Pastor Kaye's Blog

I Am the True Vine

Richard Rohr has said, “[M]ost Christians read the Bible in an entirely individualistic way which destroyed most of its transformative power. Jesus told us to “follow” him on this same transformative journey; instead, we just worshiped him. Many Christians have never been seriously taught about their inherent union with God and will find all kinds of heady reasons to deny it.”

The passage in John 15 where Jesus says, “I am the true vine” is full of transformative power, if only we’ll open ourselves to it. Here’s the gist of it:

  • Jesus is (metaphorically) the true vineIMG_5025
  • He became the true vine through “pruning” or releasing the things that were attached to him, that weighed down his soul, or distracted him from his connection to God and so, also, to his connection with his authentic self
  • The fruit he was then able to bring forth was the fruit of authentic love, compassion, justice, etc.
  • Jesus was the model showing us how to do this!
  • We, too, with a little pruning and letting go, can become a true vine, renewing our connection to God and self.
  • This journey requires intention and releasing – taking a look at our lives to see if we are living from our true selves or if we have some pruning to do to get there
  • When we find our true selves, we automatically find the Divine within
  • It is then that we, too, bear the fruit of that connection, become a source of nourishment for others, and help them to find the way to their own essence.

So, know that I understand how difficult this is. I don’t like pruning… I don’t even like the word. Thinning… that is another gardening word I don’t like. But let me tell you what happened to my peach tree when I didn’t prune it or thin it. I thought we were going to have a great bumper crop of peaches a few years ago. The tree was just full of little baby peaches. As it turned out it was too full. One morning I went out and he top branch, laden with a heavy load of peaches, had ripped right off. I felt so bad for my poor little tree. Here I thought all those peaches were really good, but had I recognized what the tree could handle and helped it to do so, it would not have broken.

This reminds me of last week’s episode of Madame Secretary. Russell Jackson, white house chief of staff, is sort of a neurotic, stressed out workaholic. He drove himself too hard, had a heart attack, then promptly went back to work. In this last episode there is a scene with his wife yelling at him and telling him he has to take care of himself, including finding a way to relax. He rejects yoga and Tai Chi and mindful breathing. Then he’s confronted with the possibility that because he runs himself ragged, he doesn’t have time for the bigger questions in life. Surprisingly, the story line then takes on a spiritual note when Russell goes to have a conversation with the Secretary’s husband, Henry McCord, who is not only former military, fighter pilot and CIA, but also a spiritual guru and ethics professor.

Henry looks at Russell and says, “You’re just a shark that doesn’t know it’s in the water just like the rest of us.”

“Huh?” replies Russell with a confused, blank look.

“Look Russell, none of us knows what our true essence is and those brief moments where we maybe get a glimpse is because we’ve somehow managed to transcend our ego. Those small moments create a space so we can ask big questions.”

“So how do I do that if I hate everything that does that?”

“Has there ever been any non-work related activity that you found completely absorbing?”

After a little thought, Russell responds, “When I was a kid I used to make model airplanes from kits.”

“What did you like about making model planes?”

“You had to be organized, precise, have all the right tools, be able to see how all the pieces fit together and if you stuck with it the plane that you saw in your mind was the plane you saw on the table.”

“Then why don’t you make them anymore?” Henry asks.

“‘Cause I’m a grown man with a job. What are you saying here? I’m going to find God in a model airplane?”

“It’s as good a place as any…”

 

Basically, the scene suggests that Russell’s problem is that he is disconnected from Source because he has too many other things weighing him down. He had too many peaches on his peach tree and he broke. Because he is disconnected from Source and spiritual nourishment, he is therefore also disconnected to his true self. To be healthy he needs to remain connected. To bear fruit… love, compassion, kindness, joy – the sorts of things that will save his marriage and keep his priorities straight – he has to prune a few things, or thin a few things to make space to connect.

But the voices in our heads that lead us down a frenzied path of work, or family drama, or past wounds, or whatever else our egos convince us are important enough to get sucked into, are REALLY LOUD voices.

There’s been a bit of drama in our lives lately and I spent an hour walking the dog the other morning having a little come to Jesus meeting with myself. I understand the hold our ego gets on us… but after an hour of a reality check, stepping back from the situation, seeking my center-point in the merry-go-round and singing a few songs – out loud walking through the woods – I finally felt reconnected with myself and the Divine and ready to re-enter life. But it was truly hard, deliberate work. Pruning and thinning takes that kind of effort, and frankly it is no fun, but it feels so much better once it is done. Sadly, some of those feelings and emotions grow back as fast as the weeds after a good rain, but it is better to be connected for small amounts of time rather than none at all!

Rachel Remen, in her book “My Grandfather’s Blessings,” tells the story of Jeanne, a psychologist who contents herself for a number of years in a shared practice with other therapists who gave Jeanne the smallest office, no name on the door, and not enough referrals to fill her week.

Sure, Jeanne was a bit shy and sometimes a bit hesitant with her words, and occasionally a little bit clumsy, but that only made her endearing. Her clients loved her.

Then one day Jeanne told Rachel that she was moving her office because she wanted a space that was handicapped accessible. She reluctantly went on to explain that when she was young she’d had a severe stroke and they hadn’t known whether she would live. She had kept this a secret from everyone, including her colleagues and patients because she had felt ashamed and damaged. “I wanted to put it behind me,” she said. “I thought if I could be seen as normal I would be more than I was.”

When Rachel asked her what she planned to do next, she said, “I think I will just be myself,… I will see people like myself. People who are not like others. People who have had strokes and other brain injuries. People who can never be normal again. I think I can help them be whole.”

Over the next five years she became widely known for her work, she was honored by community groups and written up in the newspaper. She became a sought after speaker and consulted with businesses and the hospital. Finally her practice was full and her name was on the door.

What happened for her? What changed? She stopped listening to the condemning ego voices of unworthiness, shame, embarrassment, and in doing this pruning, she reconnected with the energy of self and divine that revealed her own strength and light. She finally understood that covering up wounds and fears and who she was didn’t serve her or the ones she was trying to help. In this process of pruning, she was transformed, bore much fruit and became a model and teacher for others.

Jesus showed us what a life looks like that is connected to Self and God. When we follow his example, transcend our own egos and let go of the things that hold us back or hinder us, we become the true branch, we live into our authentic selves. So connected to the Energy of Life, we in turn bring forth life and light.

Shalom,

Kaye

I Am the Good Shepherd

First, let me spend a minute on the Cosmic Christ. You’ll recall that the Cosmic Christ is born out of the energetic and physical connection of all things in the universe and is the archetype of the divine-human (body-spirit) connection. It was not simply a “name” or title for Jesus, but a state of consciousness that we can all achieve when we reach (even momentarily) a state of wholeness or connectedness with all things: a God-us-creation connection. In this understanding, Jesus wasn’t to be the one unique Christ, but a model, template or map to show us all how to BE Christ.

(For the full video version, click here.)

