives.
I used to think that my job was to try to get within the light Jesus was shining - to try to crawl and scamper into a lower corner of His light - to get some of His light on me. But as I live in this "little school" whose classes often feel too advanced for my skill level, I begin to see that the light of the transfiguration is not outside of us but rather inside us. As I make fewer choices for evil, I make more choices for goodness. And as I do that, the hot water of this long, hot shower we are in - this conversion experience we call life - is washing enough of the grime off my soul that it is beginning to emit some light. Not my light but THE light. Not a beacon of hope. But perhaps a candle. We do not need to become beacons of hope. That job is taken. We only need one saviour. But we do need - each of us - to shine "this little light of mine" as the old hymn sings.
As we expose the candle within each of us, heaven's light will no longer obscure a dark world because the light planted inside each of us will glow brighter as the panes of our lanterns are cleaned of the mud, yeah...let's call it mud, in which we have been rolling.
I am 46 years old. I wish I had read Tutu's book earlier in my life. But it was not yet written and I did not have the ability to see that I needed it. Oh well. What I can do now is to choose goodness when I have the strength and to live in such a way that the strength is more likely present to me. Good food. Lots of sleep. Plenty of gentle, humblefriends. Good wine and bread. A good dog near as an example for me to live by. Hard work so that I am too busy to get up to mischief. Life on a farm on a dirt road where I can live a right-sized life.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
We have been combining a house party of friends visiting for the weekend with a very serious assault on the garden to ready it for the summer. There is 600 square feet of vegetable garden and it needs to be weeded, manured, tilled and set for the plantings which arrive next weekend and which go into the ground on Memorial Day.
While my friend Clay tilled the soil I was shoveling hay from the chicken house into wheelbarrows and dragging it across the surface of the garden so that when the tiller when by, the chicken poo and straw was tilled deep into the soil. This is the final of four layers of chicken house straw and I can smell the dirt heaving a sigh of delight with all the nutrients.
As I was shoveling the chicken poo, I was aware how important what dies is to what lives. Be it in the garden or in our lives or in our church or in our families, the things that must die so often serve as the manure to enrich the soil in which the next things will burst forth with new life.
A Canon friend of mine in South Western Massachusetts says that it is usually only when a church hits the final stage of morbid conflict and everything crashes and burns with rubble and destruction everywhere and big piles of poo all over the place - only then does that church rise like a Phoenix out of the fire and ashes to the possibility of new life. I believe that is true for churches and relationships. If we really are living our faith, then we really do believe that God can raise from the dead that which seems to be a completely lost cause - dead, rotten, smoldering and fetid. Problem is, that while we wait, the chicken poo still smells like chicken poo.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Blackwater Bluff Buckwheat Pancake Mix ©(makes 7 batches of 6-8 pancakes per batch):
In a mixer or with a big wire whisk and lots of whisking, combine
• 3 cups buckwheat flour
• 3 cups white four
• 8 teaspoons baking powder
• 3 teaspoons baking soda (fresh box)
• 2 teaspoons salt
Blackwater Bluff Buckwheat Pancakes
lightly stire with whisk (do not over-beat):
• one medium - large egg
• 1 cup milk*
• 3 tablespoons melted butter
• pinch salt
• one cup - Blackwater Bluff Buckwheat Pancake Mix ©
• less milk makes thicker cakes while more milk makes thinner, moister cakes
Note:for even better pancakes, replace
milk with 1.5 cups buttermilk
Cook on low, even heat in buttered pan, flip when bubbles
form on uncooked top. Serve immediately.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
I am amazed and saddened at how restless I am for what I do not have. There is so much around me which speaks to what I do have and yet I sit in my swing with coffee and as I watch Kai run around I see a bit of myself in him. When I am playing with him he is entirely focused on my arm - actually, the ball in my hand at the end of my arm. His eyes never leave that ball. His muscles are tight, his body slightly crouched so that he can leap in any direction and his eyes flick back and forth between my eyes and that ball - trying to read me - is he throwing it into the pasture or into the yard?
But when I am not throwing the ball he goes to plan "b" which is his stick collection. The swing sits under a huge tree facing the pasture and about 20 feet from the swing, next to the bon-fire pit Kai circles his collection of large sticks. He goes into the forest to find new ones almost every day, he will be gone for 10 minutes and then come prancing back into the yard with a stick in his mouth twice his length; balancing it by biting it in the center and carying it like a trapeze artist with the two ends jutting out six feet on either side of his black, silly, determined face. My friends are amazed at how big the saplings are that he considers "a stick" with which to play. He likes a challenge.
