30 March 2013


This morning I arose early.  My wife, Denise, was already in the kitchen downstairs...preparing to go to the nearby Hospice office.  She is one of the RNs on call for this Saturday.  This means that most all of this day will be just me and our dog, Duchess, at home.

Our townhome is quiet.  It is officially a year old...receiving it's certificate of occupancy by the builder on 25 March 2012.  We will officially be here one year on 4 April.  Like all condominiums and homes built since 2006, our home is built like a fort...concrete block reinforced with iron rods and concrete...poured concrete between the first and second floor (rather than wood)...special trusses locked into place with tile shingles...shatter-proof windows and reinforced garage and main entry doors.  In fact, the only wood in this construction are the roof trusses.  This construction is called "Miami-Dade Code," which is being used by much of south coastal Florida following Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the severe hurricanes of 2005.  The 28 buildings and 224 condos that comprise our community, "Stonehaven," are not going anywhere for a long time.

I share the above details to emphasize that, when I say it is quiet, it is seriously quiet.  We can hear close-in machinery, or an occasional dog barking, or a close-in seagull calling.  Other than that, I never even hear our neighbors.  There's nine inches of concrete between each condo.  Because both first and second floors are concrete, there is no creaking, squeaking or much ability to hear whoever is upstairs or downstairs.  Often, Denise and I simply call each other on the cell phones...if I am in my study upstairs and she is somewhere downstairs.  It is quiet...very quiet.

Today is known as Holy Saturday.  It is really my first Holy Saturday since retirement.  My chronological first was last year (2012), and, as I shared in yesterday's blog, we were moving into this townhome last Holy Week, and I was still drugged from major surgery at Mayo, Rochester, which had implanted a total joint in my right shoulder.  I have little memory beyond extreme discomfort from surgery, travel and the movers (very good movers, by the way).  Today, I have time to reflect.  Today is different from any Holy Saturday in the past 38 years.

The ripping and tearing that makes Good Friday is done.  The Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday in my tradition (Anglicanism...Episcopal Church in the USA) is one of the most powerful of the liturgical year.  The final collect (liturgical prayer) of that liturgy is, for me, like the launch of a small, rudderless boat onto an uncharted sea.  The early Celtic monks in the British Isles used small, oval shaped, rudderless boats made usually of animal hide...called Coracles...setting out with only what was needed to land where God, wind and current would take them.  This is how I feel at the close of the Good Friday Solemn Liturgy.  It carries through Holy Saturday.

Many liturgical churches post that the precincts of the parish buildings remain in silence from Maundy Thursdy until the Great Vigil of Easter.  That has always been fairly well accomplished in parishes I have led.  Office doors stay closed to mask necessary parish work.  There are quiet sounds of folks moving about making various preparations for the next time of worship...an occasional "stage whisper" conversation, as final details are discussed and clarified.

Holy Saturday is both a day of emptiness and one of preparation.  Every Holy Saturday of my active parish work was spent at the church.  The day began with a simple Office of Prayer with gathered staff and volunteers.  The Altar Guild got busy quickly.  The worship spaces that had been stripped bare since Maundy Thursday must be polished, cleaned and reset with the linens, vessels, icons and other furnishings.

Hiding in rooms for a few days had been a dazzling array of flowers, plants and greenery.  I have always been blessed with women (and men) who can create the most magnificent floral displays for Easter worship.  With deft efficiency, the cold and barren spaces would come to life with color, sweet odors and a kind of "electricity" of anticipation.

Meanwhile, I the priest had a particular series of preparations.  At or near the entrance into the main worship area, a simple table had been placed, on which was a simple white linen.  In the center of that table, I placed a triple layered aluminum foil base upon which an habachi-style grill rested.  (Note:  this is where being a guy and former Boy Scout gets to have fun).  Having painstakingly gathered just the right small pieces of wood, I created a tipi-style assembly of those sticks in the grill base underneath of which I have placed a small piece of rolled cardboard soaked in paraffin.  An SOG utility knife and a ferrocerium fire starting rod completed this part of the ensemble.

