Sunday, May 20, 2007

No one said the Spiritual Journey was easy...

Trinity @ 7 Sermon for May 20, 2007

No one said the Spiritual Journey was easy…

“Now is the time to know that all you do is sacred.”

What would it mean for us in our lives, right now, if we took this snippet of wisdom for Truth. Actual truth. Our truth. Right. Now.

I have moments, mundane, every day moments when I understand this – I get it on some gut level that’s not always easy to put into words, though I’m going to try.

I was cleaning the bathtub the other morning before work, in preparation because I had house guests coming. Now, this is something that I do periodically anyway, cleaning the bathtub, but it struck me then in particular as something sacred. Maybe it was because I was doing this chore at an odd time for me – before work – I was particularly mindful. Maybe it was because I was doing it as part of my preparation for seeing a dear friend who lives far away – I was doing it out of love. Maybe it was because, taken out of the context of cleaning the entire bathroom, this one little chore doesn’t take too long – there was no suffering involved. It is almost as if in that moment I took all the negativity out of the activity – I was being mindful, I was doing it in love, and I was not suffering – the moment I took all of my negative associations out of such a mundane chore as cleaning the bathtub, suddenly it was set free, and without any extra help from me, it revealed itself as sacred.

Now, cleaning the bathtub is a small thing. The actual quote reads: “Now is the time to know that all you do is sacred.” “All you do,” as Hafiz is talking about, is slightly larger – but if you’ve never tried this before, or tried without great measures of success in the past, I encourage you today, tomorrow, and next Tuesday to start small. Start with the bathtub, or something similar. And then, all you have to do are these two things, and then the sacredness of the action has space enough to reveal itself to you:

1 – Keep your mind focused on what you’re doing. This is simple, but not incredibly easy if you’re not used to it. We keep our minds focused on what is going on in the moment, because it is what is occurring in the moment that is sacred. Try not to dream or worry about what is going to happen five minutes or five hours from now. Try not to reminisce or be caught in the emotion of what occurred three minutes or three hours ago. Just be where you are. So Thing One is to keep your mind focused on what you’re doing.

2 – Let go of all your negativity. This is simple as well, but not incredibly easy if you’re not used to it. For example, as a rule we carry around so much negativity that we’ve become totally unaware of how much there is, until we start really looking. Some say that we’ve been desensitized to the negativity around us, but that is a misleading statement. We are desensitized, to the extent that we have become on some levels numb and unaware, but on other levels, less perceptible and yet fully operable ones, we are still fully sensitive to negativity, and it affects us deeply, but unconsciously.

To get rid of negativity, we need to first name it. Acknowledge that it exists and then seek to know why it is there. Does it serve some useful function? If it does, consider how something positive could replace it. And then, let it go. Breathe it out of your body – if it tries to come back in, gently breathe it out again and follow it with a statement of love – be caring and gentle to yourself while you do this – don’t let this become one more opportunity to beat up on yourself for not being perfect. Treat yourself with love and compassion. This is Thing Number Two: let go of your negativity.

And all of this is for us to get to the place where we can encounter the sacred in what we do, in all that we do. Whether or not we do this, all we do is sacred – but that is a hard precept to understand or acknowledge if we haven’t experienced it ourselves. But we can! We can experience everything we do as sacred, because it is.

“Now is the time to understand that all your ideas of right and wrong were just a child’s training wheels to be laid aside when you can finally live with veracity and love.”

What if we, as adults, contemplated the prospect that we might be ready, we might be emotionally mature enough, spiritually mature enough – or we may be fast approaching that point – when we can lay aside the training wheel concepts of “right” and “wrong” because we are able to live lives embracing Truth and Love.

This would revolutionize the way we settle disputes, to be certain.

How many wars have been fought because participants on both sides were absolutely certain that they were right and the others were wrong? How many arguments are there, between lovers, between friends because each of us know, with a knowing that is not going to change, that we are right, and the other person is wrong?

What if being right mattered slightly less than being loving? What if seeking out wrong mattered slightly less than seeking out truth?

Could we find ourselves forgiving more often?

Could we find ourselves offending less often?

Would the simple knowledge that we would be met with love change our actions for the better in a way that a threat of punishment fails utterly?

It’s a heavy thought to consider, because if we find ourselves thinking, “yes, yes that might be,” then there is an automatic assumption that we ought to change our lives accordingly – live this way, even though the rest of the world is slow to change, slow to realize the truth, slow to enact love. There are implications for our own lives.

But then, no one said the Spiritual Journey was easy. Simple, yes. Easy, no.

Prayer is an extension of our reality.

Sermon from May 20, 2007
Easter 7, Year C

Some prayers come from our heads. Can you imagine it with me? Think of the list of people you know who are sick, or going through a rough time, or who are in some sort of life transition (most of which are good in theory, but end up being really stressful in reality). This list you’ve just compiled could qualify for the designation, “prayer list”. It’s a list for prayer born of compassion, yes, but the prime component sometimes ends up being memory. And so it is a prayer that comes from our head.

