Friday, May 6, 2016

Easter 41 Hum

A little fun thing I've done with performance groups is a vocal experiment. I've never actually ever used this in a performance, but I've always thought it could be really interesting.

It needs to be about 5 people, more is better. I ask us to stand in a small circle and hear a note in their head, but  not vocalize it yet. I instruct everyone to hold onto that note, no matter what they hear from a neighbor. When I give the signal, everyone is to vocalize on their note, not matter how much it clashes with their neighbor. I then signal for them to change notes and volume, conducting a sort of post-modern improvisational choral piece. With enough voices, even the ones that are discordant can simply add a color to the chord that, ultimately, isn't that unpleasant. As the voices move around and crescendo and decrescendo, it can be otherworldly.

Surely I've used this image somewhere in this blog before, but I'm going to use it here.

When Paul speaks of the "spiritual body" of our post-resurrection selves, I imagine those bodies to be something like sound. Sound is a curious thing, not solid in any way and yet able to affect solid things. We've all heard a car rattle from the bass turned up on someone's car stereo. We've all seen the films of a high note hitting a frequency that can shatter crystal. Sound can pass through walls.

Sound is what I think of when I read of the resurrected Jesus appearing within locked rooms or disappearing from sight after being recognized on the way to Emmaus. Solid insofar as he affects solids, but also hard to hold onto.

So I imagine that the full Reign of God (which is here and coming) is something like a bunch of voices, each finding a note and being committed to it so that together they make an otherworldly sound, a chord of unimaginable complexity and beauty, full of tension and release.

I imagine that in the resurrection, together we will hum a great, unimaginable Alleluia.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Easter 40 Ascension

I'm going to be up front about this: Ascension Day has always been one of those festival days that never quite made sense to me. Of course, I knew the story---for forty days, the resurrected Jesus made appearances to the disciples and then on the fortieth, he ascended to the clouds, taken from their sight. (Acts chapter one has one succinct telling.) But for me, the ascension is more difficult to grasp than the resurrection.

What do I make of this?

So I googled. Specifically, I googled "Orthodox view of Ascension Day." I turned to the Orthodox on this matter because their view tends to be liturgical as much as literal or symbolic. I've noticed that they talk about festivals in terms of what hymns are assigned for the day. I can get on board with that.

This page, I thought, was a very good, succinct explanation of their Ascension Day understanding.

There is, of course, the number 40, which tends to connote a a time of fulfillment. It's a recurring number in the Bible. The ascension fulfills the Risen Christ's purpose in one sort of way.

But there's something in their understanding of the physical Jesus ascending that acts as a sort of final bridge between our physical lives and heavenly existence. We will be assumed in our "spiritual bodies" (as Paul talks about the resurrected body) into the physics-defying reality that Jesus might call the Reign of God. We are asked to remember that the Jesus who ascends is also always with us. It becomes the final act of the Incarnation while giving us a preview of who we will eventually become. Because Jesus has gone ahead to "prepare a place for us," we can be assured that our resurrection body will be like his.

And from that moment on,  no one experienced the Risen Christ as a fish-grilling, locked-room-appearing, "put your finger here, Thomas," sort of body. The Jesus that appears after this, as on the Damascus road to Saul/Paul, appears as blinding light.

I suppose that's the thing about Ascension Day. The Jesus who rose from the dead, ascends (which is problematic for those of us who dislike think of "heaven above" sort of hierarchy, but it's the language we have) in this physics-defying body, in some way still has a body "at the right hand of the Father" and still interacts with humanity.

And that last bit is something I do believe, the thing that makes me appear a bit crazy to atheist friends. I've never had the vision of light thing, but Paul is not the last to report such things. I knew a woman in seminary who reported something very similar to Paul's story. She wasn't a Christian, wanted nothing to do with Christianity, and was blinded by a light that told her its name was Jesus and for her to follow. She'd never read the New Testament before that and was surprised by Paul's story when she learned it. And so I'm left to believe that Jesus doesn't often put on a light show for people like me, who have grown up praying to him, but to people whose attention he needs to get.

Or something. That last paragraph wasn't really planned.

Anyway. What to make of Ascension Day? Being the one who is always going on about incarnational theology, I will think of the transformed and fully transfigured bodies that will, at the end of the age defy physics. I will try to find hymns to have in my earbuds at work that are appropriate for the day. I may even set aside my generally "low christology" Jesus and allow my mind to wander to the triumphant Christ in glory.

What I will not lose sight of, I hope, is that Jesus' ascension, however I want to think about it---literally, symbolically, mythologically, liturgically---is another sign of:

1. Incarnation---the importance of our flesh, inseparable in our identity from our spirit
2. The Reign of God here, now, among us, not in some far off heaven, if we'll only turn to see it.
3. Christ is with us always, whether we put our finger in a wound or are blinded by light or something in between.

Alleluia. Christ is Risen and rises still.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Easter 39 Still

Be still and know . . .

The temptation in speaking is to think we might wield power with our words (said the blogger).

The temptation in rushing to answers is to think we might clear things up if only we explained it the right way.

The temptation in saying a good word is to think we know what good is.

We might have a clue. We might know some things. We might sometimes be helpful by speaking up.