So as I sit in my swing, I watch him running from one stick to another. Pick up one, shake it, chew it, drop it, chew it a bit more, see another stick out of the corner of his eye, leave the one stick, get the next stick, shake it like a dead bird, parade it around the yard to the tune of "We are the Champions" or the Olympic theme, only to start the whole process again.
Though I laugh at his scattered greed, I silently note that I see the same thing in myself. I have one thing and want another. The wanting of the other makes me unable to see and be grateful for the thing I have; be it as small as the desire for corned beef hash when all I have in the house is fresh eggs, still warm from chicken-buts or be it large, like wanting a new friend when I am barely keeping my current friendships fed and watered with time and presence, love an affection.
In Desmond Tutu's life-changing new little book "Made for Goodness" - a book which has forever changed my life - he and his daughter Mpho note that we humans are made for goodness and that our choosing of greed and envy and lust and any other non-good thing is simply that - a choice. He argues that though we are not perfect, we are on a trajectory for choosing more and more good and less and less evils. And he acknowledges that this transformation is hard, internal work which many are simply unwilling to do for how scary and seemingly limiting it can feel.
But I so want to see - really see - what I have, and be so grateful for it -even in its imperfections. I want to be peaceful with what I have been given by God's grace, willing to hold on to it and thank God for it rather than simply drop it and run to some other thing - some new and enticing anesthesis for life's pain.
Tutu says this:
“The goal of human life is not to wring the greatest personal pleasure out of every moment. The goal of human life is to live beyond the small, narrow prison of our own cares, wants and worries. By learning to choose what is good and right ... in choosing what is good and right, we give ourselves the keys to true freedom." (p. 76)
The art of life's pain is not pulling away from it or making a fast change to somehow duck out from under it - we are trained to react to physical pain this way - but internal pain needs to be held, and rocked and sat with and even loved into healing.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
This morning while collecting eggs for some egg salad (now that the chives are up and growing!)I considered how well the chickens do their job. They wander the farm eating ticks and being charming and then they make eggs. They seem so content to do their job and they seem unwilling and disinterested in doing more than their job (IE: providing milk, or singing a bird-song).
I then took a walk and wondered what my job is. As I walked I saw a flash of light on the road and stooped to see what had just caught my eye. It was a large piece of quartz and had a wide, flat side which reflected the sunlight. It was half covered in mud and so I reached down and wiped the surface with my thumb and some saliva. By clearing the entire face of the flat side of the crystal, the entire panel reflected the sun into my eyes with even more brilliance than it had before since now it was no longer partly smudged with dirt.
I stood to leave (Kai was now pulling at the leash with it in his mouth - demanding that we continue to the river for a swim.) As I walked away the flashing of that light on the stone reminded me that my job is just that. God shines down on this earth. My job is to do all I can to make the kinds of choices which allow me to reflect God's light best into a dark world. Sometimes I get smudged - covered with dirt or mud - but underneath I am still designed to sit in my spot and use my god-designed flashiness to reflect the Light to others. The light does not come from me. I simply reflect the light from the Light Source. To the best of my ability, that is my job. I often fail. But that is my job.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
I am experimenting with various pitcher shapes these days, trying to find one shape for water and one for wine. The wide-mouthed one on the right might work for wine.
Pitchers are like teapots; they have a physical character all to themselves which has a lot to do with body shape. A tall, thin one can look like a skinny school-master while a wide-based one could look like a happy grandmother. Like the animated teapots and teacups in Walt Disney movies, the shape of the pot invites us to anthropomorphize them into human likenesses when, in fact, they are not human.
We do that to God too sometimes. We project onto God the face and body-type of what we expect, depending on our perceptions of God or how the church or our clergy have treated us. Is God the old man or the Santa or the hippie earth-mother?
God is none of these. But what God is, I am sure...God is the one who is filling our pitcher with our favorite drink before we have even finished pouring!
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
My favorite time of the day at Blackwater Bluff is the early morning. My favorite meal is breakfast, which has a lot to do with that, I admit. I like waking early - about 4:30 or 5:00 and making coffee to sit in the dark for a while. I watch the flames come back to life in the wood stove as a new set of logs is piled onto last night's coal-bed. And I wait with Kai. We wait together for the sun to rise.