Some prayers come from our hearts. Think of any one person on that list you’ve just made – just one, though it doesn’t matter who. Now, think of that person’s situation. Whether it’s cancer or a new job or a new baby, think of that one person – everything you know about that person: how wonderful they are, what they’re like when they’re full of joy, and too, how they struggle. A prayer for that person that they can live to their full potential, be comforted in their suffering, and have their joy and peace multiplied, this is a prayer that dwells in compassion. It is a prayer that comes from our heart.

Some prayers come from our gut. They are the reactions that proceed everything else, (especially thought) when we are in moments that provoke fast reactions – like the moment before we get into a car crash, or the moment after we narrowly avoid one. They don’t even have to have words – not spoken words, and not thought-out words, though that sometimes happens. Some prayers are a gut reaction.

Some prayers come from our hands. When we are in our studio, or our shop, sitting at our sewing table, standing at our band saw – when we are creating or recreating something, connecting to our own Creator in some way that we can easily explain, or not, we are praying with our hands. When we are washing the baby, or the dog, serving out stew to our family, or to a group of homeless men, connecting to our own Provider in some way that we can easily explain, or not, we are praying with our hands.

Some prayers come from our feet. When we stand up for something we believe in, and proclaim in the presence of God and everyone around us that this is what matters to us, this is what we will spend our time and our money to do, to be, to achieve, to fashion, to break – whether we’re standing up to be married, or standing up at a political rally – it is a prayer that is made with our feet.

Some prayers come from our silence. When we give the gift of silent presence to someone who is dying, when we give the gift of silent listening to a friend who is upset, when we give ourselves the space to be silent without worrying about the past or the future, this gift of silence is a prayer.

Some prayers come from the very way we live our lives – in fact, all prayers do, whether or not we acknowledge it. Wise people from every religious tradition in the world agree on this point, though they talk about it in a slightly different manner, one from another.

In the Muslim tradition, the mystic poet Hafiz points out several times that everything we do is sacred. In our present context we can understand this to mean that our connection to God is far greater – way deeper and significantly wider – then we usually give it credit for being, so much so that everything, everything we do participates in this connection to God, in this prayer, in this sacredness.

In the Hindu tradition, the social reformer and sage Gandhi points out that we need to be the change we wish to see in the world. Again, in our present context we can understand this to mean that our prayers for a different world must be more than just a few moments in church a few times a month, or even a few moments daily on our knees, whispering the words that tear at our gut sometimes, and that sometimes feel rote and empty. We can take this to mean that our prayers for a different world must be lived out in our own lives, that we must live to the standards that we hold for others, that we must be the first ones to change, and that that living out of our prayers is in itself a powerful prayer for change, a powerful and inspirational example for others to follow.

And in our own tradition, we have Jesus. The selection we heard from the Gospel according to John was a short part of a much longer prayer that Jesus was praying for his disciples, in front of his disciples. Though this part of the prayer contains a lot of rhetoric that was probably added to the essence of the words by the editor John and his own disciples, and that rhetoric can be sometimes challenging to wade through, Jesus makes three really salient points in his prayer, which is a prayer he’d been living out for at least the three years previous, if not longer. He’d been living out this prayer – being the change he wished to see in the world, acknowledging everything he did as sacred – and now, for the benefit of his friends’ own understanding, he was attempting to explain this living out prayer. Being Jesus, he explained it in the context of another prayer, one we might call, a prayer from the mind.

And this is what he said:

First of all: this misguided, yet popular notion that what one person does, what one person thinks doesn’t affect someone else – it’s wrong. We are one. We have only one heart. We have only one mind. It is the heart we share with You. It is the mind we share with You. Please, God, let them realize that this is what I was trying to do, to show them. Please, God, let them understand that this is true, that they can accept this as true and experience for themselves the benefit of this way of living!

Secondly: they think I’m hot stuff, that I’ve got all this confidence and wisdom, this spiritual power to heal and to save, this deep connection to peace and to joy, but I’ve been trying to tell them that this is from You, and You give it to everyone. Please, God, let them realize that this isn’t some secret, unattainable thing – this is what all those religious people have been calling “The Glory of God” for centuries and centuries. Please, God, let them understand that the Glory they see in me is just a reflection of You, and that they can ask for and receive that exact same Glory. Please, God, let them understand that this is true, that they can accept this as true and experience for themselves the benefit of this way of living!

Third and last: Love. The purpose of all of this is love. I have done what I have done so that people may know that You love them, just as I know You love me. Please, God, let them understand that You have nothing but love for us – you have never had anything else, and you never will. Please, God, let them understand that this is true, that they can accept this as true and experience for themselves the benefit of this way of living!

That is the prayer that Jesus lived out in his own life – a prayer for oneness, a prayer to live out in our own lives this glory from God, and a prayer for love – and this prayer was for the benefit both of his disciples, and for the whole world.

When we consider that everything we do is prayer, everything we do is part of our connection to God, it’s easier to imagine, I think, that we are all on this Spiritual Journey together, each at our own place on the path.

