thank You, Lord

A personal reflection and prayerful meditation based on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5.1-12) on Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2017.

The Sermon of the Beatitudes (La sermon des béatitudes) (1886), James Tissot (1836-1902)

This day, O God, I give You all praise and thanks that, through (yea, only through) the prevailing power of Your Spirit, I, day by day, more and more, know myself to be:

Poor in spirit, accepting (finally!) all that I am – my strengths and weaknesses, my wealth and want – and, in my acceptance, believing, knowing that I am not (never!) in control, and believing, knowing that You are God and I am not (ever!).

Mournful. Not melancholy, bemoaning all things (though, You know, O God, that I am a practiced, even professional complainer!), but rather caring for others; even more, knowing how much and often that I, in my brokenness, grieve others; still more, knowing how much and often I need forgiveness.

Meek; not spineless, but courageous with righteous anger, O God, about all hatred and injustice that grieves Your Spirit.

Hungry and thirsty for righteousness; insatiably desiring right relationship with You, O God, and all others You have made, including myself.

Merciful; settling for no safe-distance-sympathy and suffering no passing-moment-pity, but rather being responsible, response-able to others, striving to see through their eyes, seeking to be as they are, even, especially those most unlike me.

Pure of heart; single in purpose; wanting, willing one thing: to see You, to know You, beholding Your ever-unfolding revelation of Your Self and the meaning of life – that of the world and mine.

Peacemaking; though taking no pleasure in the dis-ease of conflict, quailing not from engaging it; striving to understand all points of view, even, especially those with which I disagree; mindful of our common dignity as Your creations and our common destiny to dwell in Your peace that passeth our understanding or to destroy and die in our divisions…

(and knowing, believing, O God, Jesus’ teaching to be no multiple-choice, but rather an all-inclusive list; accepting, embracing the last and, for me, hardest of all)

Persecuted; willing to sacrifice my comfort and convenience, yea, my well-being for the sake of standing in commitment to You and Your kingdom.

For all this and more than I can know and name, on this Thanksgiving Day and day by day, in the words of a song, I: Thank You, Lord, I just want to thank You, Lord. Amen.

 

Illustration: The Sermon of the Beatitudes (La sermon des béatitudes) (1886), James Tissot (1836-1902)

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the push and pull of mystery

I awoke this morning in a melancholy mood thinking about the cares that beset any human under the sun, the daily reminders of our limitations, the not (never?) having enough time, energy, or money (or any two or all three), in the face of our desires and needs, to complete, compete, or compensate.

Then I pushed beyond my personal, largely small cares, thinking about greater current woes of the world. Among them:

  • The horrific destruction of hearth and health and hope wrought by the winds and waves of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and the tectonic tumult of earthquakes; turning verdant lands barren, bringing darkness, save for still-shining stars, to what seem endless nights, cancelling the coming day for the final closing of the eyes of the dying, and
  • The dread specter of rising, billowing nuclear clouds, and
  • The social, cultural unrest of an America stirred by the symbols of flags, anthems, and statues, and actions, whether to stand and salute or lock arms and kneel.

Then pulling back from these painful thoughts, as I oft do, I meditated on mystery – not a riddle to be resolved by human reason, but rather the reality of all things beyond human power to control, perhaps even human ability to understand and, thus, to amend.

mystery - Hubble telescope

My meditations provoked, as they always do, questions. Among them:

  • Why do, must people suffer?
  • Why, after centuries of observing and studying the futility of war to resolve disputes, do we, as peoples and nations, continue to lust for combat and long for conquest; the latter, given the superior and spreading nuclear capacity to destroy both enemy and self, being a fool’s goal?
  • Why, despite our best ambitions toward equality, do we continue to separate ourselves along lines, some invisible, yet all seemingly inerasable, of race and class, culture and clan, party and perspective; resulting in our apparent inability and unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of another point of view?
  • Why, long recognizing the incontestable truth that we occupy one planet (notwithstanding the dreams of lunar and Martian colonization) and that we form a global community of inseparable, interlocking interests, do we remain blinded by our prejudices, refusing to see the common humanity that we all irrefutably share?