What I just described existed to light and bless the New Fire of Easter.  Along side that ensemble was the four foot Paschal Candle with the elements that were put in place and blessed at the beginning of the Easter Vigil.  All of this took about an hour or so.  I had been able to use my hatchet to splinter sticks of wood.  I had tested the ferrocerium stick by vigorously thrusting the edge of the utility knife blade down the edge of the stick to create a shower of sparks.  I had used the same knife to trim the Paschal Candle so the brass follower will sit securely.  I had used a hammer and nail to insure that the holes were prepared on the candle to receive the wax ornamental nails on the cross that decorates the candle.  The Paschal Candle is the symbol of "Resurrection Light"... the "Light of Christ."  It burns at every liturgy during the coming Great Fifty Days of Easter.

When all of this was accomplished, and I had rehearsed with staff and parishioners involved in  the coming liturgies, and walked, with clergy staff and Altar Guild leaders, through final elements of preparing our worship spaces...seeing that all things were in place, and insuring that the paperwork for those being baptized at the Vigil was complete and at hand......When all that was done, it would be early afternoon of Holy Saturday.  Everyone was either gone or had repaired to other places for their own preparations.

It was then...in the quiet of the church...that I could hear it...Nothing.

For many, nothing is a scary space.  I did, one time, sit in a sensory deprivation chamber as an experiment.  Deprived of all sound, light and ability for voice reverberation, one can quickly get the idea of "nothing."  The scientist and philosopher in me doesn't accept "nothing" as a state of being.  If you can describe "nothing," then it is something.  "Nothing" is an integral part of being.  It is part of the tapestry of existence.  The simple truth is that it is "nothing" because we have no data to describe what that is.  Well, we do, but it makes our brains hurt to deal with it.

During the time between late 1987 and through most of 1988, I went through something very profound.  I have few words for it.  The narrative for the experience would not make sense out of context or on "paper."  Suffice it to say, I came upon a black hole...deep, pitch black, wide and frightening.  I could not run from it or avoid it.  Wherever I went, it was there.  I tried to convince myself I was going insane...but I didn't have time for that.  I had a congregation to lead and care for....a wife and two young daughters...a diocesan school to administrate.  I don't have time for this!!!!  I yelled one evening.  "Yes you do," came a soft reply...like a mother teaching a child to walk.

Two moments of awareness let me know that the "nothing"... the black hole...was, indeed something.  The soft voice gave me the name....I AM.

Without ponderous storytelling, I will simply say that being in that "Nothing" was the greatest comfort ever.  But, I began running from it...hard...around 1991.  Why?  Because, this nothing-that-was-something asked of me what I feared the most:  Vulnerability and the risk of rejection.  My ego was not able to embrace that.  I have described the effects of that in a January 2013 blog.

Today is Holy Saturday.  The disciples were dazed, confused, lost and feeling like all they believed had become Nothing.  They found their way back to that familiar upper room and gave each other what encouragement and comfort they could.  "What has happened to us...what is to become of us?!" was no doubt the topic of conversation.  Practical Peter even talked about going back home to go fishing again...maybe after this Passover Day is complete.

In the churches I worked, I would sit in the spaces of worship for two or three hours each Holy Saturday...my upper room.  The emptiness was palpable.  The cynic in me would argue with my soul about snitty things like, 'parishioners don't care...they won't come.'  Then, 'those whose hearts are open will be here.'  The cynic:  'I need a beer.'  My soul, 'that's self medication...you know you don't drink during Holy Week.'  Cynic:  'Is all this we have done too much or not enough?'  Soul:  'You have always worried too much...just get quiet and listen.'  This would go on for a time.  Then, suddenly, it would stop.  Folks were here, but I could not see them or hear them.  I just knew it somehow.  "Nothing?"  Not really.

