Sunday, January 24, 2021

Epiphany 3 B - January 24. 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Aidan Owen, OHC

Third Sunday after Epiphany  - Sunday, January 24, 2021



In the name of the One God, who is Lover, Beloved, and Love Overflowing. Amen. 

My earliest memory of God comes from the Good Friday liturgy at St. Thomas the Apostle, where I grew up. I was about eight. The sanctuary was cool and dark, the light filtered gently through the stained-glass windows. I heard a shuffle at the back, as the doors to the sanctuary opened to admit the altar party. Four men processed in, carrying a wooden crucifix. To my child’s eyes, that cross seemed enormous, more than life-sized. 

The cross and the body nailed to it were solid wood, a warm, rich brown. It must have been heavy, perhaps even heavier than a real human body. But the four men carrying it held it gently. There was something tender in their grasp. They walked with the cross to the front of the sanctuary, their eyes cast down. When they reached the step up to the dais where the altar stood, they slowly lowered the cross to the floor, the horizontal bar of the arms laid parallel to the step to support the weight of body and cross. 

I watched, rapt, while the other congregants made their way forward as we did for communion on Sundays. There were no ushers guiding them, but everyone seemed to know what to do. My heart beat more quickly in my chest. I could see that as the other parishioners made their way forward to the cross, they bent down and kissed or touched it. Some pressed their foreheads against Jesus’ forehead; some kissed his feet; some barely grazed the wood of his cross with their fingertips. 

Desire flushed my skin as fear tightened my stomach. I both wanted to touch Jesus’ carved and crucified body and was scared of what might happen when I did. 

My turn came to walk toward the cross. As I moved down the center aisle of the church, the velvet quiet of the room bore down on me, pushing me forward. I reached out and touched Jesus’ feet, surprised by the smoothness of the wood and also its hardness. I knelt down, the stone floor cold beneath my knees. For the briefest moment my lips brushed the hard smooth wood of Jesus’ feet. As I rose to return to my seat, I could still feel the sharp angularity of the nail against my lower lip. 

Kneeling on the pillowed kneeler at my seat, I closed my eyes, breathing hard, blood flushing my warm skin. I was aware, even then, that something fundamental about the world had changed. An intuition of the unity of pain and beauty, death and salvation had wedged its way into my heart like the nail in Jesus’ feet. It was as if some great force of love, something so much bigger than I and, at the same time so much closer than I could imagine, was gazing on me, saw me fully. I wanted to relax into that presence. I also wanted to flee. My body knew so many years before my mind caught up that God had got hold of me and wasn’t going to let me go. 

Over the years that memory faded into the background. Despite how vividly I recall it today, for years the memory of my first recognition that I was God’s and God was mine was like a haze in the background, more forgotten than remembered. Or, to use another metaphor, it was the mortar in the bricks of my life, unseen and unsung, but essential to the structure, holding everything up and giving it shape. 

When we focus on God’s call to us, it’s so easy to get caught up in the flash and bang of revelatory moments when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, we know who and whose we are. Some stranger walking by the roadside calls out to us, and immediately we know that we must leave everything behind and follow. But these moments don’t arise in a vacuum. As clear as the dawning light may be, it was the night beforehand, peppered with stars of smaller and more elemental revelations that often pave the way for whatever grand epiphanies we may experience.  

And while many of us have those moments of radiant revelation, even they fade in the dailiness and, yes, the tedium of making a life with God. And, thank God that they do. 

Christian Wiman captures this experience when he writes that:
“What you must realize, what you must even come to praise, is the fact that there is no right way that is going to become apparent to you once and for all. The most blinding illumination that strikes and perhaps radically changes your life will become so attenuated and obscured by doubts and dailiness that you may one day come to suspect the truth of that moment at all. The calling that seemed so clear will be lost in echoes of questionings and indecision; the church that seemed to save you will fester with egos, complacencies, banalities; the deepest love of your life will work itself like a thorn in your heart until all you can think of is plucking it out. Wisdom is accepting the truth of this. Courage is persisting with life in spite of it. And faith is finding yourself, in the deepest part of your soul, in the very heart of who you are, moved to praise it.”
Falling in love is a moment of insanity, or so my novice master told us. It’s a necessary step in moving more deeply into relationship with God or with another person or the world, but it doesn’t last. And for that we should be grateful. The blinding revelation is important. It may give us the energy or motivation we need to say yes to life or no to death, or simply to get ourselves out the door and onto the road we know has been calling us. But it is not the end—it is merely the beginning.  

