Thursday, February 25, 2010
It seems like God had America in mind when God assigned a day of rest as one of the ten commandments. In all three listings in Exodus (two of them) and Deuteronomy, God is so very clear about the Sabbath day. And in the creation myth God names the Sabbath day as the first "Holy thing" which is a big deal for God because calling something Holy is just not done lightly in scripture.
This little pottery studio on the edge of the pond by the forest is my icon for sabbath rest. I go there to be alone and though I love to invite friends into it, I do so rarely. The building is surrounded by windows and flooded from inside with industrial lights. It is warmed by a wood stove and has cathedral ceilings (well, perhaps not "cathedral"...perhaps more like "sort-oflarge vaulted church ceilings).
When people say to me "Oh I wish I could meditate every day" and "I wish I could be an artist" my response is simple: :"Set aside a place for it and it will happen."
If you want to pray daily, find a comfortable chair away from the center of the action and place next to it a prayer book. Go there daily - even when you don't feel like it. If you want to do some creative act like knitting or painting or poetry or calligraphy or jewelry making - just set a small place aside, keep the materials there - never move them - and it will call to you. The place itself will actually call you over to it. I can't explain it but it is true. The "place" will come alive and it will summon you , woo you, coax you, call to you, whisper to you, seduce you.
I believe creativity is one of the most powerful forces for good in the world. And anything that cuts at creativity, the most damaging.
Sabbath rest is not just sitting there covered in Cheeto dust in front of a television or a computer. Sabbath rest is ideally infused with creativity - making things happen - generativity.
As we look around us at this creation, it is constantly giving birth to itself. The creation is constantly creating new species and new life within those species. God is constantly creating new life from death. If we are - and we indeed are- made in God's image, well then we are made to create. And not creating is not living into our fullest humanity.
The creativity of raising children well, the creativity of reinventing vocations and marriages rather than simply casting them off in exchange for some new bauble, the creativity of making a good soup and inviting two friends over for conversation and the creativity of a potter or a painter or a writer are all a response to Gods gentle whisper:"Take what I have given you and MAKE something wonderful!"
And the weird thing is that the "work" of creativity seems to me to be more restful and more fulfilling than just "spending time" on things unworthy of being the artists we all naturally are made to be and to become.
Monday, February 22, 2010
As I move into middle age, I find that the more I begin to understand myself and the more I am patient and gentle and loving towards myself, the more likely I am to be able to stand up for myself. Our society tends to so encourage us to push ourselves! Succeed, win, strive, acheive! Our society demostrates who it is in its television - now largely reality television , news, ads and sports. In each, the goal is to say one person or one thing is the best and is better than another person or thing or team or way of being.
When I was a small child I was told by vocational counsellors and doctors that I would never be good at hand-eye coordination. Anything that required my hands to work with my eyes was, I was told, going to be an activity at which I could expect to fail.
Then one day I was in a pottery studio and gave pottery a try. My first pot was humble to be sure, but it was a success! And I found that, as with most things, the more I tried, the better I became at making pots from clay and water.
And so now, in my forties, I am wondering what else I have been told that I too quickly believed. I am also wondering what I have been telling myself that I have too quickly believed. Like the man in his teenage years, this man in his middle age is trying new things he thought he could not accomplish and lo and behold, I can do still more things I thought impossible.
I recently stood up to a bully and won the day. I was stunned! It made me feel strong in a way I had never felt strong before. It was no longer the school yard but sadly, bullies move out of school yards and into adulthood just like the skinny guys who got sand kicked in their face. And like the shadows in the darness of a room at night, once you stand up to a bully, he or she all of a sudden looks rediculously small and sad.
The pots I make remind me that we never know what we can accomplish in life until we stand up, throw our shoulders back and live honest, powerful lives around which God whirls in the winds and laughs in the thunders and loves in the generativity.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Anthony of Egypt was the first "solitary" and thereby the first "religious" or "monk." He was from a wealthy family but chose to leave the madness of the city to go out into the desert to find a cave in which to sit and think and live. Actually it was all harder than that but it makes a good story and it is true but I expect it was harder than it seems to us what with no bottled water, granola bars or flashlights. While there, in his cave, he was able to focus on what was going on inside him and what was going on around him. Some might say that nothing was going on around him, being that he was sitting in a cave alone, but I would disagree and I know he would too.
