Holy Week into Easter

Holy Week into Easter

Spring arrived this week in Victoria where we live. It seems late because the cold grey winter months have dragged on. In fact, it is cooler and raining again today.

Spring’s arrival seems sudden, but bright green foliage and pink branches carrying the running sap within the trees have been appearing for a while. Small bright gems of green with yellow showings of daffodils appear out of the brown earth and grow taller. Now we have whole streets lined with cherry blossoms which grow fuller and more mature every day.

This Sunday is Palm Sunday in many Christian churches. Some consider this the beginning of Holy Week. Singing Hosannahs and waving palm leaves for Jesus who is passing through an enthusiastic crowd is, for some of us, a sweet memory from our childhoods. The sweetness is perhaps more beautiful now because of the difficult Lenten journey we are passing through this year. Palm Sunday may be a foretaste for us of Easter, which is now as longed for in our lives as it is mysterious.

We will commemorate Holy Week in our churches with prayers and painful, sorrowful moments as we take stock of how far we are from peace in the world. This is true as we consider the lives of our brothers and sisters who are suffering profound difficulties, hunger, the death of loved ones and the loss of homes and communities which have been their sanctuaries.

Holy week, these final dark days of Lent, can be a time in which people who are walking with God need wisdom to sharpen their sense of what our ongoing journey of faith is about. 

The story of the call of Abraham in Genesis, the call to trust God as his guide, is a story worthy of our attention. 

One of my favorite authors, Marilynne Robinson, wrote a new book, Reading Genesis, published mid-March this year. Over the years, she has written many novels structured around the mystery of faith.  Reading Genesis, is not a work of fiction, rather, it is her commentary about what she notices when she looks closely at Abraham’s story.

Reading Genesis

The relationship between God and Abraham is one of friendship, even though God asks him to pack up everything and everyone in his household and go where God tells him to go into a strange and foreign land.  Some things Abraham dearly wants are promised to him and given to him. The biblical record shows that the fulfillments of the promises proceed as God said they would.

 The thing about Abraham is that he believes God’s promises and he does what God asks him to do. For this reason Abraham is known as “The Father of Faith.” 

 The outcome over millennia of what God asks Abraham to do is mysterious to him at the time of asking, but Abraham does what God asks him to do, and trusts that the story he is in with God moves towards a mystery which is good. 

The story of Abraham is great spiritual writing because it puts structure around purpose and meaning.  We understand that trusting faith, as shown in Abraham’s story, is the basis from which we understand our own call to seek God’s company within us as our truest friend. It is good to have Abraham’s company with us, and the companionship of our community of faith, as we ourselves move forward into closer relationship with God and God’s mysterious purposes. We are not alone on the journey.

After Christmas

After Christmas

Painting title: Hope for the Future. Original Artwork by Ingrid Hauss

Christmas is, for me and for many, the most important festival of the church year. I call it The Feast of the
Incarnation. Preparation for what will happen in the time from the beginning of Advent, which is the four weeks
before Christmas and Epiphany, which is the celebration of the arrival of the wisemen at the manger, can be a
fraught time for believers.

Our hopes that celebrating and contemplating the good which Christians can do at this time may be fraught. Our
passionate yet painful participation in this time can be like a homesickness for our future wholeness. The
contrast we experience between our present reality and the reality we hope is coming through us and within us
in the future, is a weighty thing to hold.

There are things we can do which may help us focus on our deepest desires. I have a medium sized egg-shaped
candelabra for our dining room table. It holds four coloured candles, one for each week of advent.
After we light the first one, an additional candle will be lit every week until they are all lit. When it is time to light
the larger white candle of Christmas which is surrounded by the other four candles, we have done something in

The intentions symbolized by the candles are ineffable, prayers beyond us too deep to be said with words alone.
The first candle, which is blue, is the candle of hope. In this time of fire, flood, climate crises and deeply human
problems of oppression, loneliness, addiction and other terrible things, many people believe there is no hope. If
we hope with them for their concerns, if we notice small shining incidents of hope, will this help all of us carry
the weight of hope against heavy hopelessness? I light this blue candle for hope and try my best to notice hope
among us. For example, I notice that some people say that our care for people and all living creatures is the
most important thing we can work towards, that hopes for peace will lead us towards peace.

In the second week I light the blue candle for peace. I believe this helps hold the tension between the peace we
hope for and the desperate reality of our world.

In the third week of Advent, the colour of the candle is pink, which is the symbolic colour of joy. Joy in my
understanding includes everything, everyone and every situation and is held by hope and peace. This is a
concept which must be something like ‘the peace that passes understanding.’ I feel some release of tension
during the week of the pink candle for joy as I look for bright shining bits of joy which are among us despite
suffering and disaster.