Like the culture that surrounds us, we Christians, too can become obsessed with the feeling of falling in love. While we may dress up this fixation with language of vocation and discernment, we sometimes fall into habits of constant vigilance in the search for what God is calling me to now. That’s not to say that God is not always at work within and around us, always bringing life from death in novel ways. But it is to say that at a certain point we have discerned our vocation. Full stop. And rather than continuing to discern, we need to get on with the often dull and unsexy work of living out that vocation. 

A life with God is, I’m sorry to tell you, rather an ordinary one, taken step by step, day by day, moment by moment. The revelations fade into the background. The burning ardor of those first moments of the relationship cool. And one day we finally have to confront the fact that God is not who we thought God was. And perhaps neither are we. Our choices and our best efforts have not saved us or made us good or holy or free. We are not perfect or perfectly consummated beings yet, and we may never be. 

As Wiman points out, the moment when we realize and then come to accept that there is no right way that will become apparent to us once and for all, there is no calling that will soothe every hurt in our life, there is no spiritual practice or vocation or relationship that will eradicate the humanness of it all—that moment is the real beginning. It’s not exciting enough to make the cover of Discernment Weekly. But it is this very ordinary and very human dailiness with God that makes a life. 

When I look back at the moments of contact with God that have sustained and formed me, they are mostly like that first memory—quiet, hidden, embodied, and sweet. That Good Friday is the first time I remember feeling the curious mixture of fear and desire that I have come to recognize as my body’s sign of proximity to the holy. It is, for me, one of the ways the knowledge of its origin soaks into my consciousness. And when the dailiness of it all does work itself into my heart like a thorn, it is the feel of the wood on my lips, or the warmth of my friend Tom’s eyes, or the lilt of Andrew’s Scottish accent, or Roy’s quiet solidity, or the gentle breeze through the meadow that steady my faltering step and remind me that, yes, I chose my life, even as God chose me, and yes, I choose to keep choosing it. That yes, it’s easy to fall in and out of the insanity of love again and again and hard to stay put in the boredom and the seeming sameness of it all, and that, yes, God is still here and so I choose to still be here, too. 

I trust that, in God’s time and in God’s way, I will become the person God has made me to be. Because, whatever else, God is good, and that is everything.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Epiphany 2 B - January 17. 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Josép Martinez- Cubero, OHC

Second Sunday after Epiphany  - Sunday, January 17, 2021



“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Can anything good, redemptive, and just come out of the present brokenness in which we are all living? What is our call as Christians? These are the questions stemming out of the lectionary readings for me on this second Sunday after the Epiphany, the time manifestation, revelation and seeing what really is. What is our call as Christians? We are called to love. And that does not mean being nice, although in many circumstances being nice is a good thing. But Jesus said that the greatest commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” The second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Never did he say: “You shall be nice to the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” “You shall be nice to your neighbor as yourself.” This is important because if, as baptized Christians, we are to renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God, and we are to renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, and we are to renounce all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God, then we must call out evil for what it is. That is the loving act right now, and it will surely not seem very nice to a lot of people. 

Some twelve years ago, I was teaching a voice lesson in my Manhattan apartment on a Saturday morning when I received a phone call from a mother of one of the Pied Piper Actors Society members. The Pied Piper Actors Society was the leadership and service youth group of the Pied Piper Children’s Theatre, the community outreach program I founded and ran at Holy Trinity Church in Manhattan for 15 years. Sam was at the hospital. His stomach had been pumped due to alcohol poisoning. 

The story is that a group of about ten Pied Piper Actors Society teenagers plotted and succeeded in getting a hold of a substantial amount of vodka and beer, going to the park after dark and having a party. Most of them had never drank before and were curious. So they proceeded to get very drunk and chaos ensued. There was a lot of vomiting, passing out… you know, that sort of thing. Two of them who had not drank, thanks to the fact that they tried and thought it was vile and didn’t like it, became very frightened about what was happening to their friends and began to try to get a hold of parents to confessed what had gone on, and to let the parents know they were in trouble and needed help. A passerby saw one of the teenagers on the ground barely breathing and called 911.

To say I was beyond stunned by the news is an understatement! The kids of the Pied Piper Actors Society did this? The group known in the entire area of Northern Manhattan for their good behavior, maturity and outstanding qualities of leadership did this?? Oh I was angry! It was one of the worst experiences of my life. It was also one of the most important and oddly life-giving experiences of my life. I came to know a lot about my relationship with God and a capacity for love I didn’t know I had, and experienced first-hand what the love of Christ sometimes looks like. And I’ll say this: it did not look nice! 

I immediately called an emergency meeting with all the parents of the kids involved. All came. I know now that many of them were thinking: “Oh God, Rey-Rey is really angry!” Others thought I was meeting with them to dismiss their kids from the program. (It did cross my mind.) And yes, my ego attended that meeting, too! “Do you realize how damaging this could have been to the reputation of this theatre program?” I remember asking. But by the grace of God, I was able to get passed my ego, and ask for their help. I told them I needed to turn that horrible incident into something wholesome and good. 