By placing certain boundaries around his life, he was able to see what could not be seen any other way. It is like the difference between looking at the stars in the middle of a brightly lit city and looking at the stars from a field in the middle of the darkest woods of a large forest. Take away the light from around and the lights from above stand out. Take away the noises and inputs and distractions from busy, over-stimulated lives and God's voice which is, these days, very gentle seems to come out of the mist of the busy and the loud and the stimulating.
I find it hard to slow down the action in my life so that I can deeply listen to myself and to my God and to my close and trusted friends and mentors. But when I make decisions like keeping a radio off in a drive or keeping the house silent by leaving the cell phone in the car and turning off the ringer on the house phone or taking a day each month for absolute silence - absolute listening silence; then I can hear things I need to hear and see things I need to see and go deeper in that pool of love in which God stands with open arms, waiting for us to take the leap.
Some say this icon of Anthony which was written for me in Greece, is stern - even grouchy. But I wonder if that is a projection in this Hallmark-card-society we live in. I see a man focused, powerful, fearless of seeing and speaking the "truth - lead where it may and cost what it will " (as Phillips Brooks would say.) This man in this image shows the strain of knowing the truth and the power of speaking the truth, and although you cannot see them, I expect his are made of steel!
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
This is my first pot. 1982 in Vermont at prep-school. I walked down into the basement of the library where I found a pottery studio with two rickety wheels. It was Saturday and I sat on one while a friend was on the other. He was throwing a pot and so I took some clay and did one too. It is not very pretty but I still have it after all these years. I even kept it when I went to the monastery.
Now, almost 30 years later I am a master potter.
We can never know how much we will grow but we must continue to do so. God is cultivating us - each and every one of us. God is encouraging and loving and cajoling us into being set free from the prisons into which we have locked ourselves in the hopes that freedom is a more attractive option for us.
This week, as I head into Ash Wednesday today I am aware of that freedom in a new and very powerful way. I am aware that the prisons of my life are becoming fewer and fewer with each passing year of healing and spiritual and emotional growth. As my body ages and I grieve the losses of life, I also celebrate the freedoms of life.
What I have noticed on this farm is that it is out of decomposing life that new life grows. Some things have to die in order for other better, stronger things to take root and live.
What I noticed these last couple of days is that the things I think die in my life are just fantasies which need to die so that truth can live. There is still mourning and sadness at the loss of hopes, but I find, more often than not that the death of things which need to die in my life give me energy and hope and joy and a lightness-of-being which makes me feel like my feet are off the ground and that perhaps I can fly one day!
The pain of "becoming" is completely overwhelmed by the joy of becoming. I will always cherish that little Vermont bowl which I keep in a glass case in my pottery studio on a small mahogany stand. It is there to remind me that all the cuts and all the burns and all the broken pots and all the failed museum openings in my life as a potter have contributed to the beauty of my pots today and the ease and speed with which I make them.
Living and speaking truth will be hard and may come at a high cost and may lead to places unintended, but the freedom of truth is, I think, this "life abundant" of which our scriptures talk. What a wonderful, wonderful Ash Wednesday. Let the old things burn and burn and burn. And from these ashes let new life-abundant come!
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Last Sunday of Epiphany
Transfiguration Sermon preached by
The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond
February 11, 2010
The Church of the Good Shepherd, Nashua, NH
© 2010, Concord, New Hampshire. Use in whole or in part by permission only.
Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]
About eight days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"--not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday before Lent and is the moment when the soundtrack of the gospels turns from major chords to minor chords. The music which could be orchestrated for the soundtrack of the gospel shifts here from something one might expect in Walt Disney – virgin births, angels, lots of wine at weddings, lots of fish and bread in grassy meadows, animated squirrels on Jesus’ shoulder and a faun nibbling grass next to his feet.
There is, here, today, a shift to something one might expect in a scary movie – that moment when the guy hears something in the basement, opens the basement door (while we all scream “no. don’t go down there!” in our minds). He then reaches into the darkness as we cover our mouths with our hands and unconsciously move our knees together. He flick s on the light but, of course, the bulb happens to be burned out…so he descends the basement stairs into the horrors of goblins and darkness which await.
This gospel has very similar themes of light and darkness. Here we can see fluffy clouds on a blue night sky pushed back by the light of the transfiguration of Christ. And beneath him, in the basement of the painting by Raphael is the chaos at the base of Mount Nebo, eight thousand feet down in the town to which they will go in the next scene there is darkness and chaos.
