Monday, January 7, 2019

TODAY’S PARABLES


Modern religion, for the most part, keeps spiritual reality confined to a historical context, as though Christ is no longer living and moving among us. As though he no longer speaks or conveys his ways or will today. But this I know: he still favors parables and remains the quintessential storyteller. He doesn’t give up easily.

He still dramatizes his message, sometimes in unlikely venues. Is it any wonder that he’d speak through horror movies, given the current state of affairs? Think about it: why are post-apocalyptic thrillers on the rise? Mind you, most are trash, but once in a while spiritual treasures can be gleaned.

I’m not an avid movie viewer, but on the rare occasions when I do see a film it’s with my daughter, at her invitation. The most recent two we saw together were A Quiet Place last year and, last week, Bird Box, both packed with spiritual symbolism. Both films like modern-day scenes from the book of Revelation. Both cautionary tales warning that we must guard our senses or be devoured by evil. 

 

Monsters Lying in Wait

In A Quiet Place noise summons the beast and the only hope for survival is found in silence and stillness. Better to remain quiet and hidden than to invite destruction. The prophetic significance in this film is rich, as evil is forever out to kill whatever divine is being birthed in you, and noise is the destructive force.

Bird Box depicts the necessity of walking by faith, not by sight. Better to blind yourself to evil than to behold its face and be transformed into its image – which is suicidal. Because those who gaze into the face of evil become what they behold. They become deceptive liars. And deceptive liars are rampant out there, as you well know.

But as you also know, when one sense is missing another fills the gap. Blindness begets keener hearing. There’s a scene toward the end of Bird Box where Malorie (Sandra Bullock) is struggling to navigate her children blindfolded through treacherous terrain while deceptive voices increase, pretending to be the children’s mother, aiming to lure them away from her. 

She is begging, begging the children to “Listen to my voice. Don’t listen to them. Listen to me.” Sound familiar? My sheep know my voice…and a stranger they will not follow, but will flee from him. 

Those who don’t discern the flood of lies gushing from news channels and social media are both deaf and blind to reality because they’ve immersed themselves in the cesspool of deception. The flashing neon sign in both A Quiet Place and Bird Box says this: walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time for the days are evil.

When you see a movie and later find yourself moving like the characters, on the que vive, more guarded against invading thoughts that try to creep through the door like a snake, and when you become as mindful of the unseen world as what your natural eyes reveal, you know you’ve touched a deeper dimension of  reality.

I’m well aware that most won’t perceive any spiritual meaning in these parables. But maybe that’s the point. What parabolic treasures have you gleaned from a movie – any movie? Do share. 

Below are questions I’ve pondered over the past few days, questions I’ve asked myself and now ask you:

How will you redeem the time in 2019?

Will you find a way to escape the river rapids (the dragon’s flood of lies) and find your footing on solid ground and make it to your sanctuary safe and sound?

What are you birthing that must be guarded with your life and protected at all costs from the devourer? You mission? Your life work? Your creative dreams? Your joy and peace? Your soul? 



Thursday, December 6, 2018

A LEAP OF FAITH




Black Friday and Cyber Monday marked the onset of the holiday madness: spending orgies, crowded stores, mounting debt, running, going, doing. Tis the season to go broke as commercialism reaches its peak. Consequently, tis the season to be depressed for all too many.

I spent most of my adult life trying to find a way to escape the madness. There came a day when I recognized that we were running in circles and going nowhere. That the merry-go-round was not what it seemed: an innocent ride for children. That the seasonal hoopla was only a distraction from holy reality, a saboteur of REAL joy and peace. A kick in the face of Christ.

Once I saw through the farce and realized that the glitter wasn’t gold, that we were all under the spell of darkness masquerading as light, my innermost being cried, stop this insanity and let me off.  For years I suffered in silence. Felt like a lone wolf howling at the moon, lamenting the rape of the sacred.

Then one day I realized that the merry-go-round was never going to stop and let me off. The world keeps turning and going in the same direction year after year. I’m the one that needed to muster the courage to leap off and dash toward freedom.

“Courage: the most important of all the virtues
because without courage you can’t practice
any other virtue consistently.” 

~ Maya Angelou

It is a leap of faith to break free from cultural mores that contradict your own spiritual values. Disentangling from entrenched customs takes divine fortitude and a willingness to stand alone. Yet most are so encultured they don’t recognize the matrix entrapment and will continue the vicious cycle of spending and debt for generations to come. When “have you finished your shopping” becomes society’s mantra as Christmas draws near, you know who runs the show.

Only a brave heart can face the family and say, “Christmas is not about stuff. Forget the Santa list. We’re not going there this year. You have enough stuff already. I have enough stuff. Waste not, want not. It’s not about presents, it’s about Presence. Immanuel. Let’s keep it simple. Keep it Real.”

Yet most will continue on the merry-go-round, spinning and spending and conjugating the three verbs spoken of by Evelyn Underhill:

“We mostly spend our lives conjugating three verbs: to Want, to Have and to Do. Craving, clutching, and fussing... we are kept in perpetual unrest, forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance except so far as they are transcended by and included in the fundamental verb to Be, and that Being, not wanting, having and doing, is the essence of the spiritual life.”