The candle in the week before Christmas is, again, blue. The colour of the clothing of Mary the mother of Jesus
has often been depicted in religious paintings as blue. In this week there is a feeling that our largest
understanding is of a world pregnant with a great gift for us all.

When Christmas arrives, we may be ready to receive our gifts as individuals and communities and move into
preparations for newness in our lives. Perhaps this gift at Christmas is the ineffable gift of compassion which will
move us to participate with love in ways that lead us and others towards wholeness. Could this be the
wholeness in what Matthew Fox and Brian Swimme call continuous incarnation? Is this the gift of innocence on
the far side of experience? Hope moves into Peace into Joy and Love into loving Compassion. Some things do
not grow old.

Dark and Light

Dark and Light

Photo by Dylan Katz from The University of Calgary

Today is Remembrance Day, a day to honour our war dead and all those who have served in
war in pursuit of peace. It is a rainy day in Victoria with intervals of clear sunshine. Now that the
sun is getting up later and setting earlier, the movement in our reality is into more darkness,
with beautiful sometimes spectacular flashes of light. People I see walking about in Victoria do
not seem to be sleepwalking. I feel that many people are awake and excited about the change
that is upon us now. Something new.

For seven weeks this fall I participated once a week with about a hundred other people in a live
video course called: ‘Science, Spirituality and the Noosphere.’ Our teachers were Matthew Fox,
“Renowned Spiritual Pioneer and Author of more than 35 Books,” and Brian Thomas Swimme,
“Professor, Author and Director of “the Third Story of the Universe.” Matthew and Brian say
that we are in a ‘Renaissance,’ a rebirth that is coming out of our civilization’s past but is
actively creating a new future which is based on spiritual initiative.

Brian uses the word, ‘Cosmogenesis ‘. He says that our calling is to live with the tension of
earth’s shift to its being a ‘primordial intelligence.’ Our hope is that we will trust the primordial
intelligence of the universe enough that the powers of creativity will envelop us.
Matthew says that our rebirth based on spiritual energy has resonance with our biblical
understanding that God loved us from before the beginning. He says that there is resonance
between the scientific discovery Hubble made, which is that, from the beginning, in some sense
the universe knew where it was going, and the mystical understanding that reality cannot be
divorced from the cosmic. Our growing in consciousness is our awareness kinship.

Along with our feelings of excitement around this work of coming into consciousness, we
wonder how much of the daily news showing horrific barbarous acts of war and hatred we are
called to witness. Karl Barth, perhaps the most significant protestant theologian of the last
century, told his students to first read the daily newspaper and then live out their faith. But Karl
Barth did not have television. If we are going to witness truthfully to what is going on in the
world, are we to witness what comes across our tv screens into our homes? Friends we know
who have lived through previous wars in the middle east say that the film footage shown in
middle eastern countries is even more graphically horrific than is ours here in North America.

We also question the truth of what is being shown us. These things are challenges for us.
Some of us understood as we grew up that part of our task in the presence of horrors of human
violence towards our brothers and sisters is ’to not turn away.’ As we more closely examine our
history of turning away from what have been called “inconvenient truths,” we hope we will
become stronger in our compassion and ability ‘to not turn away.’ Our growing understanding
of and participation in the “Noosphere” seems to be a place where we will grow in relationship,
kinship and compassion.

Brian used the word. ’bond.’ to describe the concept of Noosphere. (I know the term, ‘bond of
Love’ to describe the Holy Spirit in Christian thought and ritual.) Brian told us that, in 1923,
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin realized that humanity was giving birth to a planetary mind, a super
organism spread over all the earth, a sphere of human thought. We are now in the process of
understanding the Noosphere and shaping it.

Matthew says that the question for us is, since we are participating in this thinking layer of
consciousness, how can we extend it to awaken humanity to a cosmic sense of ‘all.’
The ideas I have shared here are from Module one of ‘Science, Spirituality and the Noosphere.’ I
hope they are helpful for your journey. Thank you for reading.
A friend sent me the following poem by Father Thomas Keating. It is a prayer of letting go.
The Welcoming Prayer (by Father Thomas Keating):

Note. See my older blogs for “My Early Experience with the Cosmic or Integral Conscious
Movement” and “Building the Earth,” which is about Teilhard de Chardin.

Beuchner, Breath, Heartbeat, and The Jesus Prayer

Beuchner, Breath, Heartbeat, and The Jesus Prayer

The Jesus Prayer

As I look out over the Salish Sea towards the Olympic Mountains of Washington State, I see fewer cargo ships than usual. The Port Workers Union here is on strike. We hear talk that organizations of all kinds everywhere need to be reorganized quickly and wisely to better the lives of us all if we are to reverse the ravages of climate change. We know that change is one of Love’s identifying characteristics and that Love is one of God’s best names.

