03 October 2014

Calling Down the Echoes

[The title of this blog post is inspired by the University of Notre Dame Victory March (fight song).  We lived in South Bend, IN for eleven years, and this song became very well known...especially in football season.  The second line of the second stanza reads, "Wake up the echoes cheering her name."  This blog is a reflection from a morning meditation wherein the words, "Call down the Echoes" came to me with two particular images.  Later, the unmistakable Victory March tune began in my head.  So, I need to give credit where it is due.]

Probably no one who reads this would deny that we spend a lot of our awake time reflecting on past events, personal encounters or historic moments that have left deep impressions.  It is safe to say that we are shaped, in large measure, by what we have experienced.  Learning is a process of taking in information, processing it, storing it and utilizing it in seemingly countless ways.  We are a product of the processes of experience, learning, cognitive associations and the stories we have assembled to keep all of that alive in our current moment.  

What drives us somewhat crazy, as we grow older, is the haziness of some of those memories and experiences.  The temptation (and perhaps tendency) is to find a cognitive thread of memory and build a story that seems plausible...or more satisfying...to our current self-image.  It's something like a "Walter Mitty Complex."  It is the secret life we always wished we had after having experienced what we really had and either lost some of the detailed memory of what we had or simply abandoning it in favor of our enhanced creation.  No, it would not be considered so much a lie (falsehood) but a work of subconscious ego wanting us to feel good about ourselves.  The pathology that sometimes creates an entirely new persona is called "Delusional Reality."  This is not what I am talking about here.

As I approach age 64, I am experiencing some interesting internal phenomena.  I retired from the active work as a parish priest in the Episcopal Church 3 years, 3 months ago.  After 33 years of total engagement in congregational development and immersion in the liturgical cycles of the Church, I was ready for a change...and a rest.  As I approached the third anniversary of retirement, I was asked to consider taking on an assignment as a part-time Priest-in-Charge of a small congregation.  This designation would not affect my status as a retired priest, because the hours involved would be kept at a level that would not change the status.  There would be no stipendiary income.  It would not require me to "run" a congregational system in the same manner a parish Rector functions in a congregation.  The shift this caused me internally was not what I expected.

I began waking up very early in the morning....3:00am early.  I would wake up with a jolt from a shot of adrenalin powered by either panic, anxiety or a combination in some form.  It was just small stuff.  However, in the haze of being only half awake, that stuff seemed huge...almost insurmountable.  Try as I might, there would be no going back to sleep.  Part of the imagery had to do with the possibilities attached to being back in a parochial status.  I knew the knife-edge I lived on for all those years and the intense stresses of life in an often convoluted parochial environment.  The Church is a truly complex entity and almost never the spiritual panacea that one might imagine.  It is often the most secular and conflicted environment on the planet.  Why?  At the risk of oversimplification, the human ego regularly masks itself as a spiritually enlightened entity (which it is not).  The confusion of spirituality and ego-driven imagery can create some very disturbing and convoluted situations.  These stresses had begun to take their toll on my health, and I have had a good year leading up to this call for me to do this work.  I was suddenly afraid.  Damn!  I am not a fearful person by nature.

After a month of internal debate and struggle, I agreed to take this assignment.  The moment I said "yes" there was a sense of peace about it.  So, maybe I was finished with the very early morning panic attacks.  Nope....not so much.

I have now been doing the work of Priest-in-Charge for exactly three months (I began on 1 July).  Even after making the decision and adjusting my lifestyle to meet the shift in status, I have continued to wake up at around 4:00am (yep, "peace" bought me an hour more sleep each night).  However, I was no longer in a place of panic.  I would simply wake up and begin seeing images and vignettes of people, places and events from early childhood onward into almost the present.  I would feel a range of emotions:  grieving losses, remorse at mistakes made or people hurt, sadness at losing the wonderful or joy-filled moments, deep grief at losing those places of innocence and being relatively care-free, anxiety at things that were left "unfinished" or "incomplete."  That is just some of the range.

Something else began to creep into this panoply of what seemed to be life review.  I began to realize that there is far less time in front of me than is now behind me.  I have always lived with the reality of death.  I have felt close to it a couple of times...close enough to appreciate the fragility of life.  Over the past few years, my spirituality has shifted into a deeper place.  I am generally more contemplative and reflective.  I have been able, at times, to suspend ego and experience the deeper Self that is often defined as "soul."  I have truly experienced what Jesus called, "the Kingdom is at hand."  That sentence, in its original language format, is translated, "the Kingdom is as close as your touch....you can palpate it."  And, it has palpated me.  I am certain that reality is much, much bigger than my senses can experience.  So why the anxiety about death?

One word:  Attachment.

I love my wife very much indeed.  I love my daughters deeply...and my son-in-law...and my new grandson...and my dear friends...and the Lakota people...and the high plains...and the place we now live...and those people and things that have made me who I am.  

Early this morning (actually 4:30am...a whole 30 minutes more sleep than usual....hot damn!) I arose and did what I do to shake off the anxiety material:  wash my face, head downstairs with our dog padding close at my heels, start the coffee, take our dog for her first trip outside, empty the dishwasher, check my fasting blood-sugar level, drink a large glass of water, grab a cup of coffee and settle into one of two places:  the chair in our reading/prayer area or the chair on the lanai.  Today, I was on the lanai by 4:50am (I am fairly fast and efficient at the process laid out above).

As my primary mantra quietly repeated itself in my head, I could feel myself letting go and entering that "buzzy" realm of deeper consciousness.  {note:  I have tinnitus...a condition of ringing in the ears...primarily my left ear...on reflection, when that "disappears" I am below the sensate level of consciousness}  There came two images that seemed to float like clouds.  One was in the shape of an eagle....a representation of what I had actually experienced at the grave of Red Cloud during my sabbatical in 2008.  There was a man in khaki pants and a blue work shirt standing to my side asking if I needed something.  My response was something like, "affirmation."  His response to me, "you have always had that...keep going."