Sometimes I wander into the studio to check on drying pots or to see that the kiln fired correctly. I then slide open the door to the chicken house (pictured above) to collect the day's offering and to thank them, out loud, for their gift of protein with which I will begin my day. They seem to be glad of the thanks. It seems the right thing to do.
The fears which may have plagued me in the middle of the night seem to loose their power as I begin my meditation time - me, God, a candle. When I meditate in my meditation room, Kai, my dog, lays down in the hall outside so that his head just peeks over the edge of the open door. From there he stares at me as if he is encouraging me (because sometimes prayer is dull and I am tempted to blow it off).
Easter always follows Lent and sunrise (even if unseen) always follows the darkness and fears of night. The sun does not take away the fears, but it places them in context of what we can see around us so that the fears and the evils in which we are moving are offset by the Hope and Faith that is ours for the taking. As Theresa of Avila has so beautifully said, "all shall be well....all things shall be well...all manner of things shall be well."
Sunday, April 25, 2010
One of the items I make for the Canterbury Shaker Village is the great old-fashioned teapot. People who browse the Museum Store at the Shaker Village are not just looking for merchandise. Most of what can be found there can be found elsewhere. What people are looking for is a souvenir. And by that, I mean the French, etymological sense of the word. The direct translation is "up -come" which is to say that to buy or have a souvenir is to draw up from the memory an event so that it comes into the present.
In religious circles, the theological word for this is anamnesis - the drawing of a memory or past event into the present. "Do this in remembrance of me..." in which an act that happened ages ago is drawn into the present like a thread being drawn through a tapestry to add to its color and depth. In church, when we say the Eucharist, we are experiencing anamnesis and we have a souvenir in the bread and the wine. Something that happened in the past which is re-happening in the present.
By buying one of my teapots, people are seeking, in many cases, an icon to a simple lifestyle they saw in the Canterbury Shaker Village and in the remembering of the lifestyles of the Shakers. To make a cup of tea is to slow down. To sit with tea and be present to it is an important religious act in many cultures around the world both at meals and in religious ceremony.
Each teapot that comes off the wheel (I made 8 yesterday!) is set on the shelf to dry with a simple prayer asking God to breathe peace into the lives of those who drink their tea from this pot.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Times of rest and reflection are valuable to the body and to the soul. In my 20's and 30's I would fill my vacations and even my spiritual retreats full of so much busyness and activity and travels and chores that it was impossible to feel anything or think too much about anything. And that is precisely how I liked it. Work, noise and activity were my anesthesia to life. My motto was "If you don't have time to feel pain, then the pain does not exist."
That did not work very well. I mean, actually it worked like a charm to avoid the pain but it did nothing to reduce or dilute the pain. Nowadays I find that sitting with pain or sorrow, regret or confusion, betrayal or grief is the very best way to manage it so that the pain is dealt with and not expanded into bad choices or internalized cancers.
Currently I am on vacation. It has become, what our culture has begun to term a "stay cation." Money is tight and I had a hard internal job to do which required all my presence to myself to do and lots of time to consider afterwards. That kind of discernment cannot be done well on the run. So rather than take this week as a spiritual retreat in Rome (Plan A) using a small monastery in Rome's Travestere district, I decided to take the week as vacation and stay home to tend the garden, clean the house, make pottery, go on two walks a day with Kain, swim in the Blackwater River (whew! cold! but refreshing and so fun for Kai)and have close friends over for the kinds of dinner that requires all day to cook slowly (Ie: inexpensive meat!)
My job this week is to consider my life. What is going well? What is not going well? What would I like to change? What needs to be taken on? What needs to be let go of? (oops..a preposition at the end of my phrase-- my dead parents are rolling!)
As I walk and cook and make pots I am trying to think and pray. It means I am feeling pain I would like to anesthetize but it also means that I am sensing clarity which can come in no other way. The silence and the thinking breaks down the silos of compartmentalizing which so easily infects religious leaders and the exercise and fresh air and cool, long nights of sleep are slowly reviving me after a long season of stewardship work through two years of recession.
One of my projects in the pottery studio is a set of large jars for the Canterbury Shaker Village where I sell my pottery. These large jars could be used for all sorts of things including a great way to slow-roast baked beans! But I am making these for burial. When people die and they go to get their remains cremated, the funeral homes are selling them (in the midst of their cloudy-headedness of grief) jars for the cremains (the remains of ground bones which comes after burning a corpse) which can cost $500 - #$1,500 - for a lidded jar! Just a jar for goodness sake!