To Want, to Have, and to Do: the way of the world. Simply to Be is all but impossible for the masses caught up in the hype and hoopla. But those who’ve summoned the courage to move in the opposite direction have been delivered from perpetual unrest and have discovered the secret of true inner peace and joy. They’ve learned to be and to be still in the midst of the stampede. They’ve learned to focus on the essential, to breathe deep and find rest for their weary souls.


How stressful are the holidays for you?
Or have you already leapt off the merry-go-round too?





Monday, November 5, 2018

‘The Least of These’ Within Yourself


When you hear the phrase, “the least of these” who comes first to your mind? My initial response was always someone else. Never me, of course. I even once wrote a song about it, naming a litany of poor, pitiful, lonely hearts…

So many lonely I see all the time
reminding me vaguely of a friend of mine
strangely familiar like someone I know
despised and rejected but straight on I go

The song was a prayer:

HELP ME TO SEE THEM
THROUGH YOUR EYES OF LOVE
FILL WITH COMPASSION
MY HEART FROM ABOVE



I never included myself in the mix. Then one day the eyes of this blind beggar were opened and I was able to see my own need for healing and wholeness, to recognize the wounded healer within.  I began to contemplate the words of C.G. Jung, who aptly addresses this subject in his autobiographical work, Memories, Dreams, Reflections:

“But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself – that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness – that I myself am the enemy who must be loved –
What then? As a rule, the Christian's attitude is then reversed; there is no longer any question of love or long-suffering. We say to the brother within us 'Raca,' and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide it from the world; we refuse to admit ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves.”

After a while I grew weary of the never-ending internal warfare. One day I awoke to the reality that I needed to be gentler with myself, more loving and forgiving. I needed to be still and let God love me and teach me how to love my neighbor as myself. Then and only then was I free from self-condemnation. For it’s true that we Christians tend to be harder on ourselves than we are with others. 

What about you? When have you recognized ‘the least of these’ within yourself?


Sunday, October 7, 2018

Our journey had advanced — Emily Dickinson




 

























Our journey had advanced —
Our feet were almost come
To that odd Fork in Being's Road —
Eternity — by Term —

Our pace took sudden awe —
Our feet — reluctant — led —
Before — were Cities — but Between —
The Forest of the Dead —

Retreat — was out of Hope —
Behind — a Sealed Route —
Eternity's White Flag — Before —
And God — at every Gate —




Photo: Alexandra de Steiguer







Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sunday Shoes


There are no strangers here;
only friends you haven’t yet met.

~William Butler Yeats




Willie is in the upper echelon of their society
with a roof over his head and a beat-up van
that stays in the church parking lot much of the time.
When he isn’t in his van he’s in the church office
talking with the priest about the issues of life.

Willie can philosophize with the best of them,
keep the conversation deep and honest, open up
about his own struggle to reckon with his losses.
A former music professor fallen on hard times,
forsaken by his wife, he finds a home with us.

When he is discovered for his rich baritone voice
the music director offers him a job singing in the
choir. The white robe hides his ragamuffin garb
except for the shabby sneakers on his feet. But
none can see his grungy shoes hiding behind

the choir loft, though they can be spotted during
Eucharist as congregants file down the aisle
toward Willie kneeling before the broken body
and shed blood, should anyone be paying close
enough attention to such trivial or material detail.






Monday, August 27, 2018

If





If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!


            Rudyard Kipling  1895







Friday, June 29, 2018

The Three Hermits – Leo Tolstoy (1886)


“And in praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him.”
—Matthew (vi. 7, 8)



You know a story is good when it stays with you for years, when it keeps creeping back to consciousness from time to time. Such is the case with Leo Tolstoy’s classic, “The Three Hermits,” based on an Old Russian legend about three recluses who lived on an island and led the simplest of lives.

Their only prayer: “We are three, Thou art Thee; have mercy on us.” Even so, they were reputed far and wide to have performed miracles.

When the local bishop heard of their exploits he couldn’t resist sailing out to pay them a visit. And while he was there, he’d teach them more church-proper prayers than “We are three, Thou art Thee; have mercy on us.” When he arrived on the island he proceeded to teach them The Lord’s Prayer.

He spent hours on end working with the three hermits to help them memorize it, though they fumbled and faltered throughout more often than not. Finally it appeared that all three had it mastered, and the bishop felt content to take his leave, satisfied at his good deed.

As he set sail once again, he heard the hermits back on the island praying The Lord’s Prayer in unison, just as he’d taught them so well. That night he stood on the deck in the middle of the sea under the starry sky, basking in his accomplishment and thanking God for allowing him to teach such simple island dwellers the proper way to pray. As he gazed out at the water he saw coming toward the ship a blinding white light – a flock of seagulls?

No, couldn’t be seagulls out here in the middle of the night, could it? He soon grew as frightened as Peter when he saw Jesus walking on water and imagined him to be a ghost. But finally the bishop discerned the light to be the three hermits holding hands and running on the waves to catch up with him.

As they drew nearer, the bishop could hear the holy men crying out in a single voice, “We have forgotten your teaching, servant of God.” And they pleaded with him to repeat it again, just one more time. To which the amazed bishop replied with a humbled heart, “No, your old prayer works just fine. You don’t need me after all. Go your way and pray for us sinners.” 


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