At some point, another image came into focus.  It was simply a grassy area with trees and the quick entry and exit of a number of folks...all familiar to me and each with some word of assurance.  These were voices from the past but seemed to be located very much in the present and leaning me forward.  It is a hard experience to describe.  The voices were like a series of echoes.  After this, I "surfaced" to find myself sitting upright in the chair, hands still in my lap, the tinnitus ringing away in its usual manner, and the new day's dawning now illuminating the outdoor surroundings.  I could hear my wife in the kitchen...arisen from her sleep and making her first cup of coffee.  

I think, in our dark places of semi-consciousness, our mind wants to rehearse where we have been and what have done...or not done...as a means by which we remain attached to what we have come to define as reality.   As we grow older, we grieve the loss of youth and the things that defined those years.  The shift to this stage of life is hard, so we begin telling stories of "back when I was....."(put the age, place, job, accomplishment, etc in here).  It is here that wisdom needs to take a prime place.  Brother Mark Brown, SSJE, says it well:
     "Wisdom seeks truth. Wisdom seeks life. Wisdom seeks light. And, surely, wisdom seeks love.       Wherever these things are to be found. Maybe in church. Maybe in the lab or the museum or         the concert hall or on a stage or screen. Maybe in our relationships. Perhaps wisdom is not so       much a particular thing or a particular understanding of things, and more an attitude, more a           disposition of expansiveness."
[SSJE:  Society of St. John the Evangelist, a monastic order of the Episcopal Church whose Mother House is in Cambridge, MA]
Wisdom isn't how much we know.  It is the deep inner being that gathers both physical and spiritual reality into a synthesis of being.  It is a way of being more than a way of doing.  In calling down the echoes of experience, we acknowledge that we are humans who have been caste into a life that is at the same time imminent and transcendent.  It is a place into which we wake up, rather than strive toward.  
I now know that when I finish waking up in the midst of life reviews and anxiety about seemingly minute tasks I will have come to that place of being at peace with the eternal Now.  It is what we truly have.  It is always with us.  The echoes are there to lean us into the fullness of Now.
Love and Blessings,
Fred+






20 September 2014

Run, Then Walk

I don't run anymore.  I have not run competitively since 1997 and have not been on the road at all since late 2000.  It is a part of my life that I miss very much.  There was a time, in fact, that I ran at least five day a week and five or six miles during each run.  I ran 10K events and was training for a half marathon, when I had my first knee accident.

I was doing a project on the campus of  Nashotah House Theological Seminary in early summer 1996 and took a mid-afternoon break for an eight mile run around the two lakes (Nashotah is Menominee language for "Twin Lakes").  It was a beautiful afternoon and great weather for a long, strong run.  I had been out for about ten minutes and had worked into my conditioning speed.  I was on a road I had been on many times as a student twenty years earlier and relaxed too much in my sense of well-being.  Looking around, I missed the small pot hole which caught my left foot.   At an 8 min/mile pace, it took just a couple of seconds for me to pitch sideways and twist my left knee.  I heard the snap and crack sound; and I knew immediately I had probably torn the meniscus cartilage.  After some agonizing minutes on the side of the road, I limped back to my campus residence, started the "RICE" routine, called my wife and secured an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon in South Bend, IN...where we were living at the time.

Ultimately, this injury led to arthroscopic surgical repair and 8 weeks of physical therapy.  It was three months before I could attempt running again...which I did.

In May 2000, I was at a hotel in Bethesda, MD.  The North American Conference of Cathedral Deans were gathering for our annual conference, which was being hosted in Y2K by the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.   I was descending the stairs from the lobby to the mezzanine to register.  Someone called my name, and I looked around to find the source of the voice.  I missed a step with my right foot, hit the following step sideways and twisted my right knee.  "Snap....crack."  Nothing to do but sit right down and move through the familiar, agonizing pain of another meniscus tear.

Since I was on sabbatical, I limped this injury until my return to South Bend three months later.  Thereupon, I submitted to another arthroscopic surgical repair.  This time, the news was not so good.  "Sorry, my friend," lamented my surgeon, "this ends your running days...unless you want the knees replaced within the next couple of years."  I didn't.

What I did do was to make a rather radical shift in how I did aerobic exercise.  Being aerobic is almost essential for a person who has the kind of genetic heart condition that I happen to own.  This condition is why I was never able to run fast.  My coronary arteries are inefficient....overly large with wavy walls.  Coronary Artery Ectasia is the medical name.    Remember Star Trek, when Capt. Kirk would ask Chief Engineer Scott for more power from the engines?  Oft times, the answer from Scotty would be, "But, Captain, I giving you all she's got!"   That's Coronary Ectasia.  From the time I was a kid, I could run but would hit the wall of capacity long before anyone else.  Inside, my heart was screaming at the arteries for more oxygenated blood.  They could only respond with "Sorry, but we're giving you all we got."

I learned...long before I knew I had this condition...that I could run all day, IF I would hit a particular pace and simply stay there.  Therefore, I was always a strong, reliable runner at about 7:30 or 8 min/mile paces.  I would never win a race; but I would always finish with room to spare.  My coronary condition was diagnosed in 1995.  It made me angry, because I had spent years enduring the taunting of coaches and peers about being a "slow boat."  440 splits and dashes were hell for me, and I could never sustain those required speeds for longer than a few seconds before simply running out of gas.

Then there was the grief of Y2K.  I would sit in my living room on Wayne St. in South Bend and watch the early morning joggers and serious runners, as they moved down the street and around our neighborhood.   I would head for the gym for laps in the pool, a fast 30 min pace on a stationery bike or elliptical rider.  I still seriously miss "road running."  Fourteen years later, and I still watch others taking on the challenges of suburban streets and countrysides with the occasional lump in my throat...my moment of grieving.

My second love was swimming.  I was a very strong swimmer and grew up loving the water.  Weeks on the Gulf at Longboat Key; the lakes and pools of my hometown Winter Haven (Florida).  During my years in the Boy Scouts, I did several mile swim events, and was certified in about every swimming activity offered.   Then, things changed rather radically.