Today is 30 March 2013.  It is Holy Saturday.  I have no need for hatchet, knife, ferrocerium stick or other materials.  My basic vestment...my cassock-alb...is in the vesting room at St. Boniface Episcopal Church on Siesta Key...five miles away.  It is where I worship in retirement.  It is where I have walked Holy Week.  Tonight, I will watch the Rector of St. Boniface light the New Fire and bless the Paschal Candle.  My former bishop in West Missouri...now retired and living in St. Petersburg...will preside at the Vigil Liturgy.  He was the Assistant at St. Boniface in the early 1970s.  Tomorrow, I will assist the Rector at the 9am Easter Day liturgy.  I have no script.  I need none.

Today...outside of writing this...I am in silence.  Silence.  Almost.  Nothing.  Never.  A while back, I turned and faced the black hole from which I spent some years running.  We are friends.  It is part of me.  Nothing?  No, something....I AM.  I AM is with me.  Holy Saturday...Holy Silence.



29 March 2013

Desolation: Good Friday

Desolation; from De-solare = to be abandoned; to be laid waste

The End is the Beginning
Last evening was the first time, since retirement, that I have been to a Maundy Thursday liturgy.  Last year (2012), we were literally moving into our Sarasota home; and I was less than two weeks out of major surgery.  I barely remember Holy Week last year.

Last evening, as I sat in the congregation of St. Boniface, I was struck by the last actions of the liturgy.  As a symbolic ritual of what Good Friday means, the sanctuary (altar area) is completely stripped of everything but the bare furnishings.  Clergy, acolytes and altar guild quietly and efficiently remove linens, cushions, candles, floral arrangements, silver, brass, gold and the Reserve Sacrament (Eucharistic bread and wine is reserved in a special receptacle called an aumbry to be taken to the sick or for other sacramental needs between liturgies).  In the final action, the senior priest "washes" the top of the altar...usually with a special cleansing polish...to signify it being barren.  On many altars, a simple wooden crucifix is then placed and remains until Easter preparation.

I have done this ritual, as a parish priest, 34 times.  I am caught by the power of it as much each year...especially as I leave the altar area with the lights fully dimmed and absolutely nothing but a wooden crucifix.  Usually, the one from my office, which is three feet tall.

Last night, I knelt in awe as I watched this being done by others.  I realized that I had audibly exclaimed:  "Lord have mercy."  The two teenagers in front of me sort of glanced back.  I was taken by the sense of desolation.  All that was familiar and made that worship space special was gone.  It had been laid waste.  Good Friday had begun.

One of my colleagues once described order as "controlled chaos."  I have found this amusing insomuch as experience quickly verifies the observation.  One of our daughters used to describe unsettled experiences as being "random" (a sudden change in family plans for an outing would elicit a, "this is totally random" reaction from her).  It's a good descriptor of what ensues when order and planning gets impacted by unanticipated actions...like a bowling ball hitting the pins.

The disciples knew that something was up.  The days had been tense, since they had arrived with Jesus in Jerusalem.  What they did not expect is to see how an evening of ordered experiences (as surprising as they may have been...see yesterday's blog) suddenly became unraveled in Gethsemane.  Like a bowling ball hitting pins, they scattered in all directions...some hiding...others blending into the crowd...one following but in denial...the 12th committing suicide out of shame and fear.  When order turns to chaos, everything becomes random.

Emerging into the quiet, pre-dawn dimness of this day, I was struck by how empty I felt.  It was not a fearful emptiness but one that softly hinted of displacement.  Because I am one who lives within the seasons of Christ-life, it was a recognition that, while the historical day of crucifixion was some 2,000 years behind me, death and desolation remain partnered in our experience.

As I have said before, we humans are very good at avoiding the messiness and "dirtiness" of daily life.  We cover ourselves with dyes and paints; fill our skins with botox; and pay for countless "miracle cures" for whatever we think ails us...all as a way of getting ourselves to avoid the inevitabilities of aging.  One of the largest groups of medical professionals in this part of Florida are plastic/reconstructive surgeons and dermatologists.

