About Me

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I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Heaven



This book is just out - and is full of quite wonderful essays by writers invited to write about how they imagine heaven. I'm honored to have my essay, "Remembering the Company," included in it. Check out Liz Bulkley's interview with the editor, Roger Ferlo, on NPR's Front Porch

Easter story meditation - the Angel in the Garden

Sometimes we come to understand these amazing, mysterious stories best through the gift of imagination. Here is a meditation that came to me as I was reflecting and praying on the Easter story as told in John 20: 11-18, the same story the poems address (see previous post). It came to me to look at the story from the point of view of one of the angels in the tomb. Here is a meditation/midrash on this passage, in the angel's voice, imagining what the angel sees:

In this garden, heaven and earth are joined. But the woman cannot see this. She has loved, she is grieving, the one she has loved seems to have disappeared. She is desperate with grief. She cannot see -- her eyes and heart are not accustomed to the mystery of the garden - that He is here, talking to her. She will see it soon but she has not seen it yet.

I try to awaken her to the new reality -- thinking that if she sees an angel of light -- 2 of us, really, at the head and foot of where the body was -- she will wake up. Woman, why are you weeping? I ask her: the question they all will hear, stepping into this garden, this tear in the fabric of place and time -- where what they called "heaven" is manifest in what they called earth -- and they see what angels see, but know it as something like what they have known in life as "flesh" -- sensing, perceiving, touching, loving.

That's what it takes for her: she needs to hear His voice -- so when she cannot hear it from the angels, He calls to her himself, in the same words: Woman, why are you weeping? he says -- that divine invitation: Come to the garden, let me wipe away your tears.

Still she does not see where she is or who she's speaking to: she thinks she's still by the side of the tomb and so she is. She does not know that death as she understood it has been transformed. Here at the heart of life, she is still weeping, and the One she weeps for stands beside her, loving her -- and finally, calling her by name: Mary.

That's what it takes to wake her up to the new life that is blooming here -- in the garden that is and is not the place she thought she was in. He calls her by name, and finally she recognizes him and touches this mysterious, transformed flesh that shall be hers as well -- in this foretaste and fulfillment of beatitude -- the fullness of life that He intends for all. He sends her out to tell them that it has all been fulfilled. It has all begun.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Easter Poems

Here are three poems that I think of as the "Easter sequence" from Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture by Kathleen Henderson Staudt (Edwin Mellen Press, 2003). Each one has an epigraph from the Easter story told in the gospel of John

*

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? " She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."
John 20: 11-13

*

Mary Magdalene at the Tomb

The empty tomb
A vision of angels
But he is not here.
There is no one to ask:
Where have they laid him?
Where is he now?

The men who came with me have believed and gone away
Remembering his words.
The empty tomb
Enough for them.
They think they understand, have heard and seen
A vision of angels
But he is not here.
I came to touch, anoint with tears, one last time;
There is no one to ask:
Have you seen my Beloved?
Where have they laid him?
Where is he now?

What could console me?
Even if I saw,
in the empy tomb
A vision of angels,
They only show me what already I know:
He is not here.
There is no one to ask:
Have you seen my Beloved?
Who can tell me?
Where have they laid him?
Where is he now?




*


Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father;
John 20:14-17

*

The Embrace in the Garden

How can you say, "Don't try to hold me?"

Wrenched from my weeping
Into your unreasonable joy
I heard you speak my name
Knew it was you
You, and more than you, more than I can grasp

But now, my cheek against your cheek,
Your hand stroking my hair,
I whisper the name I have always used for you
Rabboni!
Mary!
Rabboni!

You whisper, delighted, of going and telling
But how could I not want to hold you here
Cheek against cheek,
Nail-scarred hands upon hair?







*

Jesus said to her, "Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."
Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
John 20:17

*

Going and Telling


Go. Tell my friends. I am giving you the words. Tell them.
All is accomplished. The new story has begun.
The body that holds you now
Alive and warm, is as real
As the body you saw mutilated,
Mocked, betrayed, brutalized.

Even though jeers drowned out the message
Of justice for the poor,
Release for the oppressed,
Unimagined forbearance,
Even though
It seems as though the promise I brought
Was pounded down
With the nails
They drove into these hands
Go and tell them:
They cannot kill it.

Step back. Take these wounded hands.
Clasp them in your own.
Gaze back at me, and see
The dancing in my eyes.
Now go.
Go and tell them
This life you are holding
Nothing can kill it.
Go. Go and tell them
You will see me
Again.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Op-ed article in today's Times

Robert Wright's "An Easter Sermon" , on the op ed page of the NY Times today (April 7 2007) offers what seem to me to be some good insights about what we can learn today from the story of Jesus' Crucifixion, arguing that even without considering morality, there are some good strategic reasons for saying "whoever is not with us is against us," doing good to our enemies, and pursuing non-violent solutions. Food for thought, with a political edge, this Holy Saturday, always a kind of palpable "in between time" for Christians who are observing the triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Why do we call this Friday "Good"?