While in the Navy, I was doing work that required me to stay relatively fit.  I accomplished that in part by weight lifting.  One day, I was due to be at an evolution (Navy term for an event involving nautical, mechanical or tactical engagement on the part of assigned crew) on our submarine base in Scotland.  I was trying to finish a workout at the shore facility.  I made a mistake in a lift and nearly popped my right shoulder out of joint.  This, and a later accident, would set up a degenerative arthritis condition that would require a total shoulder joint replacement in 2010.  An infection in the replaced joint would necessitate a long and painful series of surgeries at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, and a new joint with different physics for movement (called a "reverse").  I no longer have rotators due to the infection.  "I hate to tell you this, my friend," said the surgeon (one of the best in the world at this kind of work), "but your swimming days are over....at least the strokes that involve joint rotation."  The familiar grief made its way into my throat, and I felt the tears rolling down my cheeks.  I finally rationalized that at least I would have use of the arm, which had been in question at one point.

Now that we live near the Gulf of Mexico in a condo development that has a pool, I have taught myself how to swim with a modified breast stroke and back stroke.  I have developed a workout program that keeps my joints strong and stable.  I am aerobic 3-5 days/week.  I still have my original knees.  It may be that I have to have a prosthetic left shoulder in two or three years (there is no cartilage in that joint now....part of the original accident series with weights).  Unless you actually spend a great deal of time around me, there is no way you would know that my "conditions" exist or that I have any real limits.

This life journey has taught me many things in 63 years.  I am seriously and richly blessed.  I have often over-extended myself and exceeded limits and capacities...physically and in terms of psycho-emotional well-being.  In those excesses, I have injured both myself and others.   I have learned to grieve in a healthy way, make adjustments, take responsibility, forgive myself (still working on this) and make amends to those I have hurt.  I call this "life in the center."  My mentors, Edwin Friedman and Ed Whalen called this "homeostasis."

The military has a way of coming at resilience:  "Adapt.  Improvise.  Overcome."   I am very glad for those years in the U.S. Navy Submarine Corps.  I have been blessed to be able to look at life from a lot of angles and very thankful that, along the way, I have had some wonderful guides, teachers and friends who really "pulled up alongside" and shared both wisdom and encouragement.  Perhaps it has allowed me to have more years to continue to give back and pull up alongside some who are working their journeys.

Love and blessings,

Fred+

04 July 2014

Who Is a Patriot?

As most mornings begin, I am on the lanai (screened porch) of our condo.  It looks out on a pond that is the centerpiece of our condominium community.  Not only does this pond serve to hold storm water and to provide irrigation; it is also a state protected rookery for birds.  It is home to several species of fish, at least three species of turtle, an otter (I have only seen one) and several species of water birds.  We are regularly visited by a number of avian species daily.  In the midst of commerce, this is a space of quiet, and I find it easy to slide into contemplative prayer....or allow my thoughts to meander for a while.

This morning, a wood stork cruised in and landed gracefully about four feet outside our lanai.  Though I moved a bit to get a better look, the stork was totally unintimidated by my presence.  He simply looked at me for a bit and then began ambling in a very casual manner.  This kind of thing happens often with herons, ducks, gallinules, seagulls, storks, turtles and a variety of other animal folk.  None of the visitors seem concerned about my presence...even when I move about.  This raised a consideration.

Because of the nature of this place...the fact that it has been here about eight years now...that folks living here never try to harm them, there is a developed sense of safety and well-being about being here.  It is a type of symbiosis (if you will), which may say something about what it means to be a human who is a steward of creation...not its master.

 In essence, I (and my neighbors) stand between the protected and guarded safety of this environment and the often dangerous elements of an ever decreasing natural habitat.  Those dangers, mind you, are much more human induced than the result of natural predation.  I have, on a few occasions, seen a red shouldered hawk or bald eagle swoop into our pond area and make off with what will become a meal. That's part of a natural cycle.

Though this pond is place of stability and safety, it is by no means static.  The water cycles constantly.  There are seasonal changes to the habitat (yes, even in Southwest Florida).  While it looks the same, our pond, and our ecology here are in a state of constant shift and change...both on the micro and macro levels.  In two years of living here, I have never sat down on the lanai and not seen something new, different or ever so slightly shifted.

Over the course of 63 years of life, I have had the privilege of being able to experience a lot of ways of expressing who I am:  a child, a student, a friend, occasionally an enemy, a laborer in a warehouse, a laborer/chemist in a processing facility (making fruit drinks), a military person (Navy), a priest, a theologian, a husband, a father, a leader, a team member, a consultant and a retiree (sort of).  That's not naming everything.  Every day has been different, and the "hat" I wear seems to shift.

One of the places to which I often return, in gathering memories, is my six years of being part of the military complex.  Before taking the oath of enlistment in the U.S. Navy in 1972, I was convinced that military personnel were folks who entered a system, had their brains "scrubbed" and emerged as automatons....cookie cut human military machines.  This is a completely naive way of thinking about such a complex culture, and I learned....very, very quickly....that such an image was totally, completely and absolutely false.  There are men and women from all walks of life, conditions of being and diversity of culture, ideology and capability.  What was different about the military...in my experience...was that, in large measure, the diversity was not a factor in doing the work.  What happens in the military is the building of a team of trust and mutuality.  This is most especially true of Special Forces personnel.

During my years of military service, I came to know a number of  Navy and Marine special operation persons.  The general public only really sees the "big news" elements of service....like an Afghanistan or Iraq war or combat situations arising from a political crisis (e.g. Somalia, Grenada).  Truth is that special forces personnel die often in the kind of combat that no one knows about.  In the work I did, I saw this on several occasions.  I suggest watching the movie, "Act of Valor."  It is a movie releasd in 2012 that depicts the quiet fight against terrorism that takes place almost on a daily basis.  The events of the movie are vignettes taken from true events.  Most of the actors are actual active duty military personnel.  And SEAL Team 7 does specialize in anti-terrorist operations.