Matthew Fox and 14th century mystic and theologian Meister Eckert (who was clearly far beyond his years) are clear that Jesus manifested the Cosmic Christ. He lived the divine-human-creation link and tried valiantly to bring the rest of humanity to the awareness that the Cosmic Christ exists within every person and every creature. But people didn’t get it. People instead chose to believe that he was the unique and only possible expression of the Christ which has hindered the spiritual evolution of humanity.

Beginning to read the gospels through this lens changes everything. The gospels are now not just stories about what Jesus did and who he was, but about what we can do and who we can be because Jesus showed us that it already exists within us.

As Matthew Fox said, “All of us are anointed ones. We are all royal persons, creative, godly, divine, persons of beauty and of grace. We are all Cosmic Christs, “other Christs.” But what good is this if we do not know it? Everyone is a sun of God as well as a son or daughter of God, but very few believe it or know it.”

So with this in mind let’s take a look at the statement Jesus makesgood shepherd 2 in John 10: “I am the Good Shepherd.”

Did you know that the good/bad image of the Shepherd actually comes from Ezekiel 34? In it the prophet Ezekiel has been called to prophesy against the negligent shepherds of Israel because they’ve been taking care of themselves instead of their flock.

“You drink its milk, wear its wool, and slaughter the fat ones, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, or treated the wounded; you have not brought back the strayers, or sought the lost; but you have ruled them with harshness and brutality.” (Ezekiel 34:3-4)

God becomes the Good Shepherd when YHWH then says, “I will seek out the lost, I will return the strayed, I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and I will watch over the fat and the sleek. I will be a true shepherd to them.” (Ezek. 34:16)

These are the qualities the early Christian community saw in Jesus. Plus, in the John passage we have the allusion to Jesus’ death as the ultimate sacrifice of the shepherd. All of this is great, but if we leave it here, we end up simply talking about Jesus as the one taking care of us and we play a fairly passive role in the relationship.

If we take it to the level of the Cosmic Christ it does not deny that the Divine can be experienced as a good shepherd for us, but the experience of that should empower us to be the same for others. Because Jesus was experienced as being the Good Shepherd, we can all be experienced as the Good Shepherd.

So, the question  for today and our spiritual journey is… how are we the Good Shepherd? There are two things that stand out for me, personally, when considering the Good Shepherd story as we read it. First, The Good Shepherd was ALL IN. And second, the Good Shepherd created a community based on inclusiveness and unconditional love

The concept of being “all in” reminds me of the analogy of the bacon and egg breakfast. The hen was involved while the pig was committed.

Not having been a real shepherd myself nor having had any real experience with sheep, I decided to do some research and contact my friend Sandy who decided to start a sheep farm a few years ago. Sandy is absolutely, positively, wholeheartedly ALL IN with this sheep stuff. I could hardly find time to connect to her because it is lambing season and she has been helping to birth 130 lambs in the last few weeks. She’s not sleeping, hardly eating, and is probably operating on automatic pilot. But when I did get ahold of her, this is what she said about the Good Shepherd:

  • Good shepherds sometimes do things that the sheep hate because it is best for them (manicures, vaccinations…).
  • Good shepherds try to minimize stress to the sheep.  Sheep hate to be chased, so if I need to move one somewhere and it bolts, I have learned to hang on until it settles down.
  • Do you know why shepherds have that distinctive stick?  No, it is not a funny walking stick. It is not something to beat off predators.  It exists because sheep are naughty.  Catch them with the hook and now you have them without chasing them.  I didn’t start using one until recently, they are so useful.
  • Good shepherds aren’t afraid to get dirty. I have been soaked in every bodily fluid. I don’t remember the last day one of them didn’t ooze something on me. Remember that slime stuff that was around when our kids were small? All of the lambs are covered in it. It’s kinda fun.
  • Good shepherds keep track of all their sheep. Good shepherds try to remain amused when small hoodlum sheep decide to eat the data.
  • Sheep are contradictions. They are tough and stoic, but also fragile. They are amusing, annoying, demanding… Wait, I think I’m describing toddlers.

Sandy has to be all in or her sheep won’t survive. She is a devoted midwife, vet, and leader, caring for them and doing what is best for them while maintaining a sense of humor and deep love for these creatures.

The Good Shepherd is “all in” when it comes to creating a community based on inclusiveness and unconditional love.

Not only does Jesus talk about how, as the Good Shepherd, he cares for his own sheep, but he talks about having other sheep to lead and bring together as one. No one is left out. Everyone has access to his care, compassion and teachings.

Author James O’Halloran tells a story of a woman named Pearl who, in her 70s demonstrated outside the white house against racism. She was arrested for it and imprisoned. While in jail she had a heart attack but refused to go to the nearest hospital because it did not admit black people. She survived both the heart attack and the prison time and went back to demonstrating against racism. Twenty years later, now in her 90s, O’Halloran met her at a meeting protesting nuclear threat. To him she “seemed a most experience, wise and holy person.” So he decided to ask her a very profound question: what is happiness? Pearl responded without hesitation, “Happiness is belonging.”

It seems to me that this is true. Happiness is belonging… being loved and accepted as we are. Jesus’ ministry was the perfect example of this.  He gathered all people from all walks of life, all ages, abilities, male and female alike into his flock (if you will).  Differences don’t matter because, in the understanding of the Cosmic Christ we are all one, made of the same stuff, joined by the same energy. As we continue to create this community we call Sacred Journeys, and as we create communities of friends, neighbors, co-workers, classes, or teams, keeping the image of the Good Shepherd in mind will help ensure that each member really belongs.

 

True shepherding means gathering into one, loving, holding, healing, feeding (body and spirit)… and then sending back out into the world for each to be a shepherd themselves.

We are all the Good Shepherd.

Love & Light!

Kaye

 

 

I AM Light

I find it interesting that the prescribed lectionary readings directly following Easter include many of the “I Am” statements that Jesus makes in the gospel of John (note: these “I am” statements are unusual to John, who you’ll remember is the most mystical of the gospels and the most focused on the divinity of Jesus, as well as the least historically factual).

The Five Gospels notes that “In John’s gospel Jesus frequently speaks of himself in the first person using the emphatic phrase I AM (Greek: ego eimi). This expression was widely used in the Greco-Roman world, and would have been recognized by John’s readers as an established formula in speech attributed to one of the gods.”

In addition, Matthew Fox points out, in his book The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, that the “I Am” statement is also an echo of God speaking to Moses in the burning bush story. In this story God is sending Moses to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and Moses asks, “what if they want to know who sent me?” And God replies, “tell them ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”(Exodus 3:14)

The implication, of course, is that Jesus speaks like a God, and refers to himself as God, which is completely unlike anything he says in the other three gospels.  Most scholars agree that Jesus did not actually say these things.

If that is the case, why are they in scripture and what do we do with them? Well, we’re going to look at them from the perspectives of the pre- and post-Easter Jesus and the Cosmic Christ.

(For the full video version, click here.)

For the pre- and post-Easter Jesus the “I am” statements express how the early community experienced the post-Easter Jesus. Marcus Borg, in Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, suggests we might understand them best not as first-person statements made by Jesus, but as third-person statements made by the community. The “I am” statements are “a powerful testimony to the reality and significance of the post-Easter Jesus, the living Christ of Christian experience.” In this sense, each of these statements is “true” even if it isn’t historically factual.