I remember some years ago, on Good Friday, taking a walk through the park with a Jewish friend of mine and she asked me, "Why do you call it "Good" Friday, when what happened on that day was basically torture and execution?" I don't remember exactly what I said then but it was something like this: Jesus preached a radical message of reconciliation. (Martin Luther King called him, admiringly, an "extremist"). He claimed to be speaking for God's way, calling people back to be God's people, holding God's dream. This, he preached, is the true Way. It sounded like blasphemy to some. And indeed, we've seen throughout history that anyone who preaches peace with that kind of authority will be a threat to those who are in power. (Jesus himself pointed to the way the people of Israel had treated their prophets in the past. And one of the lessons we read today is from Isaiah 53-4: the story of Israel as "suffering servant," for the sake of the world -- a passage which Christians have learned to read as a way of understanding who Jesus was). He was killed by a collaboration of the religious and the political authorities of his time. He was too much of a threat.
We tell the story of Good Friday because we know how it comes out. Without the Resurrection two days later, it is just another story of human cruelty and abuse of state power -- all too familiar in our own time as it was in its time. Christians call it "Good" Friday because the Cross and the Easter story are all one story: (Jesus says this in his first prediction of his suffering - but his listeners don't can't understand). the Cross is the WAY that God desires to redeem us, despite everything. In the whole story of Cross and resurrection, this action of God's unrelenting love is made manifest. It is hard to interpret or summarize, but the story itself tells us something about the Way. The Cross is the means of grace -- it is the result of the Call of Christ on each of our lives, though it may take different forms for each of us in our lives. And the Resurrection tells us that however controversial Jesus' message was, you can't kill it. This is the heart of the story of God's persistent and unrelenting desire to call us home and make us whole, whatever the cost. We're invited to participate in that desire by reaching out to the world in love. But on Good Friday we pause, silenced and awestruck by the mystery of Love that is expressed in the Cross. It is a day of devotion, hard to explain. But that's the closest I got, walking with my friend in the park, to explaining why we call this Friday "Good."

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Salvation, Holy Week and Martin Luther King

The protagonist of Marilynne Robinson's wonderful novel Gilead , an aging congregationalist minister writing about his life and theology, mentions late in the novel that the word we usually translate "saved" comes from a Gk word sozo, which could just as well be translated "made whole", "restored to wholeness," even "healed." That fits, for me, with the prayer that comes to me any time I begin to pray for others -- it has become almost a mantra with me: I pray "for the peace of the world, and the healing of Your creation." The healing, the making whole of all of us, the reconciliation of what is broken, healing of what is broken and divided in the human world and in all of Creation -- this is what God desires, and what it may really mean to say that Jesus died to "save us." Not that we are in daily danger of hellfire and need this brutal sacrifice to somehow save us from the punishment we deserve and make up for the evil we have done (though I'm not denying we've done evil); but that God desires to save us, and will go to any lengths to do it - that is what the Cross is about. And since God has done this, a responding, grateful love is called out of us, a love we are free to offer or to withhold.

Thinking about salvation this way only works if we really trust the mystery of the Incarnation -- that God becomes human in order to join in the suffering that any human being would experience who resists the established systems of the world, mostly dedicated to domination and power, and insists on an ethic of love of enemies, nonviolence, and forgiveness:. Eventually Jesus becomes too threatening to both state and religious authorities, all of whom are still wedded to human ideas of power and control. He sees, as they don't, that their violent and self-serving ways are leading to disaster. (One commentator I've been reading points out that violent factionalism and sectarian struggle among the Jewish people and between Jews and Romans ultimately leads to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the loss of that physical center for the spirituality of God's chosen people). He predicts this disaster, but he doesn't fight his opponents on their terms, with violence or miraculous powers. God gives up control, paradoxically, by becoming human, and suffers at human hands to show the depth of divine love, and of God's desire to heal and "save" us; In Jesus' actions God reveals the urgent importance of turning away from the ways of violence and power-grabbing and self-occupation and toward the way of suffering love and compassion. For us who want to follow Jesus, the Cross reminds us that embracing God's desire for wholeness and reconciliation will be costly in some way, at some point on our journeys, in a world driven so much by ambition for power and domination, and the free use of violence. The Resurrection tells us that even death cannot defeat the love of God, and God's determination to save us.