In the founding our our country, the persons we generally call "Patriots," were indeed the brave ones that publicly stood up to the British Crown on behalf of an emerging, cohesive culture.  A patriot, in this venue, is willing to put life and reputation on the line for something larger than simple self-interest.  None of the founders of our nation had "the answer" to what form this new enterprise would take.  In fact, there were great differences among them regarding how this new nation would be established.  Over time, and with much anguish, a framework emerged that would be, first, a Declaration of Independence, and, later, the Constitution of the United States.  Regardless of the differences in political theory or personal principles, each of these founders were patriots.

What about the militiamen who stood on Concord Bridge or at Lexington?  What about those unnamed persons who believed in what was nothing more than a dream, and placed their entire lives on the line to protect those who could not fight?  What about those who would, after the War of Independence, speak for and protect those who, during the war, supported the British government?  The very first Bishop of the American Episcopal Church (formerly the Church of England) had been a chaplain for the British army.  Yet, after the war, the first convention of the revitalized Episcopal Church unanimously elected Samuel Seabury as its first Bishop.  Among those in the electorate were a number of our country's founders.

A stork pays me a visit on a warm 4th of July morning.  In its simple way of cognition, does it sense that I am a protector?  While not an act of patriotism, it does come at a point.

The Patriot is one who is most often unknown, or unrecognized, who lives and functions in ways that stand for those who are not able to protect themselves.  The Patriot is one who most often puts his/her own ego needs aside in order to defend and speak for the greater whole.

The men and women I have known...and do know...who daily risk (and sometimes lose) their lives for the greater whole, are not concerned about political ideology, race, religion or ethnic heritage.  They are concerned that all of those folks...in all of their diversity...have the right to live free and responsible lives.

While we are not short of patriots who are daily "on the line," we are quite short on the patriotic character that stands for the principle of caring for the greatest common good and for the welfare of all souls.

I think we may be descending into an oligarchy, where a few corporations hold a great deal of power and influence.  This does not reflect an evolving, vital or maturing culture.  It is a devolution into a place that created the 18th century French revolution and American revolution.  I am praying that the quiet sacrifices of those who are Patriots are not simply persons standing at a bridge to nowhere.

With opportunity and possibility comes challenge.  Will we, once again, have a Martin Luther King or the type of leaders who gave us the Civil Rights Acts of 1964/65?  Will the middle class re-emerge as the backbone of American culture?  Will we heal the damage done to the First Nations peoples?  Will we raise up the poor and downtrodden....give hope to those in deepest need?  It is the bridge upon which our infant nation's Patriots stood.  Who is a Patriot?

Blessings,

Fred+




29 April 2014

Two Truths and a Shift

("We are Awakening"  Deva Premal and Miten)


If we allow ourselves to listen to the rhetoric that now fills the halls of our legislative bodies...national, state and local...and if we listen to and observe the actions of some public figures and geo-political leaders; and if we rely upon our conditioned mental and emotional patterns to dictate responses...if we take all this into a framework of perceived reality...then we can assuredly say that we are in some trouble.  We can say that we are broken.  We can become cynical, angry, anxious, fearful and reactive to the extent that we become the explosive charge to all the dysfunction we observe around us.  

I am writing this, because I do not think any of what I said above is either necessary, or even part of who and what we really are.  Three events over the past several days have jolted me.  A fourth consideration has provided the grit upon which these events have become pivot points for me.  They represent what I summarized in the paragraph above.

An NBA team owner is recorded speaking words that denigrate, demean and segregate an ethnic group in society.  A former political leader makes a speech in which she proclaims that, if she were a central leader, waterboard torture would be the baptism for terrorists. 

I spent a weekend with several first cousins and a couple of second cousins at a reunion to celebrate the 70th birthday of one of the 1st cousins who has been on a three-year journey with cancer.  We told stories...they included events of joy, saddness and the sharing of the dysfunction that has been part of the generational "DNA" of relationships.  It was hard to hear some of these stories, but the fact that, in our 60s and 70s (age), we can share these painful realities, we find a place of healing and a shift into new places of caring and compassion.  "I love you" were the most heard words, as we parted to return to our daily lives.

The consideration cited aboveis a possible return to part-time parochial work as a "Priest-in-Charge" of a small, struggling congregation...located nearly 50 miles from where we live.  It would require about 20 hrs/week, which would include Sundays and would probably last for about a year.  For the past two weeks, I have seriously struggled with the implications of this on several levels...time, focus, finances, professional resources and the flexibility I have come to appreciate in nearly three years of retirement from active parochial work.  As I write this, I still have no solid idea about how this will "play out."

Truth #1:  Every Human Being on the Planet Shares the Same First Chromosomal Marker

This truth, alone, is disturbing enough for a lot of folks to simply deny its plausibility.  It's like anything that cuts against the grain of our conditioning (e.g., we didn't go to the moon; it was staged in the New Mexico or Arizona desert).  

The work of geneticists Francis Collins and Spencer Wells...with a host of genetics support through major world organizations...has proven beyond doubt that all human beings on the planets come from the same Homo sapiens roots.  This is not the place to dive into the research and the total science.  The mapping of the human genome that was completed in the 1990s and the ongoing work of Spencer Wells in the Genographic Project are published materials.  Essentially, the male Y chromosome in all male humans has the same first "error" in generational transmission of that genetic material.  The female mitochondrial DNA has the same first "error" in generational transmission of that genetic material.  The migration patterns of homo sapiens from its origins in east central Africa over the past 65,000 years shows how and why we have the remarkable diversity in features, skin tone, etc.  

Like it or not, this is a true and serious scientific reality.

Truth #2:  Every Human Being on the Planet has an Imago Core

This is disturbing enough to call forth all kinds of crises in what we call "faith" or "belief."  The essence of being is a Self that is both timeless and vital.  It doesn't take much to know this, but, again, we are conditioned to function as if who we are is wrapped in a package that gets identified by various names:  "personality," "ego structure," "self," "mind," etc.  That package is important in taking universal elements and putting them to work in specific ways.  This process is called "individuation," and it is like a marker that locates us in time and space.  

It is the point at which the individuated package becomes an individual...separate and seemingly independent from other...that we begin to categorize other humans as being different.  That is the moment where skin tone, ethnic origin, and cultural behaviors become the defining terms for what makes a human.  We go with the individual package, lump folks in categories and set the dualities that become lived out as racism, cultural profiling and all manners of discrimination.  