When Raphael painted this painting you have before you in 1516, he was on his way to death, in part, by exhaustion. The artist was so famous and so sought after that he literally has villas and churches and cathedrals and popes and cardinals all with orders for paintings waiting to be filled. The artist was in his own kind of chaos and he let it come through in this painting. What marks most renaissance paintings is something called “chiaroscuro” which in Italian means “LIGHT-DARK” and was a common technique in painting themes of joy and sadness or good and evil or right and wrong.
Here, in this paining, Jesus is almost shaping his floating body in the form of the cross to which he will soon be nailed. He is lit by the conversation of Elijah and Moses – the two great figures of Israel’s’ past - whose conversation was about Jesus’ “departure” says our gospel, but the original word would have been “his exodus.” The path way which will lead from this moment to the cross and to the resurrection. It is the conversation of Moses and Elijah which lights Jesus like the element of a light bulb between two electrodes. It is the pain and suffering Jesus will go through which is the light and the glory of the transfiguration. So the happy light and the sad darkness is not what the artist is doing here. It must be something else.
And I wonder if there is a clue in the arms. If I meditate on this image for a while like one would use an icon, what seems to hit me are the arms! There are arms everywhere! Jesus’ arms are up in the same position that a priest uses to bless the Eucharist and on the way to the out-stretched arms of a crucifixion. The lack of arms waving on the two ghosts is also reflected in their grayness – as if they are body-less voices or memories or floating worries and fears and sign-posts. The arms of the sleeping Peter, James and John are all touching their faces, protecting, shielding? And the arms of the people below are a mass of chaos – flying in every direction – this way and that way. And the boy who is possessed by some spirit. His eyes are huge ands his arms simultaneously reach to Christ with a hand shaped in blessing and the other hand open and reaching to hell.
Jesus of the Transfiguration is Jesus who saves. No longer are we wondering if this is some pre-menopausal Santa Clause! No longer is Jesus just a nice man who can do cool tricks. No longer is Jesus a self-help coach or a good-luck charm we turn to when things go bad or a thing on a chain around our necks which is a sign to the world that we have the “goes to church” box checked on Santa’s “nice list.”
With the transfiguration, things shift – the music, the light, the tone, the colors and the body language. This moment is the wound of knowledge – that thing one all-of-a-sudden-knows that one can never not know – never un-know. The transfiguration is the sing on the path of existence that says “suffering, death, salvation and glory – this way.”
Moses and Elijah were figures of Israel’s exodus from the slavery of Egypt to the Promised Land. Jesus lights up between them as the new exodus – the new freedom from the slavery of fear, the slavery of chaos, the slavery of our terrible choices, the slavery of global wealth and global poverty, the slavery of needing a savior.
For the writers of Luke’s gospel, Jesus is not the savior coming down the mountain to heal the boy in the midst of the incompetence of the disciples. Jesus is the Savior of the whole world, God coming down the mountain of the cosmos to be with us in a world of people which, at times, seem well beyond saving.
The transfigured Christ, like the resurrected Christ, demands that our Walt Disney view of Jesus shift. The transfigured Christ demands that the chaos of flailing arms calm into arms raised to Christ the way Christ’s arms are raised in this paining. The Transfiguration demands that whatever domesticated doily the church has made Jesus into be returned to the physical strength and generativity of this painting’s savior with life-bearing female hips.
The transfiguration demands something Americans and especially Anglicans are not very good at. The transfiguration demands adoration. Not gentle nods of pious recognition. Not sanctimonious handouts to the poor. Not 90 minutes a week on a Sunday. But radical, counter-cultural, face on the floor, arms to the heavens adoration.
This moment in the gospel opens Lent in order to shock us out of our arm-flailing chaos and into making a Holy Lent – not by what we give up but by what we choose to adore – by a shift of focus.
What do we adore? Is it our standard of living? Our intellect? Our savings? Our degrees? Our furnishings? Our physical prowess? Our movie stars? Our tennis stars?
This Gospel is inviting us to re-focus our adoring gaze away from our mirrors and televisions and into the glory of God in Christ.
It is true what doctors say.
Physically, we are what we eat.
But it is also true what the gospel says.
Spiritually, we are what we adore.
One of my favorite forms in pottery is the bowl and this is one of my favorite bowls. I designed it because one day I was having trouble making pancakes when the bowl kept slipping as I stirred the batter.
