Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Proper 25 B - Oct 25, 2015

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Sr. Shane Phelan, CMA
Proper 25 B - Sunday, October 25, 2015

Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Hebrews 7:23-28 Mark 10:46-52

Today’s readings seem so reassuring.  They offer us the promise that we long for.  God rewards Job for his righteousness.  Jesus heals Bartimaeus, who then follows him on the way.  What good news!  God is faithful and powerful.  Happy days are here again!

Our passage from Job comes at the very end of the book.  Commentators agree that the beginning and the end of the book were written separately from the long contest that occupies most of the book.  In the beginning, God bets Satan that Job will be faithful no matter what.  He lets Satan take everything from Job: his children die, his livestock dies, he contracts painful diseases.  He is bereft.

Job’s friends come by to “comfort” him, to be “helpful” by telling him what to do.  They insist that he must have sinned, and that if he confesses he will be restored.  Job stands in the truth that he has done nothing to deserve what has happened.  He will not curse God, but he will also not pretend a repentance he does not feel.  God eventually overwhelms him, reminding him who is God and who is dust, but the issue of justice is not resolved.  God never answers Job’s challenge.

Clearly, someone could not stand this dangling ending.  So we get the final chapter, where Job’s fortunes are restored.  Ironically, the author apparently agrees with Job’s friends about what God is like.  He wants us to forget the mysterious, awful, even capricious nature of God in favor of a Disney God.  

That Disney God is always around to tempt us.  When we focus on Jesus’ healing and teaching and forget the cross, we’re in Disneyland.  When we celebrate the messiah and reject the despised and rejected one, we’re in Disneyland.

But I’m not in Disneyland.  I’m in a haunted house, surrounded by ghosts.  Job’s sons and daughters crowd in around me.  With them are all the victims of trauma, all those who can’t forget or be forgotten.  What sort of restoration, what sort of healing, follows from trauma like Job’s?

On the way to raising four children, my mother had five miscarriages.  We carry a genetic defect that causes this.  My sister has two living children, but she has never forgotten Benjamin, who she lost at five months.  Her daughter has not had children yet, but she has lost one.  And I, when I was young, miscarried the only child I was to carry.  For years after that I would imagine my daughter.  I would count the years and think, “she would be in high school now.”  Then college, then law school.  (I don’t know why law school, it just showed up.)  Finally I stopped counting.  I eventually had a liturgy to put her to rest, the child I never knew.

Do you think Job was restored as good as new?
Do you think his wife recovered, having ten more children?
Do you think that Holocaust survivors got over it, that veterans get over it if they come back and find good jobs?

Are you over it?

29 months after Hurricane Katrina, Deacon Julius Lee stood in his yard in New Orleans and said  “The storm is gone, but the “after the storm” is always here.”  Already residents were feeling pressured to move on, to get over it, to show the world that things were normal.  But trauma does not just move on.  Trauma lives on.

In her book, Spirit and Trauma, Shelly Rambo listens to trauma in Scripture and in theology.  Following the growing field of trauma studies, she looks at the ways that trauma lingers and asks how that might shape our understanding of Christian life.  She suggests, I think rightly, that our resurrection story can too often become like Job’s happy ending, suppressing the memory of trauma that the disciples would have experienced. 

Resurrection can’t just meaning getting over the cross.  The cross haunts the Christian imagination, as it must have haunted the disciples even after seeing the risen Christ.  And Bartimaeus’ healing would not mean that his years of suffering were erased.  We do not simply get over our histories.  Bartimaeus has built a whole world around the loss of his sight.  He has spent years shunned or ignored; in fact he is told by the crowd to be quiet even when Jesus appears.  He has strength of will and desire, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t scarred.

So what is his life like on the road, in the wake of his healing?  I imagine he might be a bit suspicious of those who suddenly warm up to him.  Like the friends who return to Job, these new friends might have some work to do to prove their friendship.  And in the midst of their shared excitement and joy on the road, Bartimaeus will have fears and anxieties that the others will not share.  He has knowledge of the world in a way that those who have always seen do not.  Like Jesus, he has scars to mark his trauma.  They just aren’t always visible.

So the happy ending may not be the faithful ending.  It’s not faithful to the reality of human life, or of the ways we encounter God.
Where is God when children are gunned down at school, or die of drug overdoses?  
Where is God when some have no food or shelter, and others walk by them on their way to their BMWs?  
Where is the resurrection in our inner cities?  