How will we find the spiritual strength to absorb what is going on and to move into a new phase of our evolution? We ask ourselves, what do we have in our spiritual traditions which can prepare us to participate in what Love needs us to do. To love our neighbours as ourselves is a way to think about it.

In the midst of news of war, famine, drought, violence of all kinds, deadly street drugs and the breakdown of institutions, I remember a story Frederick Beuchner told a gathered group at Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center at Bangor, Pennsylvania in 1991.

Frederick Beuchner was a renowned English teacher at Lawrence Academy, a boarding School in Groton, Massachusetts, before he became a Presbyterian minister and then a writer beloved by Christians all over the world. I clearly remember his telling this small story at that retreat.

He said in his resonant baritone voice, “You know the story of the man who met Hitler and afterwards was asked what Hitler was like, what Hitler looked like? The man replied, ‘Why he looked like Christ, of course.” Frederick Beuchner then looked with his blue eyes over the heads of us all and let us absorb the story. What do we do with this story when we hear people near us saying that they can pray for the starving children in Sudan but cannot stand seeing the faces of Russian leaders or soldiers on television?

I respond to this sort of thing in my own heart with another story, the true story of an Orthodox Russian monk who travelled all the way across Russia with nothing in his knapsack but his Bible and some dry bread. A spiritual guide in one of the monasteries he passed through taught him what is called “The Jesus Prayer.” The Jesus Prayer comes down to us as a tale called, ‘The Way of the Pilgrim.’ The author is anonymous and this little book was probably written before the abolition of Russian serfdom and after the Crimean War, sometime between 1855 and 1861.

‘The Way of a Pilgrim’ was translated into several European languages and read by many. The version many people in our times know is called The Jesus Prayer, a revised translation with expanded notes.

The Jesus prayer which was taught by the original pilgrim is used to this day throughout the world by persons from many different denominations. It is a prayer accompanied by the person at prayer looking into the faces of people he or she meets while walking. It is a prayer of breath and heartbeat and looking. I know many people who incorporate this as a walking meditation. It is so widely used that you probably know some people who practice it, perhaps in times when they especially need this prayer. Perhaps they have used it in times of fear, in hope, in sadness or in joy. I’ve heard people say that they’ve used it in times of childbirth or while they accompanied a loved one towards death. I once practiced it while coming in from being too far out in the ocean during an outgoing tide.

The prayer is simple. It takes repetition to anchor it into one’s heartbeat and breathing so that one no longer has to concentrate on the words. It becomes a part of the heartbeat and the breath.

You can learn it. Here it is.

Breathe in and say to yourself and later just think it, “Lord Jesus Christ.”
Breathe out and say or think, “Son of God.”
Breathe in again and say or think,“Have mercy on me.”
Breathe out again and say or think, “A sinner.”
Repeat. Let go of any attempts to understand it more than you already do.

Both these books are available on Amazon and probably in your
local library;

  1. The Faces of Jesus by Frederick. Buechner. The text is wonderful and the photos by Lee Bolton fit very well.
  2. The Jesus Prayer: A Monk of the Eastern Church. The Revised Translation with expanded notes. Reprinted 2018
    Copyright 1987
    St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press

Peace and joy.

Pentecost and the Giving of God’s Holy Spirit

Pentecost and the Giving of God’s Holy Spirit

This past Sunday the minister and many members of our congregation wore flame-red shirts or dresses. The banners and hangings at the front of the church were also red. This helped make the service feel like a party, a banquet and a fiesta. The celebration was part of the Sunday service beginning the season of Pentecost celebrating the giving of God’s Spirit to everyone and everything. 

In the service, the Divine Spirit is represented by a large white Pentecost candle which is lit and then used to ignite a smaller slender white candle which begins the chain of light that moves, received and passed on, until we are a sea of light as we sit in our accustomed places in the congregation. 

It is a brilliant time which marks God’s invitation to the congregation and the whole world to participate in God’s creative work. Pentecost is my favorite Sunday service in the church year. It is illuminating and full of promise as well as purpose. Sometimes there is cake in the church hall after the service. Cake is messy to serve and to eat and can remind us that sharing the community’s transforming spiritual gifts can be messy too. 

The photo at the top of this blog entry is of a painting on cotton by an artist who was born in Djeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1991. Its title is: ‘How do the stars touch me? How do I touch the stars?’ Its date is 2023. The artist, Cecila Granara, grew up in Mexico, Rome and Chicago. She studied in London, Paris and New York. Celia speaks of her art as ‘poetry and symbolic iconography.’ She makes no mention of Pentecost or anything like that in what I have read. 