Punishment for the sake of retribution has never made sense to me. But I did want those kids to meet some serious consequences for their selfish behavior. I also urged the parents to examine their own drinking behavior, as I needed to do mine. The parents were amazing. It was a wonderful, heartfelt dialogue, and they offered many good suggestions. In the end, I decided those kids needed to work. After some investigating on how much alcohol each kid had actually drunk, I created a chart that indicated how many hours of volunteering work each of them would have to do according to how much they drank that night. A certain amount of hours of manual labor had to be done at the theatre, the other hours had to be done at a not-for-profit organization approved by me.

I called a meeting of the members of the Actors Society for the next day, in the evening. It was not optional. They had to be there if they wanted to remain in the group and wanted to continue participating in the theatre. All came. Yes, they were terrified, and that was OK with me. The ones who had not been part of the incident were wondering what was going on. I called the names of each of the ones who were in trouble and asked them to stand up. I explained to the group what they had done, the entire time talking through my clenched teeth. I gave them “their sentence” and explained to them the reason for it. All of the energy they had spent engaging in such incredibly selfish, hurtful and hateful behavior had to be redeemed by energy spent in good actions for the theatre, the community and themselves. We got a lot of great work done in the months that followed!

But more happened. I brought in a drug and alcohol counselor to have several sessions with the kids so they could learn more about the subject. I engaged in one-on-one conversations with each and every one of those kids to hear them and get to know more about their experiences at school, at their homes, etc. Why? Because I knew it was not my job to change them, but it was my responsibility to be a good role model and to make it very clear to them where I stood. 

I will forever be grateful to have been guided by the Holy Spirit to live out the love of Christ throughout that whole situation- a love that requires boldness, engagement and accountability instead of avoidance, politeness, and niceness. 

What is our call as Christians? We are called into relationship with a God whose capacity to restore and resurrect has no limits. I don’t know how to exist without believing that there is no place, time, circumstance, or situation that is beyond God’s ability to redeem. Can anything good come out of last week’s events on Capitol Hill? The answer is YES! This must be our hope as people of faith- a hope we must model for the world. And that hope requires us to speak prophetically, especially those of us with a platform to speak publicly to hundreds of people about the Jesus of love, hope, and justice and to call out the evil of a false Christianity that leads rioters to enter the nation’s Capitol Building raising a cross and signs that read “Jesus Saves.” Lord have mercy!! Throughout his ministry Jesus called out religious hypocrisy at every turn, and so must we if there is to be any redemption from what is happening in this country.

Last week we saw first-hand the spiritual forces of wickedness our baptism requires us to renounce. Christian nationalism is heresy, and a sin. White supremacy and any kind of racism are wicked forces of evil. Christianity and white people are not entitled to any privilege in our civil government. God does not love Americans or white people more than anyone else. Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are anti-Christian and are sins. Any kind of homophobia or discrimination against LGBTQ+ people is anti-Christian and it is a sin. Nativism and nationalism are anti-Christian and are sins. Saying one is a Christian while, in any way being a part of, supporting, or covering up these evils is a horrible hypocrisy! No, I do not need to listen to or try to understand anyone’s racism or homophobia. As a Christian, I am called to call it out for what it is, and for the love of God, invite them to repent.

May we, like Samuel, who obeyed the call to name corruption in his own religious home, and to call out sin for what it was, even if it meant to turn the institution that sustained him up-side-down, live boldly into the call of Epiphany and speak prophetically, that we may see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending. 

¡Que así sea en el nombre del Padre, del Hijo y del Espíritu Santo!

Amen+  

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Feast of the Baptism of Christ - January 10, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. John Forbis, OHC

Feast of the Baptism of Christ  - Sunday, January 10, 2021



After the riotous breach of the Capitol on Wednesday, 
President-elect Joseph Biden said, this wasn’t about protest, it wasn’t dissent, it was chaos, utter chaos.  I could use many other words for this event, but I know how you all feel about my getting into that. 

John Chrysostom, writes “Do you see how a person who is void of love is similar to things that are inanimate and senseless?”  On Wednesday, an angry mob was Trump’s tool, the tool of the Emperor.  His rhetoric created only an inanimate thing, a dead and death-producing thing.

All the people who stormed the Capitol building accomplished nothing, but death.  Donald Trump accomplished nothing but death.  He didn’t even change the results of the election.  5 people were killed in the riot.  16,000 people still died of COVID since Wednesday.  That toll may be up to 20,000 by the end of today...   More African-Americans will probably be brutalized or used for target practice by police officers.  Lisa Marie Montgomery and Corey Johnson are scheduled to be executed this week.