I have a deep love of pancakes on my sabbath day - buckwheat is my absolute favorite. But I found that holding the bowl with one hand and whisking with the other made it hard to hold the bowl unless one wraps an arm around the bowl in which case one gets batter of flour all over one's shirt -or in my case, one's footie-pajamas!
So I put a little curl of clay on the side of the bowl so that my fingers could go under the bowl and my thumb could slide into the loop. I then made a spout for the batter to pour slowly (I like control of my pancake batter flow). And voila! I had a batter bowl. This is my invention, so if you try to copy it I will put a frog curse on you so do not try! My sister Linda says I need to send it to Oprah or Martha and get huge publicity. The problem is I am a better potter than I am a packer and mailer. All too much trouble. But last night I made six bowls while I watched Ship of Fools.
They sell well at the Canterbury Shaker Village Museum Store in three sizes and three colors! And now...off to make pancakes!
Friday, February 12, 2010
The thing I notice about my chickens, other than the fact they they are about as demanding as a group of five world leaders looking frantically for their secretary, is that they like being together. In fact, when I am in the chicken house they like being with me. I thought for a while that it was just that I brought the food and the water and the fresh straw (though I admit, perhaps not often enough). But then one day I fed them and stayed in the room for a while before collecting the eggs in order to complete "the transaction." I hung out and they cam over after a bit of nosh in order to say hello and ask me how my day was going. They did not use words of course (well...once they did but every time I mention it, people look at each other and roll their eyes so I keep it to myself!) they just cluck around and peck gently at my boots and let me pick them up and pet them like a cat. I think they kind of purr....well, not so much purr as stop cackling and get all quiet and sort of intoxicated.
I watch them wander the farm on our Sabbath days (When I have a day off - which I call a Sabbath day to piss off my pagan friends- I let them out to free-range - sort of like prisoners allowed to walk the yard.)I am amazed at how they pretend to be all "get-away-from-me-and-let-me-find-my-own-bugs" when in fact they are constantly eyeing each other and me and never go very far away.
I'm sort of that way with God. I want to pretend I am a master of all I am doing and the creator of the vision of, my life - all very..."blah, blah, blah, look how great I am, blah, blah. " when in fact I keep looking around for signs that God is not very far away. Problem is that when I turn my head to find him, our noses touch which freaks me out and I pee a little. But I am glad not to be alone. And glad to be so loved. All any of us want is relatedness. I just wish the Church was better at facilitating it.
Monday, February 8, 2010
What seems to most attract me is the shape, beauty and service of a simple bowl. My favorite pottery form is a tea bowl, but these bowls I also find attractive. I like the way they turn in at the top. It makes mixing in them easier because the liquid does not flop out while the whisk is doing its work. I like the oval shape because it keeps warm things warmer longer by not having such an open mouth. But mostly I like how uncomplicated the shape is. These bowls just sit there ready to do their job, but when the food gets to the table, all they do is present the nourishing food.
I long to live a simpler life so that I am that way. I want to offer my friends warm, nutritious food and friendship without being anything more than the conveyor of the nourishment and warmth. I believe that all love and all generativity comes from God. And I believe that we humans and the rest of all creation are simply the conveyors of that which God would lavish on God's creation.
As I look at creation and look at the universe which is available to me and look at life as I see it here on this tiny planet I am amazed by people who cannot see the existence of a creator and loving nurturer of life. This earth with is complexity of interaction and beauty could no less have happened by an accidental explosion than a car could be left having been assembled and purring with the engine running and the seat warmers warming after a tornado whipped through a car factory.
But what is hard is not to be too greedy and not to let life get too complicated and not to miss the love and friendhip which seems to have been the point of all of this.
Friday, February 5, 2010
"A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; ... if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free." [Schopenhauer, "The World as Will and Idea," 1818]
Solitude is a wonderful thing when one is centered and feeling well about oneself. Solitude allows time to reflect and to sit with feelings - even the unpleasant ones - so that healing and integration can occur. But solitude's joy can, in my life at least, so easily turn to loneliness like milk turning in the refrigerator so that something that was wonderful becomes something that is hard to choke down.
I wonder about being alone and being lonely. Being alone does not bother me and sometimes I need it. Being lonely is a very different thing and can happen just as easily when I feel isolated in my farmhouse as when I am in a group - but unhappy being there.
The Rublev Icon (above) reminds me that I am never alone and that loneliness is something which I bring to the table of life and that when I do, it rarely goes well for me. Loneliness is a choice even if that "choice" is the sum of many choices which repell the people in our lives.