So, imagine for a moment that you are part of the early Christian church. What does it mean to affirm that Jesus was the light of the world? What characteristics did he have? What darkness did he break through?

Personally, I think he offered hope to a people who were struggling with oppression. He offered open arms of healing and compassion for those who were ostracized, poor or infirm. And he preached with fresh insights about a God of wisdom, justice, and love.

Throughout the ages people have continued to experience Jesus as a light in their lives or as the light of the world.

Now, let’s take this one step further to the Cosmic Christ. First, we recall that the Cosmic Christ is born out of the energetic and physical connection of all things in the universe and is the archetype of the divine-human (body-spirit) connection. “Christ” was not simply a “name” or title for Jesus, but a state of consciousness that we can all achieve when we reach (even momentarily) a state of wholeness or connectedness with all things: a God-us-creation connection. In this understanding, Jesus wasn’t to be the one unique Christ, but a model or blueprint to show us all how to BE Christ.

This means that if Jesus was experienced as being the light of the world, we can all be experienced as being the light of the world. And, in fact, that might perhaps be one of our spiritual goals.

As Matthew Fox says, “These revelations of “I-am-ness” challenge us to name (or claim) our lives and beings in a similar fashion… How, in other words, are we also expressions of the Cosmic Christ as Jesus was so fully?”

Specifically, for today… how are we the light of the world?

Here’s an odd little thing that happened this week. I was making an appointment to get a tetanus shot for our upcoming mission trip and had to go through verifying information. Well, the person asked me if I’d like to list a religion. Without hesitation I said “no.” And her very next question was, “Do you have an employer?” Caught.

Of course I was writing my sermon on the same day which forced me to question myself: is this behavior not being light, not letting my light shine, not being Christ? I imagine there are some folks who would say I absolutely fell short. And that we should be declaring our Christian faith from the rooftops, if not the front doors of people’s homes.

I think for me, light has little to do with religion. Religion has too often been used to separate and exclude, to draw lines of right and wrong instead of drawing circles of compassion. I don’t particularly appreciate what people today perceive as Christian, so I don’t broadcast my connection with Christianity. That is not my light. I prefer to think of my light as an outward expressions of an inward disposition/state of being.

In Ancient Greek, “I am” or “I exist”(ego eimi) is the first person singular present tense of the verb “to be.” So, “I am” statements are statements of being, not really doing or having.  Meister Eckhart said, “people ought to think less about what they should do and more about what they are.”

A woman I know was recently talking about the days when she used to go in to work and walk down the hallway of offices every morning saying “hello” to each employee and greeting them personally. No one else did that and they probably thought she was a little odd, but it was a very simple way to be light: friendliness, inclusivity, joy.

It isn’t always easy to be light like Jesus was. And, frankly, it is easier to shine for some and not others. Sometimes we don’t feel worthy, or we fear rejection. Sometimes we’re afraid of being vulnerable or feeling too exposed to criticism. Sometimes it is just too hard given what we may be going through. And society reinforces separation, with admonitions like: don’t talk to strangers, mind your own business, live and let live.

So, here’s a thought… have you ever turned out the lights and Lightning_in_Zdolbunivsat in the darkness to watch a thunderstorm? When you do that, if you have to get up to get something you wait until the lightning flashes, look for where things are and then you are able to move a little ways by memory before perhaps waiting for lightning to flash again. Maimonides said,“We are like someone in a very dark night over whom lightning flashes again and again.”

Jesus gave us the example of what a life full of God is like, what a life consistently shining light looks like, and I think it is something to work toward in our spiritual lives. But, we’re all probably a bit more like lightning than the sun. We have flashes of wholeness, wisdom, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, insight, love.

In those moments of wholeness, of Christ-ness, we not only offer light to others, but what we see in that moment stays with us when darkness descends again. Hopefully over time we can bring more and more of what we see in the times of light back with us to inform our journey through the dark until we experience another moment of wholeness. And perhaps over time our flashes of light become more frequent and last longer, shining more light into the world.

Love & Light!

Kaye

The Cosmic Christ

It’s time we move beyond the ancient cosmology to a new one that tells the story of the explosion that created all the energy and particles known to exist anywhere. It’s time to embrace the concept that we are created of the energy and matter there at the beginning. And that energy, present in everything is what we call the Divine Essence, Source, Spirit, God, Goddess, Ground of our Being. Yes, we are all star dust, but we’ve forgotten.

(For the full video version, click here.)

All we have to do is look around us to see that the world is out of balance. We’re a top spinning drunkenly until someday we’ll simply stop. It seems like all of our issues – from global warming to suicide bombers to an opiate crisis – stem from one problem.

We’ve forgotten that we’re all connected.

Theologians like Matthew Fox, believe embracing the Cosmic Christ cosmoscould help to change this. He says,

The premise of the Cosmic Christ is that it is an archetype of the human-divine connection linking all things together.

Last week we talked about the difference between the pre-Easter Jesus and the Post-Easter Jesus. The pre-Easter Jesus, or historical person of Jesus who walked the earth for 30 years was a finite, deeply spiritual Jewish man. The post-Easter Jesus (Jesus as he has come to be known in the decades and centuries after his death) was divine, one with God, infinite and eternal, and was addressed as Lord, Savior, King, Prince of Peace, Son of God.

While all of this perhaps helps us to understand the evolution of the experience of Jesus and the images, metaphors, and symbols used to describe that experience, it stops short of the step we need to take in order to bring harmony and unity to creation.

The pre- and post-Easter Jesus concept still leaves us with a dualistic understanding between body and spirit, between humanity and divinity, between Jesus and us.

Richard Rohr says, “Christians formally believed that somehow Jesus was “fully human and fully divine” at the same time. But with dualistic thinking, the best most of us could do was to see ourselves as only human and Jesus, for all practical purposes, as only divine. We thus missed the whole point, which was to put the two together in him and then dare to discover the same mystery in ourselves and in all of creation!”

The theology of the Cosmic Christ says that the oneness Jesus achieved with the divine which transcended death, was not unique to him. He wasn’t meant to be the one and only who could achieve this connection with God. He was to be the model, the example, the blueprint, for how everyone could connect to God.

Over and over again in scripture are references to Christ as the one who was not only in the beginning before all things, but in whom all was brought to life, in whom all still exists, and in whom all things are held together.

Separation seems to be our greatest challenge in our age. We perpetuate a separation from others as we assert our individuality and independence, have taken “don’t talk to strangers” to the nth degree, communicate via text and email instead face-to-face. And we are more separated from nature than in any other time in history.  We simply go to the grocery store for all our food, instead of growing it ourselves, and we stay inside when it is too hot or too cold. What we need something to remind us that separation is the illusion and that oneness is the reality.