So, this Feast is important to this time in our history because it’s about beginnings, starting over.  And perhaps here is where we are called to be in the aftermath of what’s happening in our world now. 

John baptizes at the River Jordan, which the Jewish people considered the boundary to enter into the Promised Land.  It symbolizes freedom and life for God’s people and nation.  Far from the Roman Empire, people were claiming their identity free of Roman power.  Another freedom it signifies, is “repentance for the forgiveness of sins”, a new life, a new creation and freedom from sin that would have required, before, ritual sacrifices by the priests in the temple of Jerusalem.  Ultimately both institutions, the empire and the Temple, the political and religious centers of power at John’s time, fall.        


People from the whole Judean countryside and Jerusalem flock to a man dressed in camel’s hair, a leather belt around his waist and who eats a weird delicacy of locusts and wild honey, and he points them to someone else.  The one to follow John baptizes with something beyond what John can offer, and John can’t feel worthy enough to untie the thong of his sandal.  John baptizes only with water, repentance, cleansing of sin, but even he knows there’s more. 


The Holy Spirit is at the beginning when the earth was a formless void and darkness covering “the face of the deep.Chaos?  Yes, but potentially creative chaos from which life will spring forth. The Spirit is “a wind from God” that sweeps over “the face of the waters”.  God, then, through that wind, that breath speaks Word, a wind from which a light emerges and separates light from darkness and we have the beginning of Creation, the first day.


Moving ahead a few million years, Paul asks the Ephesian disciples if they had received the Holy Spirit when they became believers.  They replied, “No, we have not even heard of the Holy Spirit.”  They were baptized into John’s baptism.  After Paul reminds them that John compelled the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, they accepted the Baptism in Jesus and then, the Holy Spirit enters again into the world, and the twelve Ephesians speak in tongues and prophesy.

  

Receiving the Holy Spirit may not always result in a glossolalia, a proof that one is saved.  Speaking justice, peace and love is a strange language, modeled after a much stranger voice language spoken from a voice that can tear open the heavens and declare to a man from an almost forgotten village, Nazareth in Galilee, that he is loved by God. 

  

This is God’s son with whom God is well pleased.  So why would he need to come to John for Baptism?  God incarnate, the Word made flesh, one who knew no sin, submits himself to a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, a washing, cleansing, made new.  Baptism begins here.  But does not end here.  Before we can hear the voice of love, we definitely have some repenting to do.

Then, Baptism of the Holy Spirit is hearing the voice of love tearing into the midst of the noisy gong and clanging cymbal of death.  Baptism of the Holy Spirit tears open all that keeps us from receiving God’s pleasure, God’s holiness.   


This one man from Nazareth also submits himself to be executed on the cross to expose injustice, hatred, violence and provide a way to end them.  Christ becomes a servant, a suffering servant.  And the heavens tear open for him.  The curtain in the temple tears from top to bottom to reveal God, the Holy Spirit, Christ.  In Christ, the Trinity fiercely bonds together in a voice of love.  Heaven and earth come together with the descent of a dove, which becomes the terror that drives Jesus into the wilderness.  There he contends with another voice that tempts him to forego his vocation and become a supernatural savior who will use violence to destroy empires and emperors.   


He is not the revolutionary that we wish him to be.  He is the one who gives himself to be baptized like the rest of the Judean countryside with the water of the repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  He shows us that he is one of us, one of the many who come from outlander villages to the border of the promised land.  Jesus comes there to stand in line with the rest of us to be cleansed and receive forgiveness.   


Yet, what he does actually receive is an affirmation, a confirmation of who he is and his vocation from God.  This vocation will take all from him in a violent sacrificial death, but then he comes up for air and light and lifts us up from death into light and life.  That confirmation is a voice that can tear open heavens, tear a curtain temple in two, is on the water thundering its glory, can form, shape and bring forth light from darkness, breaks cedar trees, makes Lebanon skip like a calf and Sirion like a young wild ox, splits flames of fire, shakes the wilderness of Kadesh, causes oaks to writhe and strips forests bare.  The water with which we are baptized is infused with love more powerful than any voice of sin and death.   


We have much to repent for forgiveness.  But it doesn’t end there.  It won’t end there.  God will not allow that.  God will tell all of us, in Jerusalem and throughout the Judean countryside that we are loved.  God is well-pleased with us.  What he speaks to his Son he speaks to usGod’s own sons and daughters, God’s own.  In that affirmation and confirmation, we find our vocation.  If we love because God first loved us, if we speak God’s love, even in the borderlands away from our own centers of power, we, all of us, find our home.


Amen.