If we all share the same anthropological parents, we are related by DNA.  That's the scientific fact.  If we are, as humans, uniquely imprinted by the Divine Imago (character and nature), we are related in Spirit.  That is the fact of spirituality and human essence.  

Terrorism is fear-based.  Unfortunately, most religions are also fear-based.  I have lost count of the sermons I have heard, conversations I have had and material I have read that base belief and faith on fear, guilt and shame.  I have struggled to emerge from that place.  The Divine Imago is loving, compassionate, caring and forgiving.  For a Christian to suggest that the sacrament for bringing people into the Love of Christ Jesus be a waterboard torture for people whose actions are, themselves, fear-based is both the depth of ignorance and the pinnacle of hubris.  To isolate a particular ethnic group as being less than equal in human stature is also the depth of ignorance and the pinnacle of hubris. 

We have each, in our own way, distorted the fundamental premises of faith traditions to create a barrier against differences and a weapon of punishment....or worse, destruction.  

I was shocked to learn something in visiting with my cousins this past weekend.  In all of my reading and research, I had not found that my paternal family had ever owned slaves...even though they had been in the deep south since the American Revolution.  One of our cousins has been doing some very deep searching through family of origin records.  There is "paper proof" that the Mann family did have slaves on the farm plantations of Georgia prior to the Civil War.  When that was told, one could have heard a pin drop in that room of 20+ people.  I have been walking with the reality of that and the fact that this was probably true for ancestors I will never know...thousands of years ago.  The blessing is that all of us in that room expressed heart-felt gratitude that we have moved beyond that dysfunction, can embrace the story and draw from the deeper reality of commonality.  

Shift:  It is, in Fact, Happening

Humanity is awakening to the true sense of Self and global connectedness.  It is happening across the boundaries of religious systems.  It is not organized...as in being a new "religion."  It defies the parameters of organizational community.  It simply is.  It has been happening for a few years now and goes largely unnoticed.  

When an antibiotic is first introduced into a system riddled with infection, the inflammation will actually  initially increase.  The invasive organism fights to retain its "foothold" in the system.  The antibiotic does not, itself, kill the infection.  It simply strengthens the immune response that is already in place.  The body begins to heal and regain its homeostasis.

Humanity is well out of homeostasis.  We have been for a long time.  A shift is happening, and it does seem as though things are getting worse.  In this country, we seem to be in a retrograde regarding human rights, civil liberties, care for those who are in great need.  Legislative bodies are enacting laws that, once again, discriminate.  The first words in any new, potentially hostile, global action is to "send in the troops."  The value of human life and integrity of relationship seems to be at something of an all-time low.  The Spirit weeps.

Yet, there is a shift.  It is this shift that is like an antibiotic.  It cannot be reversed.  It is Divine in nature and essence.  Perhaps not in my lifetime, but we are moving toward a new wholeness. 

In the words taught to me by my Lakota friends and mentors:  Mitakuye Oyasin....All our Relations (We are All Related).  We almost crushed that which would give us the greatest truth.

Those are all my words for now.

Love and Blessings,

Fred+




















09 April 2014

Noah

Preface
I begin this reflection by expressing deep thanksgiving for The Rev. Dr. Joseph Frederick Ignatius Hunt, who was the Professor of Old Testament Studies at Nashotah House Theological Seminary.  I was one of his students and had the privilege of both being a student and a friend until his death in 1993. "Papa Joe" spent a number of years as a Roman Catholic Benedictine Monk and Scholar.  His research and writing are respected across a number of traditions.  He could speak read and write 14 languages...many of them considered "esoteric" ancient languages from which Hebrew is derived.  He left the Benedictine Order and the Roman Catholic Church to become a Priest in the Episcopal Church.  He spent 18 years at Nashotah House and was the editor for "Old Testament Abstracts" during that period.

I am also grateful for the scholarship and friendship of The Rev. Dr. Hugh R. Page, Associate Professor of Hebrew Scriptures and Dean of First Year Studies at The University of Notre Dame.  I came to know Hugh, who is also an Episcopal Priest, when I was Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. James in South Bend, and he arrived to be on faculty as an Assistant Professor of Old Testament in the Notre Dame Department of Theology.  He became an adjunct to the staff at the cathedral during my tenure as dean.

I am very grateful, indeed, to Dr. Kern R. Trembath, who was the Assistant Chair of the Department of Theology at Notre Dame during most of my time as cathedral dean.  Kern is a systematic theologian and a specialist in New Testament theology.  More like a brother than simply a friend, Kern continues to provide wisdom, insight and loving critique in my writing endeavors...especially as it relates to theological discourse.  He was also a key leader and advisor during most of my years at the cathedral in South Bend.  He also roasts some exceedingly fine coffee (he IS HelioRoast Coffee).

Finally, the scholarship and writings of Gerhard von Rad, Bernhard Anderson, John L. McKenzie and Bruce Vawter have provided the foundation for my own studies in Hebrew Scriptures.  They are 20th Century lights of not only biblical theology, but biblical archeology and exegetical methodology.  Their works are among those I hold sacred enough not to release from my personal library in retirement.

Noah:  More than Just a Movie
I think it was necessary to preface my thoughts on the movie "Noah" by way of thanking persons who have been...and continue to be...part of my vocational development.  Normally, one does not write out of a vacuum but out of community.  We don't simply "have an opinion."  What we think and how we frame our words...both written and spoken...reflect our Sitz im leben (seat in life; the place or places where we have resided physically, socially, emotionally and spiritually...a comprehensive term).  

One of the great learnings I have received in my own vocational journey is to "never take things at face value."  Papa Joe Hunt had a wonderful rejoinder to our attempts, as students, to impress him (and our classmates) with the scholarship we had trucked in from earlier learning:  "Well, you can believe that if you want to."  Most of us started out wanting to hold tight to "Sunday school" or other sources of the knowledge level of faith.  In the seminary environment of the mid 1970s at Nashotah House, our native theological constructs were completely, but lovingly, dismantled.  We were then taught the tools for exploring the vast expanse of theological discipline.  We were blessed with incredible teachers and guides.