In his book, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, Matthew Fox tells the story of astronaut Rusty Schweikert:

During the Apollo mission in 1969, astronaut Rusty Schweikert was let out of the capsule on an umbilical cord… Just as he emerged from the capsule, something went wrong within the capsule… and this left Rusty all alone floating around Mother Earth in complete cosmic silence. During this time he had two profound conversion experiences [or awakenings]. He looked back on Mother Earth, “a shining gem against a totally black backdrop,” and realized everything he cherished was on that gem – his family and land, music, and human history with its folly and its grandeur; he was so overcome that he wanted to “hug and kiss that gem like a mother does her firstborn child.” Trained as a jet fighter pilot, he was a typical “macho man,” but a breakthrough of his own powers of maternity came washing over him at that moment in space… Schweikert’s second awakening in space was a political one. He was a red, white, and blue American who believed what he had always been taught – that the world is divided between the “communist world and the free world.” Yet, while floating around Mother Earth he saw that the rivers flowed indiscriminately between Russia and Europe; that ocean currents served communist, socialist, and capitalist nations alike; that clouds did not stop at borders to test for political ideology; and that there are no nations. Nations exist in the mind of the human race alone… Interdependence is what really exists.”

On returning home, Rusty wandered around in a fog for six months, bumping into walls while continuing to ask himself: “Why did God do this to me?” Finally, he concluded that God did this through him so that others might hear the message: compassion, interdependence, shared beauty, oneness.

This was a Cosmic Christ experience.

It’s hard to get past “Christ” as being a name/title for Jesus alone, but what if we started to think of “Christ” as the state we reach when we’ve achieved wholeness – an awareness of the unity that exists between ourselves, the Divine Essence and all things?

What if we understood that being Christ transcends all religions?

What if we understood that being Christ transcends all divisions?

What if we understood this as the pinnacle of the spiritual journey, the goal we seek?

We were not to stand apart from Jesus as observers and say, “wow, look at what he can do!” We were to be participants, true learners of the way to wholeness. And when he said “follow me” it didn’t just mean “hey, I’m going to Galilee, why don’t you come along.” It meant “follow my example, do what I do so that you may experience the kingdom of God, the oneness that exists even if you can’t see it.”

Perhaps we’ve stopped short of believing that we are all capable of the relationship Jesus had with God because it’s much easier to believe that Jesus was unusual and far advanced or beyond our meager capabilities, than to do the work to achieve what he achieved.

It’s never too late to start, though, by practicing mindfulness and opening ourselves to awe and wonder, by a tweak of our perspectives so that we aren’t observers walking through the world, but participants in a huge eco-spiritual-system. It’s never to late to practice compassion and empathy, to learn to walk a mile in another’s shoes before judging. It’s never too late to awaken to the Cosmic Christ – the divine/human/creation connection – within each of us.

Love & Light!

Kaye

The Post-Easter Jesus

Almost 20 years ago my then-father-in-law passed away of lung cancer. We went to the funeral and afterwards my then-husband turned to me and said, “That was a great message for a really amazing man, it’s too bad I don’t recognize him.” While his dad was a brilliant engineer, a faithful Catholic, and basically a good guy, he still had some serious personal issues that had a detrimental effect on the family, and that part was simply ignored. Perhaps this is simply a common practice with funeral sermons that we wax poetic about the person who died and just pretend all their faults and foibles never existed. The end result is a pre-death view of the person which includes all their faults, failings, idiosyncrasies and baggage, and a post-death view of the person in which they are essentially perfect.

(For the full video version, click here.)

I think the same thing essentially happened to Jesus. Sometimes I wonder if Jesus knew what’s been said and written about him in the last 2,000 years, if he wouldn’t just shake his head and wonder who everyone is really talking about.

One of the things we’re taught in seminary is that there is a difference between the person of Jesus who walked this earth for about 30 years and the Jesus as he has come to be known in the decades and centuries after his death and resurrection.

Many scholars have worked diligently to try and recreate the human Jesus of history by asking difficult questions:

  • Who was the man from Nazareth? What did he look like? Who was his family?
  • What was he really like? What did he really say?
  • Why did he do what he did?
  • How did he come to draw such crowds?
  • What was it about him that created a movement that wouldn’t die when he did?

Theologian and scholar Marcus Borg calls him the pre-Easter Jesus. He was flesh and blood, a Jew through and through who lived for a finite period of time. He had a profession before his ministry, he had a family, he put his shoes on one at a time like everyone else. He ate, drank, felt love, frustration, laughed, and wept. In addition, this pre-Easter Jesus was a very spiritual person and had a deep, mystical connection with the Divine. He was also a social prophet and a wisdom teacher.

In his book Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, Borg states, “Beginning with Easter, the early movement continued to experience Jesus as a living reality after his death, but in a radically new way.”  After his death, they experienced Jesus as not bound by time and space but infinite and eternal, and as a spiritual reality who was one with God and who had all of the powers and qualities of God. After his death, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other women, to the disciples and even to a crowd of 500, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians. He talked with people without being recognized, passed through closed and locked doors, and ascended into the sky.

This new image and experience of Jesus has been called the Christ of faith, or as Borg calls him, the post-Easter Jesus. This post-Easter Jesus is who Jesus came to be in the developost-easter Jesus 3ping Christian tradition. This post-Easter Jesus was developed through the end of the first century as the gospels were written (aka the Canonical Jesus), and continued to be developed even through the 4th and 5th centuries when the creeds were written (aka the Creedal Jesus).

In the Nicene Creed, composed in 325 CE, Jesus became fully divine and fully human (“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God… was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.”)

In essence, the pre-Easter Jesus was not divine and the post-Easter Jesus was experienced as divine. However, the pre-Easter Jesus and the post-Easter Jesus were merged together in the scriptures, and, over the years, were also merged together in our prayers, hymns, and doctrine.

Borg uses the example of archaeology. When one excavates an archaeological site, one documents what is found in each layer of soil, knowing that the deeper one goes, the older the things that are found. Similarly, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all contain stories about Jesus from different times and different understandings. Some of the material in the gospels goes back to “Jesus as a figure of history, and some is the product of the communities themselves in the decades after Easter. They contain early layers and later layers.” Borg, in his book, The God We Never Knew, explains that it is the community’s memory of the historical Jesus over-layered with their experience of, and testimony to, the post-Easter Jesus.

Without even knowing it, most of us have just mushed all the images together. In the same way we merge the two different birth narratives (wise men, stars, and Egypt of Matthew, merged with shepherds and angel choirs of Luke).

Personally, I am apt to want to separate the pre- and post-Easter Jesus, but that task becomes next to impossible as they are as well mixed as spaghetti and sauce. At the end of the day, the Christian tradition includes both the pre- and post-Easter Jesus. Both are a disclosure of God.

The pre-Easter Jesus discloses a compassionate God who can be known outside of the religious institution. Relationship with this God is not dependent upon meeting requirements or following laws. And this God was concerned with the poor and the outcast.

Since the post-Easter Jesus understanding was that God and Jesus were one, we now have a story of God with humanity… God with us. The disclosure of the post-Easter Jesus was that the compassion of Jesus was the compassion of God, the forgiveness of Jesus was the forgiveness of God, and Jesus’ desire for liberation from oppression was truly God’s desire for humanity.