We also avoid the messiness of those of different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.    America is not without its own caste system.  If it seems unpleasant or "beneath us," we find ways of changing the subject and getting distance from it.  Over the decades of doing mission, I lost track of the number of times I asked for "hands on" help with urgent needs only to be met with something like, "I'm really quite busy...how much money do you need."  Funding masks the problem and makes it go away for those who see it as distasteful.

This is not meant to be harsh, but it is meant to be real.  For most of us, membership is everything.  Within the context of Christian parochial community, we have long had standards of membership within a worshiping congregation.  The Eucharist, that Jesus instituted with his disciples in that upper room?  It was (and is) a complete act of love...a gift of Grace.  It is one thing to understand...yet something else to experience.  Yet, we use the sacraments in very exclusive ways to define "who is in, and who is out."  In my more contemplative moments, I sense a desolation in how we have treated others by claiming Jesus as our "property."

We call this Good Friday for a reason.  From the looks and historical perspective of this day, it is gruesome, ugly, hateful, bloody, judgmental, mocking and singularly horrible.  The Romans committed thousands of executions using crucifixion, beheading and hanging. The Jewish Sanhedrin claimed that it wasn't their way to  execute criminals (but, they did stone prostitutes and so-called heretic often).  However, the Sanhedrin did make deals with the Roman government to do that work for them.  That was the dialogue behind Pilate finding no fault with Jesus, and the crowd being pushed (by representatives of the Sanhedrin) to cry out, "Give us Barrabas; Crucify Jesus!!"

Jesus had the audacity to love sinners enough to spend time with them.  He healed outcasts and told Jews to accept those who were considered unclean, because they belonged to God also.  He ate and drank with the ritually unclean and those who society had shunned.  He flew in the face of authority by throwing money changers out of the Temple and calling Pharisees and Sadducees "hypocrites."  He taught that folks should render to the Roman government what was theirs (Roman money buoyed the eastern Mediterranean economy) and give God honor.

Jesus taught a kind of unity and integrity that was not known in civilization at that time.  He refused the Zealots' plea to lead an insurrection...an armed revolt against both the Roman occupation and Herodian dynasty.  He carried no weapon and spoke of creating relationships based upon loving others as they were loved by God...turning the other cheek; raising up the poor and setting the captives free.  All this he summed up in the Great Commandment and the Beatitudes.

"Good" means that Jesus took all the anger, hate, fear and brokenness of our humanity with him to execution on a garbage heap outside the city wall...a place called Golgotha...the Place of the Skull.

We are reminded that the image of Jesus on the cross is what humanity has done to itself and one another.  We leave this day...Good Friday...with desolation, confusion and a kind of gnawing anxiety.  What is happening here!!

Take Away
On this day -- every year -- my sense of displacement and emptiness is a reminder of my humanity.   Of our humanity.  We still play games of entitlement.  We do everything that folks were doing in the historical days of Jesus.  Two thousand years have gone by, and we are more technologically evolved and mentally more capable.  We have made some progress.  But, slavery, bigotry, hatred, fear, killing, threatening, judging, and marginalizing still happen.  What took Jesus to his execution still happens today under other names and guises.

This is why we need this day...this Good Friday.  That is why, at the Ninth Hour (3pm) every year...the traditional time that Jesus died on the cross...I play the American Folk Hymn, "What Wondrous Love is this, O my soul..."  You can find it on YouTube.  It is Wondrous Love at work that makes this day Good.  God is totally loving us...in spite of ourselves.  Jesus is God saying, "If you want to know what I created you to be...look at Jesus...the pioneer and perfecter."

Sat Nam.  Stabat Mater.


28 March 2013


In the Christian tradition, this week is known as Holy Week.  It is the most sacred week of our liturgical calendar:  beginning with the Sunday of the Passion (also known as Palm Sunday) and completed in the Day of Resurrection (also known as Easter Day).  Both Sundays are essential "brackets" to the most intense journey of our spiritual lives in annual cycle.