But even our proclamation of resurrection and new creation will be but useless if they are only adding to the noise.

It is very helpful (to understate) to practice stillness, to learn and to know that we are not God.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Easter 38 Silence

Let me get out of the way that "silence" is one of those sharp words that has several connotations to it. I recall a friend tell the story of confronting a family elder who was crying "peace peace!" around some ugly family history that needed to be confronted. My friend replied, "You don't want peace, you want silence." In her case, the silence was doing real damage to some people in the family and there would be no peace until the silence was broken and the ugliness worked through.

So there's that. The silence that equals death (to use the Act Up slogan).

But there is another kind of silence, an intentional one, one that I've really only experienced once or twice.

The instance that stands out for me is at a retreat at a convent. The rule of the convent was that everyone kept silence until mid-morning (I don't recall the exact time, but it was before noon and after breakfast). We were also expected to help make and clean up breakfast. It was a spiritually profound moment.

As John Cage told us over and over, there is no such thing as true silence. Without talking, the sounds of clean-up, with it's clanking of pans and rattling of plates and cutlery, had its own communication. We gestured for what we needed, smiled, nodded in thanks. I remember thinking how much easier it was to love all the people in the room when we were working together in silence. And of course, that made me smile (silently) but it was also true.

I think we talk too much. We spend too much time with chatter. I learned at that convent how much silence could soften a heart. At least for me.

Cooperation on a simple, understood task was one of the best prayers I ever lived in.

It's not something I experience very often. Really, everyone in a room has to agree to a rule like that and that's really hard in our world. But like other spiritually profound moments in my life, having experienced it, I know it is possible. There is a silence that equals death, yes, but there is also a silence that allows for the Spirit to move among us without the barrier of words. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Easter 37 Listen

As writers, readers, human beings, we cannot speak to or understand  each other unless we are first prepared to listen. Of all the gifts which the Holy Spirit is able to bestow, the one for which we should first and most earnestly pray is humility of ear. [W.H. Auden, sermon delivered for College Evensong, Christ Church, Oxford, October 24th, 1965]

A certain, true thing is that if you're talking, you cannot listen. There is a time to speak, of course, but there is also a time to listen. This is a hard lesson to learn, and I think it goes beyond using our voice, but also refers to quieting the mind.

I just ran across the above sermon by Auden. "Humility of ear" is my new favorite phrase. As we are in the homestretch towards Pentecost, this gift seems appropriate as we listen for the Wind/Breath/Spirit.

Resurrection may come as a whisper.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Easter 36 Quiet

This morning, I woke up before the alarm went off, a rare occurrence. I'm more likely to sleep through an alarm than wake up before one goes off.

The positive side of waking up this way is that there was time for quiet. Lying on my left side, left arm tucked under my head, is the position my cat best likes to find me in. He came and plopped into my arm pet and pressed himself against me, as he does, and I rubbed his belly with my ear against him to hear his purrs.

This day we enter into the 6th week of Easter. By this time, we've more or less all forgotten about the trumpets and lilies of the first day of Easter. All the chocolate eggs are probably long gone and even the half-priced marshmallow bunnies are gone from the CVS shelf.

It's not just me. Collectively, we have a hard time celebrating for 50 days, too.

So I had already pretty well decided that this week would be a week of quieter reflections, but my cat gave me an excellent start to it.

It's not all about the shouts of alleluias and trumpets and bells. Resurrection happens quietly, too.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Easter 35 Bright

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
   the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
   mortals  that you care for them? [Psalm 8:3-4]


I grew up on a farm, about 10 miles from Giddings, Texas. Our address said Paige. Austin was the nearest city to us, just under 60 miles away. We had porch lights but not much else in the way of outdoor lighting.

The nights could be very dark.

On clear nights, it could be glorious.

As a teenager and into my twenties, when I'd come home late from work, dancing, theater, whatever, I'd sometimes park my car in our gravel driveway and lay down on the hood of my car and look at the stars. It was, again, glorious. 

I was aware of other light around us. On cloudy nights, you could see the light of Giddings reflected on low clouds. There were times we could see lights from the Alcoa plant in Rockdale, about 40 miles away, but not always. (I don't know why, maybe there were times they had more lights on?) Our house was a half-mile from the highway and we could see cars, hear them too (particularly the large semis), passing.

I often wondered what the night looked like for Native Americans, before the Europeans (we) came. I was aware that even the little light pollution we had on that farm was still affecting the sight above me.

I was also aware that on nights of thick cloud cover, how very, very dark a night could get.

Our Scriptures were written in a desert land, without electricity. I wondered, too, how many more stars those people saw. Living in a modern city, as I do now, I am aware of the convenience of having lighted sidewalks nearly everywhere I want to walk at night----and I'm aware of the cost of them.

We pay in awe.

These ancient writers looked at the lights in the sky and praised God. They looked to the east and were relieved when the dark night was over and the sky began to turn light.

Knowing my face is illuminated by the computer screen on which I write, knowing that even in the day, I have lights on in my apartment, knowing that I will likely never experience the darkness of the ancients, I am thankful for the light we are given, both the literal light and the Light of Christ (thanks be to God).

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. [John 1:1-5]