There is actually no need to choose between them. And, in fact, if we can affirm both of them our understanding of the significance of Jesus will be richer. God can be known through the historical and the post-Easter Jesus, as both reveal the nature of God. Both point to the Divine.

I find that I fall out much in the same place as Borg. I believe in a Spiritual Essence/Energy at the heart of all things. I believe that our spiritual journey has nothing to do with believing in a certain understanding of God, or believing in the Bible, or believing in the Christian tradition. Borg says “…the Christian life is about entering into a relationship with that to which the Christian tradition points, which may be spoken of as God, the risen living Christ, or the Spirit.”

Love & Light!

Kaye

The Day Love Wins

(An Easter message – for the full video version, click here.)

Friday, the day the world won, we mourned the death of Jesus.

But it is two days later, and what the world didn’t count on was that killing one person would not kill the movement.

They killed Jesus; executed him as a threat, a seditionist against Rome. They probably celebrated that night. He was out of their hair. The Jewish hierarchy and the Roman government could rest easy for a little bit.

But death could not contain love.

Believe what you want about the resurrection (did it really happen, did his body come back to life, was it his spirit, was it a vision?) – I don’t really care – what I know is that a number of those remaining had such a hugely significant experience of Jesus after his death that they believed he was risen in some way, shape or form, and they continued to preach, heal, baptize, and teach in his name. Even when people didn’t believe them, even when families disowned them, even when death threatened them, even when Rome and the Jews persecuted them, even when some of them were killed for their beliefs, they did not give in. It’s possible I have a really weak constitution, but I’d have to experience something really, really significant to go to my death for it.

Ultimately, I believe that his physical death could not kill the power of his love. The love of God.

The Romans and the Jewish hierarchy didn’t count on that.

While Friday we mourned, today we celebrate the power of love to continue even after death so that the movement Jesus began did not die. And so today is the day that Love wins. It is the day that hope blooms again.

Truly, love has won many days.

Friday, we contemplated the many times the systems of power and greed in this world have won. Over and over again throughout history, and no less today, we’ve seen the world squash the underdog, the different, the marginalized, the lower economic brackets. Over and over we’ve seen people of faith and people of compassion imprisoned and killed for living their faith and their convictions, and standing prophetically against the powers that be.

But, while many civil rights activists have been killed over the years, their movements have not died, someone else has picked up the mantle of love – love for the poor, the marginalized, the environment, the children, the women, the refugee, LGBTQIA folks, the animals, the land.

Killing HAS NOT STOPPED LOVE from seeking justice and equality.

Once upon a time, some disciples begged their old and ailing master not to die.

“But if I do not go, how will you ever see?” the Master said to them. 100_1448“But what is it we can possibly see when you are gone?” With a twinkle in his eye, the Master answered, “All I ever did in my entire life was to sit on the riverbank handing out river water. After I’m gone, I trust that you will notice the river.”

The river water that Jesus handed out was LOVE. Here have some love, have some God. God is love. Notice love. Take love inside you, share it with others. Be love. This is the resurrection over and over again, the appearance of love in our world. Love that will not let greed, anger, hatred, or power win.

Joan Chittester has said, “We must become the love that God is.”

When children are shot in our schools… we must become the love that God is.

When violence leaves millions of people homeless…we must become the love that God is.

When despair and depression turn people to drugs and alcohol… we must become the love that God is.

When the city we live in is the fourth worst city in the nation for black people to live in… we must become the love that God is.

When over 55% of the students in Racine Unified receive free lunches… we must become the love that God is.

When we take up the mantle of love, when we become the love that God is… then resurrection happens.  Then  every day is the day love wins.

Love & Light!

Kaye

The Day the World Won

I often get frustrated, if not downright angry, when I read the signs outside churches.  One here in town recently read: “Jesus died to offer the gift of salvation… have you accepted it yet?”

The worst part of this message is the suggestion that God asks for, maybe even demands, a human death to make right again the relationship between humans and God, to “offer us the gift of salvation,” “to save us” from our sins and make us fit for heaven.

And there is a stipulation. Not only did Jesus HAVE to die, but we humans have to ACCEPT that he died to save us from our sins in order for it to work. Really?

The other piece of this that really fries my bacon… is that if you read any history of the time, you know that insurrectionists, seditionists, and rebels against the government were the ones who were sentenced to crucifixion. Thousands of them. The only reason Jesus would have been crucified was because he was a threat to the Roman regime. If it had just been blasphemy against God, then the Jews would have simply stoned him to death like they did to the disciple Stephen in Acts 7.

Jesus was a good guy, a compassionate guy. He broke the rules that seemedcross unfair or unreasonable. He cared about the poor, the outcast, the lost. He had little patience with the BS from the temple hierarchy who cared more about their money and standing than they did the people. He treated women with respect. And so much more.

So, here’s this good guy taking on two giant institutional systems – Rome and the Temple – to try to make life better for his people because his belief or relationship with God meant he could not divorce himself from what was happening in the world and to the people around him. Because we see the manifestation of the Divine in his actions we, and the people who lined the streets on Palm Sunday, believed he had God on his side. But they killed him. On this day some two thousand-ish years ago the world and its systems of greed and power won.

And we mourn. Not just the loss of a prophet, revolutionary, visionary, and amazing human being. We mourn the loss of hope for the people – hope for a fair system of governance, hope for more inclusion and equality in life and in religion, hope for a religion filled not just with rules to follow, but spiritual sustenance and a connection to the Divine within.

The other thing we mourn is that this cycle continues to happen. Over and over again in history we watch the world win. We see the systems of power and greed trounce on the underdog, the different, the marginalized, the lower economic brackets. Over and over we’ve seen people of faith and people of compassion imprisoned and killed for living their faith and their convictions, and standing prophetically against the powers that be.

The world won the day Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.

The world won the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

The world won when Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.

The world won when Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were arrested.

The world won when Harvey Milk was killed.

The world won when Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated.

As I started to look into this a bit more, I discovered that the” crucified” people are still there, in great numbers. Sometimes we see them on TV, but in reality they don’t get much attention. I’m sad to say I was shocked at the number of people who have been killed recently for their advocacy for civil rights and the environment. People we never hear about.

  • According to Global Witness, between 2002 and 2013 an incredible 908 people in 35 countries were murdered for trying to defend the environment.
  • A record number of 200 environmental activists were killed in 2016 while protesting against companies’ mining, logging and agribusiness activities, a report by Global Witness has found.
  • The Association for Women’s Rights in Development has compiled a list of over 350 women human rights defenders in over 80 countries who have been killed since 2012 because they stood up for a multitude of causes. They were community leaders, journalists, mothers and victims who spoke out for land rights for people, for women’s rights, to save the environment, against human trafficking, for LGBT rights, against huge scale mining and so much more.

And I’m sure there are many more.

Over and over again the world has won.

And we mourn, because with each death a beautiful human being, with a beautiful vision for our world dies.

We mourn tonight for Jesus, for his disciples, for their pain and lost hopes and vision.

We mourn tonight for all the prophets, leaders, and visionaries who have been silenced by violence.