At the heart of Holy Week are the "Three Holiest Days."  These are known as the Triduum Sacrum:  Sacred (Holy) Three Days.  Those days are Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

Christian holy days, like those of the Jewish tradition, follow a lunar pattern.  That pattern includes the days being measured from sundown to sundown.  Technically, Maundy Thursday began at sundown Wednesday evening.  As I write this, it is early afternoon of Maundy Thursday (1:30pm, Thursday, 3/28/13).  Good Friday begins at sundown this evening.  Because our world cultures now most all use a solar calendar, this liturgical thinking can seem a bit confusing.  I have been doing it for 38 years (since the beginning of seminary) professionally.  Just as six years in the U.S. Navy taught me to think in a 24 hour clock, I think in ecclesiastical liturgical time almost exclusively (I can also think in both metric and traditional weights and measures, but that's another story....science).

Maundy Thursday
"Maundy" is the Anglicized name for the Latin word "Mandatum."  It literally means, "command" or "instruction by authority."  We use the word "mandate" in common parlance to mean the same thing.

The origin of this word in Holy Week reflects the actions of the first of the Holy Three Days.  Jesus did three things:

  1. Washed his disciples' feet (serve)
  2. Shared the Chaburah with the statements "Do this in remembrance of me" (Eucharist)
  3. Told his followers to "watch with me" in the Garden (Pray)
These three mandates are summed up in one singular command (mandate) by Jesus:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34, NIV)

In the time of Jesus, the washing of feet was a truly nasty job.  In almost every Jewish home, as one entered, he/she would remove sandals and sit on a stool to wash their feet. There were no city sewers, and hygiene on streets and paths was practically non-existent. In wealthier homes, a servant was employed to wash the feet of guests, as they arrived for an event.  It was an "entry level" task (it is where we get that term, btw)...the most menial form of service in a household or public building.

Sundown on what we now call Thursday marked the beginning of the Day of Preparation for the Passover, which coincided with the sabbath (our Saturday), in the year of Jesus' crucifixion.  It was customary to have a meal with friends and family...the first-feast of the Day of Passover.  That meal was called a Chaburah.  It was the meal at which Jesus gathered his disciples in an upstairs room.  It is quite probable that, in addition to the Twelve core disciples, other men and women were present...family almost assuredly.

At the beginning of this meal, Jesus took off his outer garment (tunic), hiked up is undergarment (what we call an albus), and wrapped a serving towel around his waist.  With a large bowl and pitcher of water, he began washing the feet of each of the disciples.  The Teacher (Rabboni) functioning as the most menial house-servant to his students....totally scandalous and unheard of!  Peter protested most loudly and with great indignation that Jesus would stoop to this task.

Jesus...whom I imagine looking up at Peter with some kind of slight smile but being very sanguine...said to Peter, "If you do not let me do this, you have no part of me..."  He went on to tell everyone that to be first, one must be servant of all...no servant is greater than the master.

To be in community means to engage life with humility, respect and a kind of love that is great enough to "get dirty" for another...meeting them where they are.  These are acts of agape...Grace...Divine Love.

This word, Eucharist, means Thanksgiving.  It is the name given by the Apostolic community to describe the Chaburah meal that Jesus shared that evening.  While, in many ways, the Last Supper of Jesus (as many have come to call this meal), was quite typical of what Jews throughout Israel were doing at that same time, Jesus took a departure from what was normal.  He introduced words that were not part of the script of this event.  Here are the marks:

  • He took bread
  • He broke the bread
  • He blessed the bread
  • Gave it to his friends, saying
  • "Do this for the remembrance of me."
  • He did the same with the cup, as he did with the bread.
We miss the meaning of a key word used by Jesus:  remembrance.
In Greek (as well as Aramaic), there are two terms for "remember."  The one Jesus used in his words was anamnesis.  This word literally means, "to bring together again"... or actually to "re-member" (reassemble the members).

This can be taken several ways.  In my tradition (Anglicanism), we call it Real Presence.  It is the essential mystery in the midst of this action:  Jesus is saying, in essence, "whenever you do this I will come among you."  As we understand our nature as being created in the image of God, it is the place, deep within our being, where the Divine...Jesus...encounters us.  That is why we call Eucharist and Baptism the Dominical Sacraments.  They are foundational and given to us directly by Jesus.  Sacrament is the outward sign of an inward Grace:  bread and wine...Presence of Christ.