[edit: it was pointed out that i missed at least two types of prayer: laughter and tears. I agree.]

The Heirloom Box of Anger

Trinity @ 7 Sermon from May 13, 2007
(yes, I'm incredibly late.)


I have a box in my house
It is beautifully stained and hand carved
It shows figures of immense stature and importance
With their arms crossed, impatience and annoyance
Written across their features

It is a large box, bigger than it seems
About the size of a hope chest
From back in the day
When women had a hope chest in preparation
For a household instead of space in mom’s garage
Or attic, or basement,
For the house put on hold
For college or international adventuring

It might have a must smell inside
There might be moths, but to be honest,
I never check. I don’t care. It’s not that sort
Of chest – though I wouldn’t be surprised if
It did smell – perhaps a cold, gripping smell.
If banshees and vampires had a smell,
I’m sure they would share it with the
Inside – it’s that sort of chest.

Not to say I don’t know what’s inside
In moments of stark honesty I can call them
By name, dangerous though it be for the
Continued existence of the trunk.
And to see – well, it’s practically nothing
Each one just a little bit of fluff
Like what might be in a pillow
Hardly anything, little more than vapor
And so you see
The trunk holds quite a lot, even if these days
I have to sit on it to fasten it
And put the heaviest tomes I have
Webster’s Unabridged, and the Oxford Annotated
To keep it shut, even with the lock

Still, it’s a beautiful trunk – did I mention it’s
A beautiful trunk? Hand carved –
It’s a family heirloom. Well used by
Every generation that I know of
Its’ a magnificent piece, and useful.

It opened one day, despite Webster and Oxford
And seemingly of its own accord,
Though I suspect it had help
And suddenly the room was so thick
It was hard to breathe
I had years – a life time’s worth
Of fluff, decayed and vampire like
Each one screaming its banshee tune

I picked one piece out of the air
Examined it as you might
Some tea leaves at the bottom of a cup
Or a particularly active crystal ball
And I recognized it of course, instantly
It was a little piece of anger
Turned to resentment.

I retreated to the porch to escape for a moment
The thick, old anger that had been released
But I took with me this one, small piece
Of myself I’d never wanted to own in the first place
I thought with hindsight and understanding
I’d gained somewhere along the line
That I could probably let this one go
So I held out my hand and like
A fairytale princess, blew

And like static electricity, it only got so far
Before it clung to my sleeve, unwilling to leave
I shook. I grumbled. I huffed and puffed. I whined.
I got angry – and then, quite suddenly
Had two pieces of Anger!Fluff instead of one

By the end of the afternoon, they were both gone
When I forgave myself for not being able
To fix and heal all of my suffering in an afternoon
The second disappeared.
When I understood that to release anger
Is to change who I’ve always been and
How I’ve always acted
The first disappeared.

When I looked back through a window
To see only white – the fluff that had declared mutiny
My heart quailed at the thought of going back
One-by-one sorting through
Owning up to all the old pain
Pain I’d suffered, pain I’d caused
And yet
And yet
Words echoed
From sages wiser than I

“Looking deeply is one of the most effective ways
To transform our anger, prejudices, and discrimination.”


“True love is only possible with real understanding.”

And since I believed them
Since I’d begun to experience that understanding
Perhaps it was high time, after all
That I go and face my heirloom anger
“What’s the worst that could happen,”
I reasoned,
“I might experience profound joy,
Contentment even, certainly peace,
Once that house is cleaned out.
And maybe even before.”

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Send In the Marshals

So, the voting booths arrived on Friday. I saw them sitting in the chapel. I didn't think much about it until I arrived at work this morning, only to find a minivan with a little BVM on the dashboard in the parking space very clearly reserved for "Trinity Assitant #1". Which would be me. And I wondered to myself, in a not entirely charitable way, how could this be confusing to someone? I am the only one in this city who knows herself to be "Trinity Assitant #1" - noone else holds that exalted position. No, not even you. (Apparently they also parked in my boss' space - here's a clue: if you don't know what a 'Rector' is, you probably aren't one, so don't park in that space.)

Apparently, last time it was time to vote, the local government had a contract with us, we arranged for parking for the volunteer workers, yadda yadda yadda.

This time, they just dropped the booths off and left. No contract. No agreement. Nothing remotely legal. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am.

Our wonderful business manager let them know that this was entirely uncool on several levels (not the exact words she used, I'm certian). They, in turn, accused us of standing in the way of democracy. They threatened to send the Marshals in.

Let me repeat that.

They threatened to send the Marshals in.

They, in their arrogance, have created this snafu, and they inform us that we are standing in the way of democracy? I would like to point out very explicitly right now that every staff member in this church, plus the church itself, and I dare say the church at the diocesan level as well as at the national level... we all love democracy, thank you very much. But really, considering this incredible lack of communication and then aggressive threat of violence and coersion- is there any real wonder that the government at every level in the Greater Buffalo Niagara Region is in the state that it is? Does this remind ANYONE of issues of quartering troops?

I mean, give me a break.

And now, I have to go move my car.