We mourn for everything our world has lost in the name of money and power and religion.

And we ask ourselves… where will we choose to stand?  Will we risk to stand for love? Will we risk to stand for peace? Will we risk to stand for life, in all its variety and diversity?

Shalom,

Kaye

Palm Sunday Prophecy

NOTE: In an attempt to convey the oppressive nature of the times, as well as the incredible hope that blossoms (albeit briefly) when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, I chose to preach in character, as the next door neighbor to Jesus and his family. Below is the draft of what I hoped to say! Preaching from memory means it always turns out differently, so I encourage you to watch the video to get the full impact: 

 

My name is Miriam Ruth… Miriam for my mother’s mother and Ruth for my father’s mother. I’ve seen a lot in my 48 years, and much of it hasn’t been so good, but my hopes are high today! Perhaps before I die I’ll see a new day dawn here in Jerusalem for my people. I can hope anyway.

You’re not from around here though, are you? So a lot of this probably doesn’t make any sense. Do you have a few minutes? Let me tell you how we got here and what happened today, and maybe you’ll see why I’m so hopeful.

I was born in a little tiny village called Nazareth, which is about 100 miles north of here (it took us about 7 days to travel here for this Passover festival!) Anyway, Nazareth is one of those towns where everyone knows everyone because there are only about 100 families living there. And none of us are wealthy, we don’t have a school, and the closest thing we come to a synagogue is a small room in Rebe’s house. All of our homes are small and made of stone, none of the rest of us had any room, but he lost his wife and his kids moved away so there you have it. “Peasant class” they call us, which makes us sound stupid and lazy, but we’re anything but. We work hard. My parents were farmers and so are my husband and I, my sister makes bread, my brother does some stone work, my other brother is a shepherd outside of town.  We struggle to make ends meet and pay our taxes (they call it tribute – ha! – to Rome) so they don’t take what little land we have.

My parents, struggled their entire lives, as I have, and my children have, and my grandchildren will unless something changes – oh, how I pray for a better world for them.

About the time my parents were born, Rome appointed a client-king by the name of Herod to take the city of Jerusalem back, as it had fallen into rebel and Parsian hands. So, King Herod (they called him Herod the Great, but they should have called him Herod the Horrible), marched to Jerusalem with a massive Roman army, took over the city, and pretty much wiped out any remaining Jewish resisters against Rome.

Still, it wasn’t enough for Herod to have political power, so he massacred nearly every member of the Sanhedrin (which is our Jewish high council – priests and elders) and replaced the temple priests with admirers who purchased their seats from him. From that time on our religious leaders have all been in the coin purse of Rome (so-to-speak). They claim to serve the people, but they take part of our offerings (which are required by Jewish law to atone for our sins and support the Temple) and give a good portion to Rome, and then keep a good portion for themselves. All you have to do is look at the houses they live in – big and fancy with servants. They care nothing at all that the rest of their people are practically starving.

With the priests sold-out we have no political power, no one to stand up for us. If we can’t trust them to be our political leaders, how can we trust them to be our religious leaders? This temple now is like a hideout for crooks who rob from their own people! And what can we do? To try to stop them would bring the power of Rome down upon us. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In some ways Herod wasn’t all bad. He did usher in an era of stability, but he did it on the backs of the people. He initiated huge public works projects that employed tens of thousands of people to build markets, theaters, palaces and ports (all modeled after the classic Greek style). I can remember my father and older brothers traveling to the nearby city of Sepphoris to work, or deliver what little food we had raised. I saw Sepphoris once when I was a child. It was amazing – roads of polished stone, huge homes, beautiful aqueducts for large public baths and latrines. There were colorful mosaics painted on the walls, and a theater. Of course, to pay for all this he imposed crushing taxes upon all of us, and sent a hefty part of that to Rome to keep his position. We hardly had any money to survive on.

One thing we thought would be wonderful was when Herod, who was a Jew (if you can really call him that because he actually converted to Judaism) rebuilt our Temple in Jerusalem. But then he crowned it with a golden eagle – a sign of Roman dominion – and forced his handpicked high priest to offer two sacrifices a day for Caesar Augustus, the so-called “Son of God.” It was infuriating, but again, what could we do?

I was 18 when Herod died. In some ways we were grateful that his oppressive reign was over, but the uprisings that began were terrifying. Many Jews who had felt so angry and oppressed during his kingship began to take out their anger on the wealthy who had benefited from their “relationship” with Rome. A few rebels called themselves the messiah, and we hoped that they would usher in a time of peace and abundance. One was a huge man named Simon who crowned himself messiah and rallied a group of bandits to plunder the royal palaces at Jericho… but he was beheaded. Then there was a poor shepherd boy named Athronges, who put a crown upon his head and gathered a small group to attack the Roman troops (fool)… he was executed, too. Those are the only ones I remember, but there were many people who rose up, and much bloodshed. That in and of itself was awful, but with Herod gone, so were his massive building projects and unemployment escalated to a point of desperation for many.

So, life continued to get worse with the death of Herod, and this was about the time I was trying to raise my four children and keep them safe! It seemed that every day there were new and scarier groups of bandits roaming Galilee. Not only did they want political freedom from Rome, but these men were filled with religious fervor… they believed they were facing down Rome as a religious obligation and they wanted everyone else to do the same.

Eventually the emperor sent in troops who squashed the rebellion, destroyed the city of Sepphoris as retribution for the rebellions, auctioned the women and children off as slaves and crucified more than two thousand rebels and sympathizers. And we were only four miles away! People were fleeing through our town and Roman soldiers followed hunting them down. I was so afraid they would take us as well. We often hid with Mary and her husband Joseph, who lived next door, with their children. Their son Jesus was the same age as my Samuel… 10. A few years more and they would be drawn into the fighting. I hoped and prayed it would end.

Well, long story short, Herod’s son, Antipas, took over the area and decided to rebuild Sepphoris better than it was. The timing was good as Jesus and Samuel were able to travel there during the week to work. But, truly, Antipas was his father’s son, and not much changed. The rich got richer, and us poor got poorer. The priests have remained under the thumb of Rome. We’ve had no voice. And every time some young man has tried to bring about change, he has been crucified as soon as it appeared that he might be a threat to Rome.

Today I don’t know whether to be scared to death, or excited beyond belief.

A few years back, Jesus – Mary & Joesph’s son – started preaching. I always knew he was a smart boy and very interested in religion. Not all young boys like to sit for hours to listen to the men debate and argue the scriptures. But Jesus had been like that.

Anyway, as the stories of his preaching got back to us, we started to wonder if he wasn’t going a bit too far. Did you know that he healed someone on the Sabbath? That is against the law!  And he forgave someone else’s sins? And only the high priest can forgive sin… after you’ve presented an offering and said the right prayers! He has preached that the poor will be blessed, the meek will inherit the earth, the last shall be first and the first shall be last. And they’ve been calling him the messiah, and Son of God (that’s what they call Caesar!), and Son of Man (like they did with Ezekiel and Daniel). His mother and I have been so worried, but what could we do?