[Side note:  for those who want to test the scholarship of the origin of Eucharist, I invite you to carefully read these scholars:  Dom Gregory Dix, Josef Jungmann and Louis Bouyer.  Also, in the Chaburah meal, the prayer over bread comes first; followed by the wine.  In the Passover Meal, the wine is blessed first; followed by the bread].

So, the second mandate is for us to be in holy fellowship with one another...to be a realized community.

Watch (Pray)
After the meal, Jesus and his group repair to the Garden of Gethsemane.  It is here that Jesus prepares for what will come next.  As he moved apart to pray, he specifically asked his core disciples to "Watch with me."  In Aramaic, the word "watch" is very much akin to a time of contemplation.  In John's Gospel, this close-in disciple relates a lengthy prayer discourse that entreats God to provide the Grace of equipping the disciples to take the next steps.  In this, Jesus expresses the agony of what will be coming upon him...betrayal, denial, scourging, mocking and a gruesome death.  

In two of the Gospel narratives, Jesus does some walking around and finds the disciples closest to him falling asleep.  "Can you not watch with me even one hour?!"  Be open.  Pray.  Go inward.  Listen.  Receive.  Remain alert

Implications for Now
Walking through these Holy Three Days is hard for us in the modern era.  First, our culture no longer breaks from normal work to allow folks to engage these days.  Second, many non-liturgical churches do nothing beyond a Good Friday gathering between Palm Sunday and Easter Day.  Third, the intensity of living this experience...even in solemn liturgy...is simply more than a lot of folks can handle.  We speak of "charges" regarding places of ego pain, memory and fear with which we simply don't want to sit.  These holy days are like electricity on raw nerves for many.  Our culture has taught us:  'if you can't deal with it, run from it...or at least avoid it at all costs.'

The average 1.5 hours of a good Palm Sunday liturgy is about all that folks seem to be able to handle.  Then, we hope like crazy Easter gets here before we have to think any more deeply.  Or, let's go have some fun between Palm Sunday and Easter Day.  

Okay, it's the reality we currently inherit and create for ourselves.  While much of the world is not Christian...or in a liturgical Christian tradition, all spiritual traditions that I know about have a journey through abdication, denial, fear and a kind of death experience before coming into a full relationship with the Holy One.  Every spiritual tradition of which I have knowledge also has a meal that is shared and kinds of service to one another that are acts of humility.

The Native Americans (Lakota language here) have a saying that is used whenever prayer is said, people gather, and the sacred engaged:  Mitakuye Oyasin...All our Relations (We are all One).  Jesus said, "May they be one as you and I are One."  Buddhists and Hindus sayNamaste...The Divine in me sees (honors) the Divine in you (we are one).

Maundy Thursday reminds us that we are connected to one another and the Great Mystery...the transcendent God.  It invites surrender.  It asks us to stop and contemplate the mysteries that make us uniquely human.  It invites us to see the Divine in one another...to let go of our ego and pre-disposition to judge and create artificial boundaries, or castes.  It invites the creation of sustainable community (i.e. "commonality").  

Someone might wish to say, "but, but, what you just said sounds like socialism."  Right, that's a fear word.  All I am saying is what 38 years worth of Holy Weeks have said to me in my tradition.  Sit with that charge a bit.  Watch for an hour.

Love and Blessings,


08 March 2013

Radical Reconciliation

"Tell me, who did this?!  Why did this happen?  Whose fault is it?!  Someone will pay!"  These are just a few of the pointed and often intense questions and exclamations delivered when an event occurs that either shocks or incites pain or anger.  One cannot say that it is particular to our time and place as the human community.  It is part of the very fabric of who we are from the earliest recorded time.

I will not provide a history lesson here; but I will interject one example in history to set a point.  The Civil War is arguably the lowest point in America's growth history.  It was a time of "brother against brother"... using that phrase as an icon of divisive anger/hatred  that left more than 600,000 people dead and more than 1 million permanently wounded.