Underneath these realities, as I behold them, lies unfathomable mystery. Understanding so little, I cannot answer my questions. One thing I do know. I cannot end suffering, war, inequality, prejudice, and a legion of human ills. However, as a person of faith, I can and do pledge to repent, daily, praying the Holy Spirit to make me more conscious of my:

  • time, energy, and money and how to use what I do have to serve, to share with my sisters and brothers of greater need;
  • anger, oft rooted in my sense of an affront to my personal honor and how to channel its virulent energy toward efforts to make peace with others and myself;
  • individuality of self and my commonality with all, so that in acknowledging the former I never disavow the latter;
  • biases and how to peer more deeply into the eyes of “the other” and mine own to behold our common God-given image.

I am not sure how this does, can, or will work. For I perceive it as mystery. By faith, I shall trust God, the greatest Mystery, to bring it to pass.

when…then…

a 4th of July epigrammatic poetic meditation

Statue of Liberty

when Martin’s misty dream crosses the as yet insuperable obstruction

from the ethereal theory of virtuous ambition to righteous action,

from the hallowed declaration of a half-century plus four past[1] to the corporeal reality of daily realization,

and character, not color becomes the fairest, truest measure of human perception…

 

and when gender remains an aspect of human identification,

yet no longer a veiled, vile justification for subjugation…

 

and when this land’s loathsome chronicle of injuries unto others

(the venal seeds of prejudice yielding the poisoned fruit of injustice) –

because of

color and gender,

race and culture,

lineage Native or immigrant or slave –

is read aloud by public penitent voices within the hearing of a moral heaven,

and, in acknowledging the sin, repenting, promising, “never again!”,

 

then the American experiment will become the American experience…

 

then America will “be America again –

The land that never has been yet –

And yet must be – the land where every one is free.”[2]

 

Footnotes:

[1] A reference to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s speech, I Have A Dream, August 23, 1963

[2] From Let America Be America Again (1935), a poem by Langston Hughes (1902-1967); altered (one substituted for man)

O God, Thy kingdom come?

O’er these past few days – provoked, perhaps in equal parts, by my slower-than-I’d-like recovery from surgery, the seasonally mood-affecting, melancholia-inducing dreary winter skies, and my quintessential and abiding inner psycho-shadow world of pessimism – I’ve been dwelling a lot on the pain and sorrow of this world.

Early this morning, I had a dream or perhaps a semi-conscious alternate-vision that, upon fully awakening, continued to speak to me in the following meditation on Luke 14.12-14.

I turn away from the world;

my eyes tired,

my vision teared

by the avarice,

malice

and all-too consequent sadness

I see.

 

Adrift on the rhythmic pulsing of my yet hopeful heart,

I fantasize,

visualize

a far off place…

 

There!

 

Where

the poor & bloated-bellied hungry,

who e’er are the last and least,

at banquet tables feast;

and this world’s finest and first

make haste

to offer service,

treating them

as royalty,

at their feet, genuflecting, calling them,

“Your majesties!”;

who, though alway too humble by half,

unwilling to suffer the obeisance of eternal equals,

bid their servants join them at table…

 

Where

the broken-bodied gambol through verdurous fields;

their disabilities

yielding to everlasting energies…

 

Where

the blind stare unblinking

admiring

their reflections

sans all imperfection;

their mirrored smiles confirmation

of their long-harbored, secret conviction

that they’d like the way they looked

if e’er they, as now without end, could see.

 

But here

in this world, there –

save for bright-hued visions

of imagination,

the hopeful phantasms of my soul’s desperation –

remains a far off (inaccessible?) destination;

perhaps no terminus at all, for one can’t get there

from here.

 

Then I think, no, I was, I am blessedly wrong,

for there

is ne’er

far off, but alway near,

and truly appears,

however partially,

here

whene’er

I or anyone acts,

however imperfectly,

on faith

in God that Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done

on earth.

night

preachinga j.o.t. (just one thought), based on John 13.21-32, shared with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, during Evening Prayer on Wednesday in Holy Week, March 23, 2016

Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, will betray Jesus. Jesus knows it and declares it, “One of you will betray me,” then demonstrates it, saying, “The one to whom I give this piece of bread.” Judas knows Jesus knows it. And Jesus, refusing to answer directly the question of one of his disciples, “Lord, who is it?”, despite the symbolic act of giving Judas the piece of bread, does not point his finger identifying, “outing” Judas.

Ours is a time of increasingly tumultuous politics. During any election cycle, supporters and protesters of any given candidate confront and clash with one another, vigorously waving posters and placards touting their encouragement or dissent, and spewing ideological invective at one another. During this year of presidential campaigns, at least one contender’s rhetorical vitriol has sparked acts of violence against those who demonstrate against him. I imagine if Jesus had answered the question, “Lord, who is it?”, saying, “Judas”, I doubt the betrayer would have left that room; the rest of the disciples seizing, subduing, wounding Judas, perhaps worse.