So, on Saturday morning, 5 April 2014, I had determined to finish reading two books in American Indian mystical studies.  I am serious about getting a book written and, fresh from several days  of research at Haskell Indian Nations University, I hunkered down to read and take notes.

Facebook is a wonderful tool for staying in touch with friends and family.  It is a good way to catch new insights and find out a little more about what is going on in other parts of the world.  On this Saturday morning, during a break, I checked my Facebook wall to find not one, but two, colleagues talking about having seen the movie, Noah, the day before.  Both of them suggested I see the movie myself, and one of them asked for my input after seeing it.  My day changed radically.

I went to a 1:30pm showing of the movie and never got back to reading my books.  In fact, for the past two days I have reflected deeply...remembering conversations with professors, colleagues and biblical scholars over the years...and re-reading material from the authors/scholars I cited above.  I had to "scrape up" some Hebrew language skills (which were never more than rudimentary for me...even as a student).  All this for a movie?!  

Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly, and Ray Winstone are, for me, the best known actors in this movie.  They are dynamic in the portrayals of their characters.  I found their interactions riveting and believable.  I found that I wasn't watching them.  I was seeing their characters.  That is fundamental to good acting.

Behind and Alongside Genesis 6-7
Before I departed for the theater, I did read Genesis Chapters 6 and 7.  Actually, I read a little more than that.  I had no idea what I would see on the screen, and my FB colleagues had not given much away in their descriptions.  Let me say this up front:  If one is a literalist, in the sense of biblical literature being exactly as as it is written, this movie will be disturbing.  If one is a bit practiced and comfortable with exegetical process (i.e. the means by which one gets "underneath" the biblical story) or looks for the "bigger picture," this movie will be interesting and challenging.  If one simply goes for entertainment, action and intrigue, this movie will provide all those.

It is helpful to know that Judaism, in its spiritual journey, is like a well-wrapped cable...with several strong strands that are intertwined to provide its strength.  What is immediately evident to anyone who owns a standard Bible is the Old Testament.  For Judaism, those are the 39 books that appear before we get to the gospels of the Christian era (in the Hebrew scriptures, there are only 24 "books").  These writings are known in Hebrew as the Tanakh.  The Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) comprise an originally oral tradition.  There is Oral Law and the Oral Tradition, the former, called the Talmud, also has a codified set of writings known as the Mishna.  Oral Tradition began becoming written in the time of the Davidic Dynasty (beginning around the 10th Century BCE).  There are four distinct strands of written tradition:  Yahwist (called "J"), Elohist (called "E"), Priestly (called "P"), and Deuteronomist (called "D").  These strands are interwoven...especially in committing the Pentateuch material to writing.  It was not until the destruction of the Temple in 70CE that a final, comprehensive writing of what we call the Old Testament was decided.

If that isn't enough, there are source materials that are part of the "cable" of Judaic tradition.  Two of those bear mentioning:  1) the Kabbalah, which is a deeper, mystical exploration of stories and traditions.  Any serious student of the Torah must also be taught by one who knows and has mastered the Kabbalah.  Please do not confuse this with the modern and somewhat popular non-Hebrew students of Kabbalah.  It is not the same.  2) the Merkabah, which is a mystical tradition that is more apocalyptic in nature.  Threads of this appear in the books of Daniel and Ezekiel.  Iconic imagery of thrones, chambers, chariots and ladders are key to the journey into the nearer Presence of the Holy of Holies (never to be named, only experienced).

Nothing above is complete.  There isn't enough time or space.  Simply know that the story of Noah with which we grew up in Western tradition is not totally complete in the 2 chapters of Genesis...nor is it simply a single story...but a complex of experiences.  For instance, Genesis 6:4 speaks of the Nephilim...also known as "the fallen ones," "the giant ones," or "the sons of God."  Depending on which of the strands of Hebrew history and tradition, noted above, you are following, a slightly altered picture is received.

The Movie:  See It?
The writers, director and producers of this movie are folks who have obviously explored the creation stories of the Torah as well as the traditions of Kabbalah and Merkabah in making the plot line take its shape.  There is also a fair use of what is known as Midrash in Judaic tradition.  Midrash is the generational interpretation of History and Law, as they are applied to concerns of that generation.  We might call them "sermons" or, more technically, the "hermeneutic" tools for life application (hermeneutics is the art/science of careful interpretation and is part of the exegetical process in biblical theology).

Therefore, what you see in this movie is a riveting action/drama that brings the best of Judaism's tradition together to form a more comprehensive story.  Movie-making license is certainly taken.  Rendering the Nephilim as rock creatures with six arms (from the angelic six-winged seriphim) is a nod, I think, to the imagery provided by J.R.R. Tolkien and the Ents (Lord of the Rings), Huoms that transformed into tree-like creatures over time.  Tradition does not describe the Nephilim physically...beyond being giants.

The movie has a clear message about how history can, and may, repeat itself.  This is the midrashic (interpretive) element.  Kabbalistic stories speak of a stowaway on the ark, and Noah's son, Ham, has been seen as being swayed by that stowaway to seek to remake the world in human's own image...rather than God's.  The movie plays heavily on that.

You certainly don't need to know all that I have shared to enjoy this movie.  It is moving, intense and has a whole lot of metaphor and imagery.  It is the most challenging (in a good way) 139 minutes I have spent in quite a while.  My knowledge of what I have presented to support the movie's foundation is not deep enough to provide much more interpretive detail.  Papa Joe Hunt sparked a lot of interest within me to know more than just the story given in one frame.

Go see the movie...let it speak to you in whatever way it does.  You will have an opinion (a midrash) of your own, when you emerge from the theater.