So I am making lidded jars for cremation- simple and un-decorated - like the Shakers would have insisted on. People buy them , keep them on the mantle piece and tell their children that it is for when they die. It seems morbid but it is just good planning - and economical at $250 per urn.
I keep cookies in mine. My will says "take out all but two of the cookies, place my cremains in the jar, seal the lid with epoxy (Lowe's for $3.00 - the kind that mingles two gels into one mix is the best) and bury me in a garden."
So as I make each urn, I think and pray for the person whose remains will one day be lovingly poured into it by grieving family members. Who knew that I would spend my vacation doing this? It is a great honor to participate in the lives of families this way. With every pot, I am reminded that we are bust the ashes and dust of the earth to which we will all one day be returned. The measure of our time on earth will be how much we loved others and how well we made choices which did good and not harm. The rest is up to God.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
I keep three spices on the table at all times in small dishes I made for the purpose. Spices bring out the flavors of food but taken alone they are very strong. I like cracked pepper, and although I know that freshly ground pepper is always better, having it ready in a dish on the dinner table is easier. But I like it course so that I can taste the pepper. I have at least one if not two kinds of sea salt. I prefer the gray, moist version from the French coast but it is pricey so I usually default to kosher salt. And red pepper flakes are a must in this house. I love hot spice. I even learned to put hot pepper flakes in my peanut butter when I was living in Haiti. There they call it mamba peekay and it is wonderful on hot toast.
Once, when in front of a bunch of kids doing a children's sermon, I had to explain theodicy (why bad things happen when God could stop them.) The children's eyes were big and trusting and expectant. Kids know something is up. They know bad things can happen. They just want honest answers.
Now, I admit that if I were in charge, bad things would not happen, but then people would not be free to do whatever they wanted to either. It is one or the other; freedom or sinlessness. Bad things mostly happen on earth because of big and small evils done by humans. And like the wind currents which can change on the other side of the world because of a butterfly's wings flapping in this hemisphere, so too the evils which occur in Sudan are linked to my buying prepared food. Here I am being lazy and rich but the effect over there is that children starve. The two actions, when multiplied around the billions of people in the world, are magnified.
I do not believe in Evil. I only believe in evils. Evil sets God up as some sick watcher at a human game of death. But evils, those are the little choices we make - very small - seemingly inconsequential - which add up and hurt people.
When the children asked me why there is so much sadness and badness in the world, I admitted that I did not know. Any other answer they would have figured out to be a lie. But what I could say, and still can say, is that the pain and sadness I experience in life at the hands of others does get transformed by God into strength ; into a depth and a strange kind of shadows which raise the good of life into greater relief if and when I have eyes to see it.
In other words, pain and sadness and loss and grief are not pleasant when taken all at once but they do add something to life which would be missing without them. I think without them we would all be as spiritually shallow as your average rain puddle. And our spiritual depth connects us to God and helps us act with better choices. It is all designed for our becoming better and better with each generation.
Pain is like spice. Take a spoonful of nutmeg into your mouth and the taste is strong, gritty, earthy and bitter. But place that same spoon of nutmeg into some stewed apples and the apples change into something entirely different and quite delicious. Then taste the apples without the nutmeg and they seem dull.
Friday, April 16, 2010
This photo was taken by one of my brothers at the monastery one day in the cloister garden while I was waiting for another brother to meet me there. We were going to look over the garden and consider what I would work on that afternoon. It was a cold day and I kept my hands under my cincture and my scapula, not out of monastic tradition (though the "custody of the hands and eyes" is an ancient monastic practice)but because it was cold out and I had been waiting a long time. Even now, as I see this photo I can see how forced the smile was - not because I was unhappy - I was quite happy - but because I was angry at my brother for leaving me to stand there for 45 minutes in the cold.
But this photo is also another kind of image for me. It is a kind of icon (icon simply means "image".) This icon reminds me that although I am no longer a novice and may never have been much of a monk (Brother Paul warned me that it took 50 years to become a monk and I think he was right!) I was in a very valuable "class" of sorts. I was being taught a few things which I needed to hear God say to me. What I sense God was saying includes the following. They were sayings meant for me, in my life, but others may sense that some ring true for them too:
1.Love the Gospel of John because it was written by people in fear who love Jesus and that is often going to be your situation as well.
2. Get the help you need to be in a constant state of conversion - a constant state of becoming God's hope for you.
3. Use the silence of your day and night as a laboratory for your conversion and your love-making with God.
4. Take time each night to consider your life - ask the hard questions about what wrongs I have committee no matter how small, so that goodness is given more and more spaciousness in your life.