It can be hard living out in the countryside as I do. My dog makes it possible as do my friends. Friends visit and they call and that keeps my living "alone" feeling serene while keeping "loneliness" at bay - most days.
God lives in a constant state of joyful and loving community as three in one - three persons in one God. As hard a concept as that is to understand, it is comforting to me to be invited into the love and life of a God whose existence is at a table with a chair welcoming me and all of humanity to it. Even when I feel lonely, this image reminds me that the feeling is just a feeling and will go as fast as it came.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
I share this farm house with my English black lab named "Kai." The name comes from "kairos" which is a Greek term for "the time in which God lives." There are two kinds of time in theological terms. One kind of time is chronos time - chronos - like chronology - the clicking of seconds and minutes and hours of human clock time. This kind of time in which humans live on earth, based on the movement of the planets, did not become much of a big deal until the early 1800's when time became "money" in our western culture as factories became prevalent and clocking-in for work became the way people were managed and - soon - the way humanity was judged by itself.
Kairos time, on the other hand, is not linear like chronos time is. Kairos time does not move from second to second to minute to hour to day and to year in a line moving forward in one direction with the past lost and the future unknown. Kairos time is less like a line on a page with notches moving relentlessly in one direction. Kairos time is not an advancement of a commodity which is lost as it moves forward. Kairos time is a way of being.
Kairos time, that "time" in which God lives is not linear but is three-dimensional. Kairos time is a time of constant love, playfulness and creativity. kairos time is not gained or lost. It is not used up or spent. Kairos time is a way of being rather than the being itself. If chronos time is seen as a line with notches in it then Kairos time is "laughter at a dinner table" or "two fiends sharing their lives with each other" or "sex" or "one's favorite food."
God lives in the midst of three persons, as three persons - and God's only experience of "alone" was very brief and still, was in the context of a simultaneous experience of not being alone. God lives in a constant kaleidoscope of love and playfulness and joyful self-expression and a bit of silliness (take , for example, the platypus, the blue-footed booboe or a puppy chasing his tail!).
I named my silly, goofie, loving lab "Kai" because he draws me out of chronos time and into Kairos time. He draws me out of a time of post-industrial revolution time-cards and day-timers and into the silly, loving playfulness to which we are all called every moment and into which we may dive with reckless abandon if we give ourselves the counter-cultural permission to do so.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
When I left the monastery, I was leaving something I loved but that I sensed was on loan to me. Some people are called to a monastery and some are called through one. I was called through the Society of St. John The Evangelist and it made me the priest I had always wanted to become just as therapy and rural life are making me the man and the monk-ish person I had always wanted to become.
It is hard to remember to do the mourning over the loss of the choices which we do not make even if the choices we are making are exciting ones which seem to be the way forward in the murky fog of discernment.
When I left the monastery, some friends from outside the cloister gave me a small sack of marbles with a note that said "We hope you leave here and learn how to simply play!" I kept those marbles in a small bowl under a lamp which is always kept lit and which is in the center of the house as an icon- a constant visual reminder- pointing to a new way of life with the permission in it to "play." Play-fullness does not come easily to me but I love to do it and, when I decide to, am good at it! Time for play-fullness is so important in a day and a week!
Monday, February 1, 2010
Here is an example of the addition of a slice of agate to the lid of a large clay vessel in oxidation glaze fired to cone 6. By installing the slice atop the piece, I can let the light show off the stone so that the work holds the stone up to the light. This way I am able to celebrate not only my manipulation of the clay body, the silica and the other natural oxieds which make the piece a "pot" but I can also acknowledge that God has made the earth from which the elements come and God has made the hands which have made the pot.
Some church musicians will sign their work "deo gloria" or some other term which celebrates that the glory goes not to the artist but to the God who made the artist, his or her tools, his or her elements and his or her hands and brain. Am I an artist who "made these things" or am I an artist who simply took materilas and re-ordered them - thereby celebrating the CREATOR, the elements of the creation and the creator or "artist"? I think the latter.
artist (from etymology on line)
1580s, "one who cultivates one of the fine arts," from M.Fr. artiste (14c.), from It. artista, from M.L. artista, from L. ars (see art (n.)). Originally used especially of the arts presided over by the Muses (history, poetry, comedy, tragedy, music, dancing, astronomy), but also used 17c. for "one skilled in any art or craft" (including professors, surgeons, craftsmen, cooks). Now especially of "one who practices the arts of design or visual arts" (a sense first attested 1747).