Love and blessings,

Fred+


05 April 2014

Heart Resonance

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72MxlN-5zjw&index=30&list=AL94UKMTqg-9A9KWEDrzfBenxIxPzE2H3d
(Ladysmith Black Mambazo with Bill Champlin:  "River of Dreams."  Google the Lyrics...they are important...originally written by Billy Joel)

Each year...sometime during the season of Lent...every diocese in the Episcopal Church has a day when the clergy of that diocese gather with the Bishop to renew vows made at our ordination, to bless the oils (chrism) that are used in the sacramental initiatory and healing rites of the Church, and to enjoy collegial community.  It may be identified by various names, but it is generally known as The Chrism Mass, because it is centered on the Eucharistic liturgy at which the Bishop presides.  Thursday, 6 March, was that day for us in the Diocese of Southwest Florida.  It is a good beginning to the Lenten journey.

Our special guest for this day was Bishop Michael Curry, who is the Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina.  Bishop Curry is known for his gifts of preaching, teaching and his great sense of humor.  I have had the privilege of working with him on several occasions during my active career as a parish priest; so it was especially good to have this experience as a retired priest.
John, Apostle,
Late in Life

1.  Go Deep
I have an intense love for and devotion to the Gospel of John.  The Fourth Gospel (as it is known), stands out from Matthew, Mark and Luke in that John had no intention of writing another historical account.  It is the last of the four gospels to be written and was probably completed during John's exile on the isle of Patmos.  Modern scholars tend to dismiss John's gospel as being "irrelevent" insomuch as it does not parallel the historical content of the other three gospel accounts.  I could not disagree more.

The term "mystical" tends to scare modern Christians, because the Christian mystical tradition can't be contained and made literal. It was largely ignored after the dawning of the "age of reason."  John was a witness to the Transfiguration of Jesus (seeing the inner reality revealed externally).  While the others fled, John dared to remain near Jesus during this trial and crucifixion.  From the cross, Jesus said to John, "Behold your mother..."  From that time John personally cared for the well-being of Mary.  John experienced the real Jesus in a way that historical accounts cannot totally embrace.  From the earliest life of the Church, John has been regarded as the "Mystical Gospel."

The early Church had its problems with those who would want to get a "market corner" on the experiences of healing Grace, transformation and empowerment shared by the Apostolic community.  There were two specific groups:  The Gnostics and the Ebionites.   The Gnostics claimed that Jesus was a spirit who took bodily form and could only be truly experienced with a special kind of knowledge (gnosis).  There was a distinct separation from the eternity of God and the physical world.  Of course, their cultic practice was the way to gain such knowledge and access to things spiritual.  The Ebionites were Jews who claimed Jesus as the Messiah promised by the prophets.  However, in order to be a true follower, one had to maintain the strict discipline of Judaic Law and ritual.  The Apostolic community took on the Ebionites (see the first council of Jerusalem in Acts of the Apostles).  John's Gospel directly confronts the Gnostics.

Post-Reformation Christianity is, in uncomfortably large measure, practiced in gnosticism.  It is cyclical in nature.  Reform in the Middle Ages began as a confrontation with the established Church's capacity to "market" Grace (via the sales of indulgences...as one example).  The post-Reformation Church, as it has further splintered into almost uncountable groups...each claiming to hold the truth...has created marketing schemes unrivaled in history.  It is a morphed kind of gnosticism that continues to get more sophisticated.

John's Gospel is an invitation to "go deep."  Underneath the historical Jesus is the work of God's initiative.  Read the opening chapter of the Fourth Gospel.  "In the beginning was the Word....and the Word became flesh and dwelled among us,and we have seen his glory...full of grace and truth." Grace is the term used to speak of the living Love of God that John saw on the mount of Transfiguration.  Love is the essence of God made manifest in all creation...but at the very core of what it means to be human.  It is not a love that can be manufactured, bought, sold or manipulated.  It is purely the activity and presence of the Holy...the First Cause...the Breath over the waters of creation.  John systematically dismantles gnosticism in the first 18 verses of his first chapter.

Going deep within is to experience our very nature and to strike a chord that resonates with the Truth that is at the heart of all creation.

2.  Bishop Curry's Story
The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese
of North Carolina

One of the stories that Bishop Curry shared at our gathering really struck a chord with me (the play on words will soon be evident).

While on sabbatical a few years ago, he wanted to do something totally unrelated to being a bishop and theologian.  He had always wanted to play the violin, so he began taking lessons.  He had to learn to read music and then work to master the instrument.  He continues with weekly violin lessons with his 90 year old teacher.

At one lesson, Bp. Curry was asked by his teacher to make a G note on the E string.  It seems that the finger positions for making this is difficult.  As he drew the bow across the string, he heard a harmonic sound.  It startled him.  His teacher was delighted....because he had struck a perfect G on the E string.  In so doing, it resonated with the actual G string on the violin, which caused that string to vibrate in tune.  Bp. Curry realized he had truly begun to experience making music.

3.  Heart Resonance

Music is but one manifestation of the physics of sound.  All matter vibrates with its own energy.  Those vibrations can be measured and noted in units of both sound and light.  Every elemental substance has its own spectral color and corresponding frequency of vibration.  Most of that is not available to us for a variety of reasons...most having to do with the range of human sight and hearing.  However, we have long had instruments that amplify  those frequencies...or isolate them for audio/visual study.

The Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian has an exhibit that reflects the sound of the earth's movement on rotation and in space...the vibrational energy of our planet.  It vibrates at 136.1 Hz.

That is interesting (to me) in itself.  However, it is more fascinating to realize that the human heart vibration (read: energy output) is also 136.1 Hz.   Also, the chant sound for the ancient Tetragramaton (the theonym for God in Hebrew:  YHWH) is also 136.1 Hz.  The Buddhist and Hindu chant sound for the unspeakable Holy One is also 136.1 Hz.  I do not think any of this is either accidental or "happenstance."

For all cultures, the human heart has always been the locus of emotional and experiential encounter.  Post-enlightenment western cultures have worked very hard to shift that locus to the mind...the active, rational seat for assimilating physical data.  Mental/neural processes tend to separate sensory input and classify data in a variety of ways.  This does create a dualistic orientation.  The mind is also the place of judgment in that orientation.  It locates "us" as (most often) opposed to "them."  Individuation, which is a natural process of internal identity, becomes Individuality, as the mind collects data and creates larger or more rigid boundaries.  It is part of what mystics have long called the "human problem."  It is that first-order act of willfulness that we have called "original sin."  Individuality is one of the reasons the Gospel of John is so hard to, literally, "wrap our heads around."  The Gospel of John is set to the "frequency" of the heart...as is all mystical encounter.