That didn’t happen. Jesus let Judas go to do his dastardly deed; his departure being for Jesus a sign of the fulfillment of his divine destiny to die on the cross, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”

The Last Supper (La ultima Cena), Benjamin West, 1786

Had I been Jesus, I, à la Donald Trump in response to a protester, would have pointed at Judas, shouting to my disciples, “Get him!” Yet, in so doing, I would have thwarted the will of God…

One of the most important details of this story is conveyed in three words: It was night. This is no mere indication of the time of day, but rather a symbolic expression of the terrible, tragic spiritual condition of darkness, as Jesus has said, loved by those whose deeds are evil,[1] where none can do the works of light,[2] where none can walk the righteous path, but rather stumble and fall.[3]

It was night. God-defying, God-denying evil was in existence and exists still. Yet this is the paradox of God’s politics, the way God works, the way God governs: The only way to confront and defeat evil is to allow it to do its work, and thus to be exposed, “outed” in the light. So Judas goes out and betrays Jesus, setting in motion the victory o’er evil that we will celebrate in four days; a celebration we repeat whenever we, as children of the Light, confront darkness.

 

Illustration: The Last Supper (La ultima Cena), Benjamin West, 1786. Jesus (background, center-left), a bright aura or corona around his head, sits and watches as a brooding Judas (foreground, center-right) prepares to depart into the night.

Footnotes:

[1] John 3.19

[2] John 9.4

[3] John 10.9-10

what would we do?

preachinga j.o.t. (just one thought), based on John 12.20-36, shared with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, during Evening Prayer on Tuesday in Holy Week, March 22, 2016

Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”[1]

Philip, in response to an earnest request of strangers to be introduced to the latest luminary, the prestigious personality of the day, who Philip happens to know, runs to Andrew, I imagine, asking, “What do I do?” Andrew, I further imagine, calmly replies, “I know. Let’s tell Jesus.” So, they do.

Jesus hearing that Greeks (likely Greek-speaking Jews of the diaspora, thus dwelling outside of Israel) want to see, know him, this being evidence that word of his ministry has spread beyond the bounds of that land called “Holy”, understands this as a signal to initiate the final act of his life; his death on the cross for the redemption of the world: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

We are not told whether those Greeks saw Jesus. Perhaps because that’s not the point, for this is our ministry. We, who know Jesus, are those who are to show Jesus, his love, his justice to others.

So, what would you, I do if, when someone says to us, in so many words, “I wish to see Jesus”?

 

Footnote:

[1] John 12.20-21

peacemaker, peacebreaker

preachinga j.o.t. (just one thought), based on John 12.1-11, shared with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, during Evening Prayer on Monday in Holy Week, March 21, 2016

When the great crowd of the (people) learned that (Jesus) was there, they came not only because of (him) but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the (people) were…believing in Jesus.[1]

In the game of chance, once the die is cast, tossed there is no turning back. Wherever, however it lands determines the result.

So it is with Jesus. The opposition against him has risen to the proverbial fevered pitch. The chief priests, the religious authorities, the keepers of all that is righteous and good in the name of God, are desperate. They want Jesus dead, for he has disturbed the peace of their sacred order of things. And not only Jesus. They want to kill Lazarus, who, by Jesus, having been raised from the dead, is the cause célèbre, leading many to believe in Jesus as Messiah.

Raising of Lazarus, Alessandro Magnasco (1715-1740), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

This is paradox. Jesus, the peacemaker, come to reconcile us to God, in the view of the established authorities, the upholders, the do-gooders of all that is right, is the peacebreaker, disturbing the tranquility of devoted obedience to the accustomed, acceptable status quo.

Yesterday, on Palm Sunday, we remembered Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and, as that day was also The Sunday of the Passion (his suffering), we also recalled how that joyous parade wended its way inexorably to the cross of his death. He has said to us, “If you want to be my followers, then deny yourselves and take up your cross daily and follow me.”[2]

What is your, my accustomed, acceptable status quo, our chosen, comfortable way things are that although good enough is not godly enough that Jesus, the peacebreaker, disturbs in order to make peace between us and God?

 

Illustration: Raising of Lazarus, Alessandro Magnasco, 1715-1740, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Footnotes:

[1] John 12.9-11, paraphrased

[2] Luke 9.23, paraphrased (my emphases)