5. Let go of grudges and judgment and unforgiveness for it only constipates you in every way.
6. Take time in the morning to pray so that you sensitize yourself to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit and so that you can hear in the midst of the noise of the life you live.
7. Get therapy - lots and lots of therapy! No. Seriously. Get therapy. You have had a hard life and you need to seek real healing.
8. Seek after truth and embrace it, lead where it leads and cost what it costs.
9. Choose your friends carefully and love your friends deeply.
10. Make time for deep rest, because it is only rest that will allow you to see clearly what needs to be seen and hear clearly what needs to be heard.
That monk's habit did not make me a monk but it was what I wore while I was being taught what I would need to know to make me a man.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
This was my first icon. I asked a friend in Athens to write it for me. He was an ex-Athonite monk with a twinkling smile and hands that looked like they had pulled on the mooring ropes of the Noah's Ark. The Icon is on carved wood with a thin layer of plaster and is about 18" by 14". It hangs in the center of my meditation wall and is an icon of great comfort and power for me. I use it when I am feeling frightened or sad or both, because the image of Jesus with John The Evangelist is one of welcome and comfort and intimacy.
In his new book on Goodness, Desmond Tutu makes the case for a balanced life in which there is a regular re-collection so that wrongs are caught early, before they become big and unwieldy like a huge kudzu-covered life. Tutu says that with daily prayer and "deep rest" we have the ability to see when we are making decisions which hurt us or others. He argues the same argument of Martin Luther King - that we are on a long, wide arc towards goodness and that to get there we must be very careful to make good choices often.
After two years of working hard to keep the effects of a national recession from debilitating the diocese we have been successful. Only 43% of non-profit organizations in the US have been saved from drops in their contributions and The Diocese of New Hampshire is, I am pleased to say, one of those. But I am now very tired and will take nine days to sit at Blackwater Bluff to rest - my first rest since November.
I do not plan to do much. I will garden and thin trees. Hike and swim the Blackwater river with Kai. I will make pottery and pickles and some good meals for friends. And I will sit with this image, glad to be in relationship with a God who would become human and then welcome me to lay my head on his chest.
Friday, April 9, 2010
My dog Kai and I are making a small life in the woods of New Hampshire. When I am in pain, he seems to know it and I wish I knew more about how dogs can sense things like that. The dog I had to give away when I went to the monastery would sleep in my office at the church, but when a parishioner was in my office and in pain, Puck would wander over with stealth as if a ghost and put his tiny Yorkshire Terrier face on their shoe as he lay down next to them on the floor - from which he would stare up at them in silent solidarity.
Kai also stares. And dogs tend not to stare in general. They glance but they do not stare (well, sometimes when putting dinner out they do, but that is entirely different.) Dogs do not like being stared at. They like a glance and both happily and frequently give one back but they seem to break their no-stare rule when a person is in pain. They look at you in long-lasting solidarity.
Feeling the pain of life seems to be the key ingredient to growth. I wish it were some other way. Indeed it can be another way for those sad souls who have found ways to so compartmentalize their inner life that pain is not really felt as much as it is ordered and labeled and placed neatly in various mental shoe boxes in the crawl-spaces of the mind. For those people, growth is stunted or delayed until the boxes are opened and dealt with or until those sad implosions when a person opens the closet of their mind or it is busted open by life and all those shoe boxes tumble down on them and open at once in a tsunami of devastation.
But if we can feel pain as it comes to us without anesthetizing it with any of our modern, American intoxicants like work or sex or food or codependency or shopping - if we can really feel deeply the pain in the quiet of our prayer life and hand it up to God with tear-stained faces and helpless - yes, I mean really helpless begging for help - then there can be hope.
Hope is so different than faith. So much has been written about faith. It is the diva of Christian theology, walking red carpets of churches in shimmering Hollywood ball gowns and high heels and tiaras. But hope huddles in the crowds in a trench coat and bad hair under a floppy hat. Hope simply stands there keeping fear at bay - but only just.
Kai, when he sits there present to me but also staring off into who-knows-what, seems to be so rooted in the present moment that he becomes an icon to me - inviting me to do likewise. Faith has always had a futureish feeling to me. I like faith - don't get me wrong - I mean I am a priest and all, and it is a major part of my prayer and of my experience, but hope has a present-humility about it which appeals to me and soothes me when my mind keeps wanting to dart down the road of the future like an excited puppy or a nervous stock-trader.