You know, we haven’t been able to come to Jerusalem palmsfor Passover in a few years (it is just too expensive). We sent the men, of course, but Mary and I stayed home with our daughters and granddaughters. But this year we heard that Jesus would be entering the city on a donkey! Oh, how we wanted to see this. That meant he really is anointed by God and our new king. He really was the messiah we’ve been waiting for! When we got here there were thousands and thousands of people. And when Jesus started down from the Mt. of Olives on a baby donkey, just like King Jehu did in the scriptures, they all started cheering, waving palm branches and laying their cloaks on the road. It brought tears to my eyes. “Hosanna! Save us! Hosanna to the King!” we shouted.

The Roman soldiers were there, but what could they do? There were too many of us!

Jesus rode into Jerusalem and directly into the Temple and turned over the tables of the money-changers!  You know there is really nothing wrong with them being there, but I think Jesus did what all of us have wanted to do for so long… let them know that we’re tired of them robbing from us! We’re tired of the priests hiding behind their holy masks and pretending to care for us when all they really care about is their money and their homes and their standing with Rome. They don’t care about God or us at all! The Temple is exactly what Jesus said… it is a den, a hideout, for robbers!

I don’t know what happens now. The whole city is talking about it. But I’m sure the high priests are angry. And I’m sure Pilate  – the Jew hating, cold-hearted Roman governor – is angry.

This may sound a little silly, but remember I’ve known Jesus since he was born… all I want to do right now is find him and tell him how proud I am of him. He is a true prophet who doesn’t just reassure us of God’s presence, but calls us to stand up against what is wrong, to stand up against oppression, to seek liberation not just for our souls, but for our lives, and for our children and our children’s children.

Oh, there is his mother, Mary, waving to me to come, perhaps she has found him. I must go, but pray for him and pray for all of us. Hosanna!

 

 

Prayer: Words or Heart?

As far as I’m concerned, prayer is one of the hardest topics to discuss. Before I begin, let me be clear that I honor wherever you are with prayer, as I’ve probably been there myself. Having said that, I am in a different place with prayer than I’ve ever been before and it is not easy to share because it flies in the face of much of what traditional Christianity has said about prayer. So, this is where I am in my journey with prayer today. If it doesn’t make sense or fit for you, just ignore me.

(For the full video version, click here.)

I have a confession to make… I’ve always wanted to be someoneprayer1 who prays well and diligently, but I’m not. Whenever I’ve been with a family that diligently prays before every meal, I’d inwardly cringe at myself and feel shame that I didn’t institute prayers at mealtime with the family. Nor have I ever said prayers with my kids before bed. Two black marks against the pastor right there.

Professionally I’ve tried to be the praying pastor I was supposed to be. I’ve led hundreds of prayers over the last 20 or so years, participated in prayer vigils, sat in sanctuaries and talked to God, prayed at bedsides, blessed babies, animals, homes, motorcycles, and communion elements. But the traditional form of prayer as supplication or intercession has always felt awkward and not quite right…

I’ve tried, but I’ve had many experiences with prayer over the years that have caused me to question and doubt. Let me share just a few.

At 17 when my mom was dying of breast cancer, I prayed for God to take her, just let her die, because she was in so much pain. She passed away later that day. Because I prayed it, or just because it was time?

At the young age of 24 my then-brother-in-law got very ill and went into respiratory failure. I sat in the waiting room of a hospital praying the rosary out loud with my former Catholic in-laws for Pat to live and be healed. But Pat had severe brain damage and lived the rest of his life, another 20 years, in a basically vegetative state. Was that God keeping him alive because of the prayers? Did we condemn him to that? Or was God not answering? Or was that just how things happened?

Fast forward a number of years when I was asked to lead a small, private prayer service for a young mother who was dying of cancer. I wanted to give her all the support and care that I could, and so of course I agreed. But part of me felt like this was setting her up for disappointment and I felt like a fraud doing it… I didn’t have healing powers, nor a magic wand, and the God I knew wasn’t a magic genie granting wishes. However I hoped and prayed I was wrong, perhaps God could be swayed by words and touch, and a miracle would happen. But she died anyway.  Was it because I didn’t have enough faith? Did I fail? As far as I could tell she was a good woman who did everything right…where was God?

Bishop John Shelby Spong tells a story in his book, Why Christianity Should Change or Die, about how his wife Joan was diagnosed with cancer in 1981. It was mostly likely to be fatal. Because he was such a public figure the news spread to all the churches in the diocese, as well as to the media. People everywhere began to pray for her in prayer circles and in worship services. Care and concern and love were given to them through these actions. Remission was achieved for a time and she lived 6 and a half years before she died. As that prolonged remission became evident people began to take credit. “Our prayers are working.” Spong said that despite the gratitude he felt for the caring that people showed, he struggled with their explanations. What if, he wondered to himself, a sanitation working in Newark, NJ, had a wife with the same diagnosis? And because he was not a high-profile person, with a large social network of people, socially prominent or covered by the press, his wife never comes to the public’s attention. Perhaps he’s not religiously oriented, or is quiet about his faith, and her illness never comes to the attention of hundreds of petitions and churches? Would she live a shorter time? Endure more pain? Would God be responsible for this because of God’s capricious nature to only help those well-connected, socially elite, high status folks? Was that the type of behavior he wanted to attribute to God? The answer was “no.”

In Matthew 6:5-15, Jesus instructed the people on how to pray, and a slightly altered version of this prayer has become the standard, go-to prayer for millions of Christians throughout the centuries. But the world, science, and theology have evolved and we’re not those people. For me and perhaps for many of us, the words to this prayer (while familiar and maybe even comfortable) don’t really fit our understanding of God anymore, especially if we’ve moved beyond a theistic God – a being that resides apart from us watching over everything.

The Lord’s Prayer hearkens back to a time when God was male residing in the clouds (heaven) far removed from humanity. This God delighted in hearing how sacred “his” name was, and “he” judged who would be worthy of having their prayers answered based on their sacrificial offerings, their adherence to the religious law, and the quality of their prayers.

Basically, none of these things work for me.

Do I want God to be a magic genie in the sky granting my every wish? Absolutely.

Do I want God to give me preferential treatment for being a pastor ? Heck yes!

Have I found it to work that way? Nope.

Now, the other thing I notice about this passage on prayer, as well as the passage preceding it about charity, and the passage following it about fasting, is that Jesus is very clear that it isn’t about making sure everyone else knows you’re giving, or praying, or fasting. He says all those folks who did those things in public already got their reward… they received recognition and a boost to their ego. But for those of you who aren’t trying to prove how pious you are, but are simply giving out of the goodness of your heart, or praying a simple prayer of connection, or fasting as a spiritual discipline, you will receive an internal reward. Your souls will know a deeper connection to all of life.

Joan Chittester, in her book In the Heart of the Temple, says “When we are young religious, we “say” our prayers. When we get older in the religious life, we “go to prayer.” But when we begin to see prayer as the undergirding of life, the pulse of the universe in the center of the soul, we become a prayer. First, as Gandhi says, we have words and no heart; finally, we grow into a heart without words.”