Leading up to and during the years of this brutal time, both sides believed stridently that God honored their cause and blessed their efforts in battle.  At each moment of advantage, generals in the field could be heard quietly uttering, "God's Will," as they ordered troops into the fight to secure that advantage.

As the war was ending, President Lincoln was adamant that north and south would be reunited in full reconciliation.  He was developing a plan for that reconciliation at the time of his assassination on Good Friday 1865.  His plan was greatly criticized by many northern leaders as being overly generous and lacking sufficient "punishment" for secession and creating the great strain both economically and in cost of human life.

After Lincoln's death, what emerged was a long period known as "Reconstruction."  It was a painful period that was reconciliation in name only.

I call your attention to the painting that accompanies this blog post.  It is Rembrandt's "The Return of the Prodigal Son," which was one of the last of the master's works prior to his death in 1669.  This is a poignant reflection on the parable of Jesus told by Luke (Lk 15:11-31).  There are several things in the painting worthy of careful reflection.

  • The son's head is shaved...a sign that he may have spent time in prison.  A shaved head was a sign of disgrace in Hebrew culture of that time.
  • The son's clothing is actually the undergarments of that time.  He has no tunic or cloak.
  • His sandals are worn and broken.  His left foot shows both sores and scars.
  • His posture is one of humiliation and defeat.
  • The father's hands tell a big story:  They don't just touch the son; they are holding him close.
  • The father's left hand is strong and muscular..fingers spread and holding his son's shoulder.  Even though it appears sensitive, there is a firm, reassuring grip.
  • The father's right hand is different.  It is not holding or grasping.  It is more refined...soft and tender.  It appears that he may even be caressing or stroking his son.  It is almost like a mother's hand.
  • The father is not simply the great patriarch; but he is also a tender, caring, loving parent.  It is a conjoint masculine/feminine nature at work simultaneously.
  • The elder son is standing at the right of the painting.  His hands are together in a pensive posture.  His eyes bear a skeptical and not altogether approving look...almost as if he is considering turning away from the scene altogether
The term "reconciliation" is from the Greek, "kata" & "allasso":  "transformed throughout".  It can also mean, "make whole again."  Both meanings can apply to the story of the prodigal son.  Using Rembrandt's "icon" of the story, the father's action is one of transforming the son from errant renegade to being fully one in community...family.  But what about the older son?
In Jewish law of the time, if there were two sons, the elder would receive two-thirds of the estate and the younger son would receive the other one-third.  When the younger son left home and asked for his share, he received one-third of what was in the estate.  Now that he had returned and been reconciled (as the above meaning implies), the estate goes back to a shared whole.   In modern terms, the elder son could well be thinking, "My trust fund has just been hacked by this scum brother of mine!"

I ask you to give some thought to another parable in Matthew 20:1-16.  It is called the Parable of the Vineyard.  In summary:  the workers who come to work the last hour of the work day receive the same wage as the workers who have worked from the beginning of the day.  The day long workers are hugely incensed by what appears to them to be a radically unfair decision on the part of the owner of the vineyard.

Place these two parables side-by-side.  Jesus told these stories to create a tapestry that provides a big picture.  Behind the characters in the story are immutable truths about the nature of God.  The operative term for this nature is Love.  In Christian theology, we call it Grace (defined as God's unconditional love, freely given, without consideration of return).

I share these two parables to make a point.  Our culture is currently at a juncture where several things could happen.  As a backdrop, I think both social media and news media play major roles in creating both fear and distrust.  We don't just disagree with one another, we say destructive things and make damning judgments about folks with whom we disagree.  We engage in prejudicial actions...masking them as ideological differences.  We have created a kind of radical dualism that has not been seen since the era of the Civil War, which is why I led with that reflection.