When Kai just sits there and stares off into the present, he invites me out of my anesthesia (my drug of choice tends to be over-scheduling my life and my day) and into a safe-house of love in which I can sit with my pain and despair and feel it so deeply that it teaches me things I need to know about life. Not a lot but enough.
While I was a monk, I became the priest I had always wanted to become. While I am a potter on a farm in New Hampshire I have become the monk I had always wanted to become. And now, in my work in the church, I am finally becoming the man I had always wanted to become.
And in the end, I can see that life has been the anvil and pain has been the hammer and God has been the forge which is making this tool called "me." And though I find the blows hard and the fire hot and the anvil unyielding, I can sense that my "becoming" is well on its way.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
I hosted a dinner for a friend's birthday in which this was the second course. It was a dinner which highlighted four wines from a winery in Vermont to which a small group of my friends and I went for a day excursion. This winery specialized in ice wine but also in fruit wine and since this was a summer party outside I chose a raspberry wine (first course; a rhubarb wine(second course; a maple wine (desert course) and a red Merlot (main course). It was one of those dinners you host very infrequently but it was fun to pull off and the wines were under $15 each though tasty.
This second course - the cheese course - was a soft, warm, aged brie with an olive tapinade on crustini and the wine was a rhubarb wine (pictured above thanks to a photographer at the party who wanted a souvenir.)
We sat at a huge wooden table cut from one Pine tree plank which sits 12 people. We ate and drank and told stories about the birthday boy. We laughed a lot and cried a bit and though nobody was even tipsy, people were having a great time - all loosened up and enjoying good, simple food. The cheese had been 60% off at Market Basket - they said it was old...isn't cheese supposed to be old!? The tapenade came from a bottle I found on a shelf at Building 23 1/2 in Nashua for 50 cents a jar. I guess the crate fell off the truck. The bottle was fine. This course cost me about $1.40 per person (a $1 of which was the wine!) I keep these records when I entertain so I remember what I served people - nerdy.... but....me.
I love the Anglican manifestation of the Eucharist with its candles and linen and silks and musical chants from the 1500's. But I must admit that when I wonder what Jesus really meant when he said "do this in remembrance of me," did he have in mind what we do in church or what we do around a long table on a summer night with good friends and some wine and some simple good food. In Holy Week it seems OK to ask "Who died?" in a play-acting sort of way because the mood can be sobering and should be. But in Easter, I would hope that church is a bit raucous and fun; with laughter and good food afterwards - a party rather than a wake.
Monday, April 5, 2010
The chickens are all excited about spring. They seem happier and plumper and calmer. These two are the explorers of the group. They are usually to be found in the pottery studio if I leave the door ajar even a bit. They are friends and they tend to travel with each other. I call them Thelma and Louise.
This morning, when I went to get the eggs for my morning meal I was aware of all the eggs around the world that were handled yesterday. I was aware of the merging of the pagan ceremonies around eggs and fertility with the Christian ceremonies of new life and hope and potential. The eggs had just been under the butt of a hen and were warm and smooth and brown and very big.
In a split second I was able to see, with gratitude the giftedness in my life - the gifts of friends, the gift of support through life, the gift of clarity and prayer and meditation and exercise and a simple egg on toast.
Of course there is the grief of Holy Week. It still echos a bit like music in the rafters of a great cathedral three seconds after the choir stops singing that last strong note. And that echo of betrayal and sin and evil - the narcissism which Jesus came to modulate still hangs in the air a bit like last night's fried fish smell. But the hope of Easter - that truth will win out even when it seems everyone around you is rooting for Barabbas - that truth smells fresh today and is cool like night spring air and full of the potential for healing. This is a week of healing.
My eggs will be fried today, in a browned butter with a bit of curry powder in it and served on toast with a bit of mango chutney on it. The excitement and the self-gratification of sin is, I admit, enticing, but the simplicity of this egg in the creativity of a new Stonewall Kitchen recipe for fried eggs (who knew there was a new recipe for fried eggs!?!?), that simplicity of life seems to be part of the Easter Healing. Wake up, stand up, live, love, tell the truth, breathe, pray, taste, limit, channel. It can feel dull but it is a good thing.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Egg tempera on wood, Greece, 2000, the Anastasis Icon from 7th century Chora Monastery in what is now Istanbul.