I believe that the intention of prayer is to connect to the flow of energy we know of as God, the Divine, Ground of Being, Essence, Spirit, Goddess (whatever you want to call it). Jesus seemed to be intimately connected to God on a fairly consistent basis. And that connection manifested in his teaching, his compassion, his love, the way he included and brought hope to the outcast and marginalized, the way he confronted the religious and political powers-that-be in bring freedom from oppression. If prayer is connection with God and we see his connection in all these ways, then prayer is much more than words. Prayer is how we live.

Becoming prayer… being a heart with no words… is about being a living prayer. When we show compassion to another we are connected to God and are a living prayer. When we bring the light of hope and positive thinking into someone’s life, we are connected to God and are a living prayer. When we stand up for the underdog, the bullied, the outcast, the rejected, we experience God and are a living prayer. And when we open ourselves to receiving love, compassion, generosity from others we participate are a living prayer. Perhaps this is what to “Pray without ceasing” means in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

Spong says, “We are to live as if everything we say and do is a prayer, calling others to life, to love, and to being.”

So, I haven’t stopped praying, instead I’m trying to live prayer… and I’m better at it sometimes than others. Sometimes I fail miserably. Sometimes I’m humbled by the prayer that others live.

Know that I still trust in a mysterious flow in the universe that connects us, and brings what we consider to be synchronicities into our lives. And, yes, I pray for many people, I just do it a little different than may be expected. When I pray I simply open my heart and without words hold others in light and love.

Love & Light!

Kaye

Work: sanctity or suffering?

work guyThe Bible seems to have two conflicting viewpoints on work. In Genesis 3:16-19 God punishes Adam and Eve because of their little transgression in the Garden of Eden. God tells Eve that her pain in childbirth would be greatly increased and that she would be subjugated by men. And God tells Adam that he was now destined to painstakingly labor on the land which would yield thistles and thorns. Only through hard labor and toil would there be bread to eat. Work would merely be suffering and punishment for their disobedience.

(For the full video version, click here.)

Then Paul, in his letter to the Colossians 3:22-23, puts a new spin on work. He says, “Do whatever you do from the heart. You are working for Christ, not for people.” It makes work sound like a holy enterprise.

That’s an interesting dichotomy. Work as suffering or sanctity… which is it?

Think for a moment about the work you do (and if you are retired then this includes volunteer work, taking care of the house, or caring for grandkids, or hobbies – however you define it for yourself). Now, do you feel that there a sanctity to that work – a sacredness, a holiness – or not? What is it about the job that brings a sense of the sacredness to the work? Perhaps it is one of the following:

  • Gives value to life
  • Gives meaning to life
  • Help others
  • Grow self
  • A way to give ourselves to the world
  • Fulfilling
  • A place to feel connected, a place to belong and build community
  • Empowering to support oneself, to be responsible
  • A gift to the future.

According to a survey of the Center for Ethics and Corporate Policy, most Americans believe “that their work is very important to their spirituality…”And Joan Chittester, in her book The Heart of the Temple, also concurs that “work is holy,” we’ve just lost sight of that in a culture and society where the worker is valued less and less, wages don’t keep up with inflation and the cost of living, there is no company loyalty, age and experience are no longer valued, more and more jobs are shipped overseas, and the worker is a commodity, not a human being. It appears that the corporation certainly doesn’t see work as a holy endeavor.

But can we?

We’ve often heard that you need to follow your passion in order to feel a spiritual connection in what you do, but that probably leaves out the majority of workers and denies them any spiritual value in working.

What if what we do has less to do with our feeling of the sanctity of work than how we do the job and how we think about the job?

If the Divine continues to work and create in and through us in this world, then we are co-creators with God in whatever we do. And then, in just about every job, it is possible to see the bigger picture of how we are co-creators, how what we do serves a higher purpose and has spiritual value.

When John F. Kennedy’s visited NASA and saw a janitor mopping up the floor, JFK asked him what his job was at NASA and the gentleman said, “I’m helping send a man to the moon.”

In another story, a traveler came upon three men working. He asked the first man what he was doing and the man said he was laying bricks. He asked the second man the same question and he said he was putting up a wall. When he got to the third man and asked him what he was doing he said he was building a cathedral.

Seeing our jobs as creative endeavors that serve humanity can change how we look at them, and consequently bring even more purpose and value to them.

So if you are a truck driver hauling salt… you are working to keep people safe on the roads.

If you are a teacher… you are shaping future generations.

If you keep a home that is beautiful, well-cared for… you are nourishing the people who live and gather there.

If you are a realtor… you are helping people fulfill dreams and build families

If you are a healthcare professional… you are keeping people healthy.

If you are an artist… you challenge humanity with new perspectives and/or lift people up with art that is aesthetically pleasing.

I could go on and on…

My point is, if we begin to acknowledge our work as sacred – in the sense that we are co-creators with God to help humanity – then I think that changes how we feel about work, the energy we put into work, and the way we treat people we work with. Work is not simply a means to make money, it connects us to other human beings, is an exercise in love, and feeds our souls.

There is a story about a master woodcarver who was commissioned by a Prince to carve a bell stand, a task that probably carried the weight of his life should he fail. The stand he carves is so beautiful that people claim it was made by the spirits. But the woodcarver insists that he is merely a workman with no secret to what he did. But we can see in his approach that he treats his task as a holy task.

You see, as the woodcarver pondered his task, he deliberately kept his spirit from getting caught up in the storms and temptations that surrounded the task. His process was to fast to quiet his heart and soul. It took three days of fasting to forget about gain and success. Five days of fasting to forget about praise and criticism. Seven days of fasting to forget about his body and move into the mind of the soul. By then all thought of the Prince had vanished.

Only then, in a place of connection with his heart and true self, and therefore in connection with the Divine, did he seek the right tree for the bell stand knowing that he would know it when he saw it. With eyes to see, the right tree appeared, and the bell stand appeared within it. He seemed, at a spiritual level to become one with the wood and then he used his skill to draw forth the bell stand that was ascribed to the spirits.

In some ways this story may feel out of reach. Who of us has the luxury to take 7 days to get our hearts right before starting a task? And clearly the heart and soul is very unruly for it to take that long! He seemed pretty disciplined, I think it might take me a month!

Still, I think the message is important. For us to work at a level of true self, in connection with “the truth as it is” (God) we need to forget a whole bunch of things:

  • Pleasing others
  • What we’ll get out of it
  • Fear of failing
  • Being praised or criticized

My sermons come easiest when my heart has moved beyond these things. When I’ve become one with the process and the flow of thought.

Gardening, or painting, or working through a problem all goes better when my heart has forgotten the distractions that can trap us. Teaching or helping others or designing things or working with animals… they all got better when we move into a clean space of being, uncluttered by the things that distract the mind.

I think this is what Paul was getting at: “Workers, work diligently in everything you do – not only to win favor, but wholeheartedly and reverently, out of respect for Christ. Do whatever you do from the heart. You are working for Christ, not for people.

Christ is an energy, a presence within each of us… work for that, work from your heart, because all work is holy.

Lenten Blessings,

Kaye