  1. Every human being on the face of this planet...regardless of ethnic origin, nationality, gender or orientation...is created in the image of God.  
  2. Every human being on the face of this planet has the same genetic material, which means we all came from a common ancestral root.  As before, I ask you to look at the work of geneticists Spencer Wells and Francis Collins to verify this.  There is no "us-them" in terms of who we are.  
  3. Our nature reflects God, and God is Love.  That Love permeates all of creation.  It is the centerpoint.  
  4. Out of Love comes Compassion, Mercy and the kind of Justice that leads to a Radical Reconciliation.
Two examples:
  • When Pope John Paul II was nearly assassinated in May 1981, the assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, was captured immediately and sentenced to life in an Italian prison.  Pope John Paul went to see him in prison and is said to have embraced Agca in an act of full forgiveness.  Agca kissed the Pope's ring in an act of humility not considered possible in light of his original hatred.  Radical Reconciliation.
  • On 6 October 2006, Charles Roberts entered an Amish school in Lancaster County, PA and killed five girls before committing suicide.  In response, the parents of the slain girls (and the other five girls also held hostage and surviving), met with the Roberts family...forgiving their son/husband/father and, in an even more conciliatory manner, set up a trust fund for the care of Roberts wife and children.  Amish leaders told media, "Do not hate this man...God is just..."   Radical Reconciliation.
I recently received a message from someone who plainly said, "he bears the mark of the beast...666," referring to President Obama.  I wish that would be the worst thing I have seen in social media over the last two years.  The person I just cited claims to be a Christian.  I cannot judge that, but such a statement is not one of Love.  It is one of a radical dislike bordering on hatred.  The video/television media models a kind of paranoia and vitriolic speech that fosters fear, anger and, yes, hatred.  I now rarely watch newscasts. 

For Christians, here is a thought:  

"The cross is the standing statement of what we do to one another and to ourselves.  The resurrection is the standing statement of what God does to us in return." (Fr.Richard Rohr)
A large crucifix hangs on the wall above my desk.  It was given to me by my sacramental theology professor, mentor, & spiritual director, The Rev. Dr. Louis Weil, when I was a senior seminarian...early 1978.  It has always hung near my desk, and I have had innumerable comments about "the dead Jesus on the cross."  It does seem macabre on first look.  However, it is counter-intuitive.  It was not God who crucified Jesus.  It was the desire of the Sanhedrin and the actions of the Roman government that did that.  As Richard Rohr states...we do this to one another.  God's action is to raise up...radical reconciliation.  The crucifix is a reminder to me that we are not above doing this even now...we do so daily.  It is an invitation to radical reconciliation.

Another thought:

"When God sees us, God sees our uniqueness, our particularities, our peculiarities, our strengths, our weaknesses, etc.  And God loves us for who we are, warts and all."  (Br. Mark Brown, Society of St. John the Evangelist)

When we are in judgment of others, we are like the elder son in the prodigal parable.  We believe ourselves better, purer and superior to "them"... whoever the "them" may be.   We are the elder son...looking for someone to blame; seeking punishment; projecting our fear of what we might lose...even in our bounty.  Think of the person(s) you currently most dislike...or someone whom you reject for whatever reason.  Can you simply love them the way you want to be loved?  It does not matter that the person thinks, acts, or looks different from you.  Can you love that person, as God loves them...and loves you?
This is the only question that really matters in creating a true oneness with God and with one another.

Finally, sit quietly in a place of your choosing...a place apart from distractions of the moment.  Relax your body...starting with your facial muscles.  You will be surprised just how tight you really are.  Now, take in a deep breath through your nostrils and, then, slowly exhale through your mouth...forming your lips as if you were using a straw.  Repeat this breathing practice two more times.

Let your mind drift.  Let go of the day and the inner ego chatter.  Just be still.  Now, in whatever tradition most comfortable to you, invite the Divine to embrace you.  Feel the love that comes with that experience.  Simply rest in that feeling for some time.

Whenever you feel complete, simply say:  "May I share this love with everyone around 
me...May I see every other human being as an extension of your Love.  You accept me as I am; may I accept every other human being just as they are....Make me an instrument of Reconciliation."

May it be so.

Much love,