Jesus is raised from the dead, emerging from the almond-shaped symbol of both the female reproductive organ and the intersecting circles of heaven and earth - the "mandola- from which we get the word "almond"; Jesus arrives in power to crush lies and manipulation forever and establish a reign of truth. He arrives from the grave with the female hips of a life-bearer, accentuated by a waist band and the gyrating legs of a strong-man pulling Adam and Eve from their helplessness by loose wrists. Satan is at his feet amid the coffin and the implements of Jesus' betrayal and death in darkness of lies and "obscura" which is the dark night of sin's confusion. On Jesus' left are John the Baptist, King Solomon, King David and Moses. On Jesus' left are Abel (the first innocent to die at the hand of a loved-one, Cain, who killed so that he could have what he wanted, when he wanted it). Behind Abel are Peter, John and James and an unidentified disciple.
Saturday, April 3, 2010
The title of this bog came from Phillip, a friend of mine and spouse to one of the diocese's clergy. He and Miranda hosted and sculpted a liturgical "wake" last night at St. Andrew's in Hopkinton which was one of the most beautiful and creative liturgies and worship opportunities I have ever encountered. And having been a monk and a liturgical consultant, I have seen many impressive liturgies. The monastery in which I lived was world-renowned for their lavish and stunningly beautiful liturgies and I was particularly missing the SSJE Good Friday Liturgy (one of my favorites there - other than the Great Vigil) when I realized that I needed to, as my spiritual director said once "bloom where I am now planted."
The liturgy was very simple and very inexpensive (about $20) but stunningly moving and engaging. The lights were low. Tea (only tea - but good teas!) was available in big mugs and fresh hot cross buns were overflowing from a huge bowl - such a symbol of bounty - like, I suppose- a buffet at a wake - overflowing and bountiful.
There was a small circle of chairs set for intermittent gatherings of those present (it was drop-in from 8-11 pm)and between two huge, ancient beams was a coffin -and on it was an almost life-size icon on wood in paper and gold leaf and paints. The long icon covered the entire coffin and was of the Christ layed out in wrappings; quite dead. It was stylized and very beautiful - serene and peaceful and elegant and honest and unpretentious.
At the foot of the coffin was a small table with tools for those of us who had come -spices we could smell and place on the body, incense we could burn at His feet as would have been done in the burial caves, tall, Orthodox beeswax candles for memorial to other griefs - past funerals - deaths of friends or friendships or hopes or dreams or lost innocence or lost naivete. There were tulips to place on the coffin - on the icon. The tulips were fresh and bright and optimistic and simple (about $10.00 worth - breaking no parish budget).
There was a prayer bench next to the coffin and a few Windsor chairs (Hopkinton is, after all, a bit elegant!) There was no music to dull the sadness or anesthetize the pain and stillness of having to sit with one's own thoughts or lack of them. The speaking was only occasional - an invitation for those around the room to gather, to sit, to talk about the beloved who was dead - this Jesus. We spoke of Jesus as of a friend who had died today or recently. We spoke (those who could without tearing up) of our sadness and our complicity and our hopes. We sang a simple chant - a few lines, in shaky accapella, and then went back to mourning - everyone doing it in their own way. After a couple hours of people arriving and others leaving, we ended by Phillip's covering the icon with the shroud of the coffin, blowing out the candles, stepping back - away- slowly - backwards. And then singing an ancient Christian chant of the dead. We left in silence - taking home some of the Hot Cross buns. There is one here this quiet mourning - morning - with my coffee before I head off to lead a Holy Saturday retreat with the above icon of the Myrrh Bearing Women at the empty tomb.
What Phillip and Miranda offered to us last night was stunning in its simplicity and in its creativity and power too. There were so many tears last night. So much disappointment and so much grief of past hurts felt and done. So much confusion with God answering none of the questions. Not even the one Phillip spoke when reflecting on how the disciples must have felt in the time between horror and awe - that in-between time of numb dismay. Phillip, breaking the silence of the evening said simply "REALLY?!?! ...... I mean, REALLY!?!? This was your plan God!?!?!"
Easter is so hard to see in Holy Week - ant that "obscura" - that dark night is a healing thing. The tears and confusion seem somehow very healing - Like lancing a boil or pushing a dis-jointed shoulder back in place. A painful relief tears can be.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
The O Nymphios Icon
Egg tempera on wood, Greece, 2001
Icon for the first four days of Holy Week
The beautiful thing about this icon is the face of Jesus. It is sad for the circumstance but not sad for himself. He is not defenseless and yet he chooses not to be defensive in this moment from Matthew's gospel.
A friend once told me that "there is no need to be defensive if you are right and true. Your enemies will not believe you and your friends do not need it."