Today I attended a Eucharist celebrating the life and martyrdom of Martin Luther King (the anniversary of his death, and so his "saint's day" in the Episcopal Church's calendar), was yesterday. The preacher reminded us that Jesus came to save "all" -- and I mean ALL. He left it at that as far as "salvation" goes, but I appreciated that "all," and he wanted to make sure we all heard it. I too want to believe that salvation is ultimately intended for everyone, all of creation, not just for a select "in group" who are right with God and free to consign others to hellfire. He moved on to a prophetic exhortation that we should not just be "worshipping" Jesus, we should be following his example, in whatever way presents itself to us. Martin Luther King was an example of someone who did this and paid the price. We don't follow Jesus in order to be "saved" -- God's desire to save us will ultimately prevail, even if we fight it very hard, unless we are truly determined to resist it. I believe this. We follow him because we have caught the power and the appeal of God's desire to heal this broken world - to "Save" the world.

The power of divine love seems to me to be greater than any other power. Because it is expressed in self-offering it doesn't seem to be powerful. But it is undefeated: that's the meaning of the Resurrection. It is through self-denying, passionate love for other people and for the dream of God that transformation comes, in human relationships and in societies. It is good to be remembering Martin Luther King this Holy Week, the same week that I'm teaching Gandhi in one of my classes. It is a reminder of two great leaders of the last century who took the dream of God, and the power of love seriously (ahimsa - soul-force or love-force, Gandhi called it) , and by doing so made a difference, and this despite their own personal foibles, inconsistencies and character flaws. We could use this kind of leadership in today's world.
Another thing I pray for.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Bach, Peter and our failures of faithfulness

This evening we went to a completely riveting and beautiful performance of Bach's St.John Passion at the Washington National Cathedral. I know it well and hear it every year but it is inexhaustible both as a work of music and a work of devotion. One of my favorite moments is an aria sung early in the piece, by a lovely, flutey soprano accompanied by baroque flute, declaring absolute faithfulness: "I'll follow you no matter what, with joyful steps, and never leave you, my Life and my light." (ich folge dir gleichfalls, mit freudigen schritten, und lasse dich nicht, mein Leben, mein Licht.) These are the words we want to say in our best moments of faithful discipleship, words of devotion, trust and love. There is a lovely, lyrical melody carrying the words "mit freudigen schritten" (with joyful steps) in this aria. And it is beautiful. What Bach does later in the Passion is haunting: he uses those same beautiful notes that carried "mit freudigen schritten" (with joyful steps) but sets to them the words of the mocking crowd, the chorus shouting harsh jeers at Jesus as he is condemned to death. So the music that carries faithfulness also carries betrayal, and listening to it, I felt a palpable grief . It's wonderful music, with great spiritual realism. It took me to a place of much deeper devotion and insight about how the desire to be faithful also carries the risk of betrayal -- whether out of not understanding, or having second thoughts, or just terror at where this is leading, certainly understandable in Peter's case, as he watched all their hopes fall apart and Jesus taken away to be tortured. But in this story the strong loyalty and faithfulness Peter expressed earlier makes his denial all the more disturbing. All the more so for me, since I've just been reflecting on faithfulness (see previous post).

We all come to places like this with our faith, the story of Peter reminds us. An excellent sermon I heard this morning also reminded us that Jesus, in Luke, predicted that Peter would be tested, and promised to pray for him. ("but I have prayerd for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." . He declared to Jesus, "I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." And Jesus says "The cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me." (Luke 22: 32-4). The preacher reminded us that we all find ourselves in these places of faithlessness -- if we haven't yet we will -- on our journey of discipleship, and it is a wrenching and terrible place to find ourselves. But Jesus is praying for us. And when we turn back to him, we will ultimately strengthen one another in faith, because of his prayers. I am pondering this insight.

I am also remembering that in Luke there is a moment, right after the cock crows, and Peter remembers that Jesus predicted this, when Jesus meets his eyes. (22:61)And Peter weeps bitterly. How awful that moment of eye contact between the two friends must have been. I may come back to this.

Hearing this sermon and the St. John Passion on the same day reminded me of what a terrible story this is, for all its familiarity. It is a story of human beings doing and being their worst to each other and the the one who is God become human suffering the worst of it, even from his friends. It helps to remember how the story ends. But here at the beginning of Holy Week I feel invited to stay with the part that is troubling and disturbingly familiar, disturbingly like the inhumanities of the world we live in today -- and to contemplate the mystery of how this story of the worst human denial, betrayal, torture, brutality becomes the heart of a story of God's faithfulness to all humanity, a love that persists even when our love falters, and calls us to turn again.

Much to ponder here, as we "enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality. " That's the prayer we said this morning, to open the Palm Sunday liturgy. It is a beautiful and a terrible story, full of paradox and ultimately mystery. A story to carry quietly, honoring the mystery, as I continue through this Holy Week.