For me, the flames touching the stars point towards something beyond words which is unspeakably wonderful. 

My husband and I were recently in the South of France when we saw Cecilia’s piece at ‘Chateau La Coste,’ in an exhibition called, ‘Art and Architecture.’ It was a twenty five minute taxi ride from where we were staying in Aix en Provence. 

I give thanks. Happy Season of Pentecost! 

Blog for Lent

Blog for Lent

As we begin this fourth week in Lent, I decide, as I have decided before, that I like the life of a pilgrim. I like to begin every week with preparations that will help me keep focused on one goal that is beyond my grasp. My goal is to allow myself to be transformed into my true self.

I like mystery because I am a mystery to myself and everyone I meet is a mystery to me. Karl Rahner, who was the Roman Catholic of the twentieth century, famously said that Christians of the twenty–first century would be mystics or they would not be at all. Rahner thought and spoke of God as ‘Holy Mystery.’

An adventure like a pilgrimage calls for some taking stock. This is my list of preparations for pilgrimage.

  1. Take note of what your situation and surroundings are and of what you have at your disposal.
  2. Be prepared to use what you have on hand. (You don’t need to go to a store.)
  3. Do what you can.

Last weekend our clocks sprang ahead marking the end of a season of darkness here in Canada. I am glad to see more blue sky today. There is now more light and length in our days. I am glad of this, and yet, I am going to miss the winter long nights darkness with the nuanced sunlight and moonlight that sift through the clouds.

Darkness is part of what many of us have gone to for solitude and reflection on the terrors and disappointments of this time. Famine, war, lies and other breakdowns challenge our minds and hearts.

Meister Eckhart said in the fourteenth century that the ground of our souls is dark in a darkness that invites us to enter into depth. We hope that darkness is part of the transformation of our small egos into a closer resemblance to what is good. We remember that sometimes darkness is the mystery that allows us to see the light in the darkness.

This is darkness which we do not want to be lost to us. One of my friends, who is a Psychologist for children and adults, says that at this time, perhaps because it is springtime, also perhaps because we know the tradition of Lent, we are wrestling more than usual with our personal and also our collective shadow selves. The shadow which we all have is what makes us turn away from or hide from what we cannot look at because it makes us feel ashamed of ourselves and at times ashamed of our entire human race. We seem to have shadow in endless supply.

One variety of shadow that many of us wrestle with at this time is our personal and communal obsession with our phones and devices. This obsessive shadow habit of paying too much attention to our electronic devices keeps us from being in loving community with what Thomas Berry calls,’ our made of earth community.’

For me, the image of us as ‘hubs,’ perhaps like phone booths, is a dark image which stands against our hope to be full of transcendent light and moving towards our hoped for transformation. The ‘hub’ is truly shadow for me. I am aware of it and trying to remember that it is not a good thing.

In contrast to the image of our being ‘hubs,’ I like the image of our being like golden daffodils reaching towards sunlight that is beyond their reach, but is nonetheless life giving. This transcendent hope, for us and for our larger communities, is large and mysterious. It is transcendent hope because It takes us beyond our small egoic selves into a realm which is mystery beyond what we can imagine, the image of our‘ golden shadow.’

Every year I need time during Lent to learn how to carry the list of things which I try to hide from my mind and heart. I need help learning how to not turn away from what is surely part of my responsibility to hold up to the light . I need the strength of character to respond when there is opportunity to say or do something that will help another person or other persons to live their lives. The injustice and violence which keep people from life is both close to us in our communities and cities and also far from us – even across the world. Part of what makes this difficult for us is that we humans are mammals and, like all mammals, we are local-minded. It is a stretch of our hearts and minds to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. We need help with this.

One thing that helps me pay attention to shadow is what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel says we should do. He says we should try to act on behalf of goodness as stand ins for God’s own goodness. . Isn’t that mystery!! It is too wonderful for me to understand but I see the golden hope in what he is saying.

Rabbi Heschel lived during the holocaust and was an active presence during the Civil rights movement, and beyond, until 1972. He was friends with Martin Luther King Jr. and with Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. Heschel spoke up and spoke out but he also listened carefully and thoughtfully to other voices who said that God has abandoned us. In response to this, Heschel reminded us that God loves us and made a covenant with us that gives us freedom to choose, a covenant in which God promised to give us freedom, even the freedom to destroy ourselves and each other.

He lived his life in the belief that the creator and all loving God will not interfere with our freedom. His stance and perhaps what Rabbi Heschel is most loved and honored for is this recommendation: ‘Praise before Prayer.’

He recommends that we respond to what we praise with awe and wonder.

This is solid ‘pure gold advice’ for us as we try to help God drag our shadow attitudes and behaviors into the golden light of transcendent transformation. May we help each other with this good work!