Pilot asks the most important question of all. "What is Truth?" and Jesus steps out into the crowd and shows him. Jesus believed that Rome was wrong and that love and honesty and truth and fidelity were right. He gave himself over to that surety, following the truth he had discerned in his quiet prayer time with God in the dark of early morning.
"Speak the truth, lead where it will, cost what it may."
Such a leading! Such a cost! Such a Resurrection! We all just hope for God to make good out of horror and God seems always to do so.
Monday, March 29, 2010
The Crucifixion Rondelle Icon, egg tempera with tooling on wood, 18th century, 14 inches in diameter, Russia.
This icon is one I purchased in the Kapali Carsi in Istanbul while on a trip sponsored by the Episcopal Church to continue conversations between the Anglican and the Eastern Orthodox churches. I went back to it every day for more than a week at the end of every work day. It was in an antique shop and is of Russian Origin. It is a round icon which originally would have fit into an iconostasis- a great wall of icons which separates the Holy of Holy in an orthodox church from the sanctuary. The icon is 17th or 18th century, is wood about two inches thick and covered in a heavy gold leaf, tooled for a celestial texture to imitate the idea of a window into eternity.
I purchased it because I have a deep love of the Gospel of John.
The gospel writers had their misconceptions as they all do, and they confused words like "Jews" when they should have said "lawyers" when discussing the fault of the crucifixion - but we all have our misconceptions don't we. The Gospel of John is stunningly beautiful and celebrates women and love and intimacy unlike any other gospel. It allows Jesus to be as Divine as he is human rather than the other way round. In many holy sites (the Holy Sepulchre and Mount Athos for example) clergy have Bibles which are lacking the Gospel of John. They have ripped them out of their Bibles - not out of shallow loathing but rather out of such a deep love of the Gospel that it is the one they rip from their Bible to give to friends who ask "Why do you love Jesus so much?" or "How do you know God loves us?"
This icon is Johannine (which means "along the lines of John's gospel") because of the way Jesus is portrayed. Jesus is not hanging from the cross. Jesus is layed onto the cross. There is a difference in ideology rather than in form or historical fact. It is true regardless if it is factual. The way his body drapes onto the wood rather than hanging from the nails alludes to a self-offering. Jesus offers himself to the world at noon, while the screams of the butchered sheep can be heard from the Temple compound. And the timing is intentional. "Here, take me if you must but leave the bleeting ones alone! they are scared is all!" Are the bleeting ones sheep? Well, some are.
Jesus had support while he was doing what seemed to be the right thing. Jesus was not alone in that his mother and his best friend and many others did not desert him. And Jesus was not alone in that his prayer and his meditation - that union He enjoyed with God through the hard work of prayer and silence-making meant that He was not alone from God. And yet he was and, in the end, felt - it seems, very much alone. The agony of Gethsemane show a man who felt alone and did not want to do what he was needing to do.
We are all "alone" and yet, also we are "with."
But we are "alone with." Much like Christ, we are loved and even cherished and enjoyed by those we love and whom we love if we work at doing the loving well and with intention. But in the end I think we are still very much alone. We enter the world alone and we leave it alone and we inhabit our body alone. At the crucifixion Jesus is in his body (trapped in it I would say) and is there alone.
It is sad that the Renaissance painters seemed unable to paint a beautiful painting without including a dying Christ in the middle of it. After a few weeks in Florence one can hardly stand to see the crucifixion one more time without a scotch, an advil and a cigarette! But that may be because the image of the crucifixion strips bare the reality that we are alone in our bodies and the desperate attempts we play out to "fix" that infirmity rarely last for long often causing so much harm.
It is amazing what we humans will do and will risk - what we will destroy and whom we will destroy to fix our sadness at being alone.
But the art of being "alone with" seems to make some sense even though it is slow in coming and has its frustrating boundaries. Being "alone with" as Christ is at the cross - alone with Mary (at Jesus' right in blue and dark red), alone with John (at Jesus' left, young and in blue and light red), alone with God (wearing the tooled Gold of eternity stretching out behind them)- this being "alone with' is what makes sense to me and is in high relief at Holy Week.
Being "alone with" is not something I find easy to do. My codependent upbringing can get in the way. But as my spiritual director in Richmond used to say "we are, all of us, in Jesus' little school," learning our lessons by watching his life - trying to live ours in some integrity.
I use to struggle so hard not to be alone. Now, I struggle less with being alone and more with making sure the "with" is well cared for.