On the mystical path of John (and Ezekiel in the Old Testament), original sin is a movement from the heart to the mind.  Resonance with the Divine is such that when we are in the heart-space of our being, the chord we strike resonates with God and creation.  Our mind is not on that frequency...nor, it seems, was it created to be.  The more we are in the ego-state, the more dissonance (harmonic separation) we experience.  We create images that seem to resonate with the rest of our life journey and ultimately call that divine experience.  This creates conflict. [example of resonance: 18th century John Wesley spoke of an experience of prayer and worship, after which he exclaimed, "my heart was strangely stirred."  Resonance!].

When we move into the heart-space of life, we lose the foci on judgment and difference.  We see ourselves as both unique but an essential part of a whole.  We are "all relations."  Life becomes a tapestry, and every other aspect of life is an essential thread.

There is, ultimately, one word for this resonance...this frequency.  Agape.  This love is the energy of creation and, thus, Creator.  Agape is the frequency and is a gift.  We can't will it....we simply have to go into it...for it is the essence of our createdness...our heart.  Seek first the Kingdom...Resonance.

Love and Blessings,

Fred+





30 March 2014

Dust

(Dust in the Wind, performed by the band Kansas; lyrics by
band member Kerry Livgren.  1977 on album Point of Know Return)

It is the fourth Sunday in the Christian season of Lent.  It began formally on a day called "Ash Wednesday."  As a symbol of that day, in many Christian communities, the faithful were marked on the forehead with blessed ashes as the priest said, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

At the time of commital in the liturgy for The Burial of the Dead (Episcopal Book of Common Prayer), the priest makes the sign of the cross, with dirt or sand, on the coffin or urn saying, "...earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust."

It was very early this morning, when I awoke rather completely.  This is to say, I came to conscious awareness fully and totally at about 4:45am.  I had no overt thoughts or concerns.  I simply got up, washed my face, nudged our still sleeping dog awake, and we both quietly padded downstairs.  Coffee started, glass of lemon water consumed and sweatshirt donned, I took Duchess for her first foray outside.  For a change, I beat her to the punch (she usually wakes me up), and she was still somewhat confused by this shift in routine...to the point that, when we came back inside, she consumed her morning arthritis chew medication and headed directly back upstairs for more sleep.  I did not follow.

My typical morning routine includes about an hour of quiet contemplative prayer/meditation.  Today was different.  I did sink into my usual chair in our area dedicated to quiet reflection (called by us the "prayer area" or "reading room").  Today was different because of where I went...into nowhere.  This is scary stuff when I am totally with my day.  I do, oft times, reflect on emptiness.  Though the daily landscape of life does seem crowded and tightly packed, the physics, cosmology and psycho-spirituality of true reality has vast space.  From sub-atomic to the expanse of interstellar space, there is a lot of emptiness.  Nothing is truly "solid."

If one pauses to consider what constitutes the human body, it is the same chemistry that makes up all that surrounds us...just assembled in a particular pattern that makes us who we are.  Essentially (and I mean this word literally) the protons, electrons, neutrons and quarks that constitute our bodies are the fabric of all matter.  When we were conceived, that matter assembled in a wondrous process.  When the body ceases corporeal life, it does, in fact, return to elemental form (we go to great lengths to cheat this process, but it is inexorable). 

This morning, I got to witness to the space between...that place we call "nothing."  Actually, it is reality, but it is literally "no thing."  It is, however, rich with consciousness and has an immutability about it.  It simply is.  I am not sure how long I was there, but a thought did come to me at some point,  "Am I dead?"  No.  Then, "Did I fall asleep?"  No.  Then, "Did I go somewhere?"  Not in body.  The fresh, hot coffee with which I had settled down was fairly cool.  It was still dark, but that was shifting.  I sat in a deep place of peace...a kind of peace that I have not known.  The best way to express it is simply, "Everything is good...everything."

I made a fresh cup of coffee and noted that it was almost 6:30am.  I opened the sliding glass door to our lanai and stepped into the cool, slightly crisp air of the pre-dawn morning.  The building across from us was visible only as a shadow.  The pond between us reflected a starry sky but was, otherwise dark.  No avian friends moving about and only the sound of some crickets broke the silence.  I sat cloaked in the cool, dark place...simply sat and allowed the thoughts to drift across the "mind stage."  I greeted each one but did not engage them.  What eventually came to me was something I had only yesterday read on a Facebook post from a friend, "There are only two days when we do nothing:  yesterday and tomorrow..."  They were words of the Dalai Lama.  Jesus spoke almost identical words.  

From that passing thought came the reality:  We live in the space in between....the Eternal Now.  Yesterday is done.  There is no thing we can do to change it in any way.  Tomorrow contains no thing.  It has not been born.  We are Now.  Every new moment becomes Now.  This breath...this heartbeat...this instant.  

I looked up from observing that thought and saw the uniqueness of the moment.  Our lanai faces west.  Dawn was breaking behind me.  The sky was still an indigo hue and stars still visible.  But, to my wonderment, the windows of the building across the pond reflected the turquoise/aquamarine hue of the dawning eastern sky...like a wavy strip under the western indigo sky.  Within moments, that scene shifted.  It would never be that experience again.  Perhaps it would be similar on another day...but never again like this moment.  I was awake to that one experience.  Even my description is now only a memory...over which I have no control...only descriptors.  It is already no thing.

As the dawn became daylight, I shifted out of my chair and headed to the kitchen for a third time since arising.  It was just about 7:00am.  Duchess met me at the foot of the stairs...time for another quick trip outside and then a cup of coffee for my wife.  The new day was now formally underway.

This day, however, I seem to notice more...appreciate the seemingly endless textures and colors more at the moment of impact...see people a bit more as fellow sojourners and not as objects.  Dust in the wind...holy and sacred dust.

Love and Blessings...

Fred+