Rather than a story of triumph, perhaps the story we need is a story of remaining, of enduring and sustaining.
We are in the hands of a God who is beyond our understanding.  

Job’s story reminds us that creeds and doctrines are not the heart of our faith.  At the heart of our faith is an experience, an encounter with God in Christ.  This encounter can be exhilarating, but it can also be terrifying.  
And, like any true encounter, it is transforming.  The real presence of God exceeds our Disney imagination, even the imagination of our worst fears.  

God is beyond comprehension, but not beyond relationship.

Job’s strength lies in his authenticity.  He does not pretend or try to “be good.”  He does not mouth pieties in order to placate God.  What, after all, can happen to him now?  Job is out on the vast sea of God, beyond nice phrases, and he has nothing but his fidelity.  
But out there, with nothing in the way, he can find God’s presence.  He remains, he endures, and he is transformed.

We owe it to ourselves, to one another, to our children to speak the truth about God. God stands with us in suffering and injustice, but not as one who would magically erase the effects of sin.  God endures with us, and promises to abide with us if we abide with Her. Better than a fairy tale, this opens us to real healing, real insight, real discipleship.  

May we never settle for easy answers, but demand mercy and healing.  
And may God grant us more than we can ask or imagine.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Proper 24 B - Oct 18, 2015

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Reinaldo Martinez-Cubero, n/OHC
Proper 24 B - Sunday, October 18, 2015

Job 38: 1-7, 34-41
Hebrews 5: 1-10
Mark 10: 35-45

Grant us to sit, one at your right hand, and one at your left in your glory
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand, and one at your left in your glory.” Just in case you don’t know, this is what happened before that little display of obtuseness: “…he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise.” (Mark 10: 32-34) To that James and John say: “Hmm, so, is there any way that you could grant us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory?” Real sensitive!

I have read many commentaries about this gospel lesson since I started preparing for this sermon. Not surprisingly, I’ve read references about James and John being dense, not very smart, clueless. “Those poor disciples, they just didn’t get it”, wrote one commentator. True, they didn’t. But, how easy it is to point the finger, and to place the problem elsewhere. It seems to me that the question should really be, do we get it?

These gospel stories have been around for two thousand years, and we still don’t get it. One only needs to look at what happens during presidential campaigns in this country- the millions of dollars that candidates raise in order to be on top and have more power over the other. And how about TV shows where titans of business are the stars, judges and lawyers flex their muscles, the rich and famous boast about their lives of excess and show us their luxurious gigantic homes, or the many “reality” shows where those who want their five minutes of fame are exploited, and often, their materialistic behavior, or their vulgarity is glamorized. Do we get it? It can even happen in more subtle ways, when we look for clout, prestige, authority, and status in our lives or when we believe we are above rules because of our sense of entitlement.

Of course the disciples didn’t get it! “…whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Jesus’ message was a radical one in the ancient world, and it is still a radical one in our world today. “‘Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’”

Many years ago I held auditions for a musical revue I was directing at the youth theatre that I founded and managed in NYC for fifteen years before entering the monastery. The musical revue was Tintypes, a chamber piece that provides a history lesson focusing on the period in the United States between the turn of the 20th century and the onset of World War I. At the audition was thirteen year-old Nik, who seemed to have more enthusiasm than any other kid auditioning, and who specified on his audition form that he wanted to be considered for the role of T.R., a very demanding role. While Nik had great determination, he had very little musical theatre experience, which was a concern given the complexity of the role for which he was auditioning. There were other older, and more experienced kids at the audition, although they did not have nearly as much enthusiasm.

After the audition I pulled Nik aside and said: “So, you want to be considered for T.R.?” “Yes”, was his serious and assertive response. So I said: “Look, if I cast you in this role, you are going to have to work really, really hard. I will be very tough on you, I will demand a lot from you, and I may not always be very nice. On top of that, I can’t really guarantee to you that you will have great performances because I can’t really predict that. If you do it, you have to embrace the process. Are you sure you want to do this?” “Yes, I can do it”, was his very determined response.

So Nik was cast as T.R. in the production of Tintypes. It was a bumpy ride. He worked very hard. He made many mistakes. Sometimes, when things became scary, he wanted to run away. As promised, I was very demanding, and not always very nice. The work was not about achieving status, or power over anyone because in fact, all the roles in Tintypes are equal in terms of their level of difficulty and complexity. What I didn’t promise because I could not have known, is that, Nik’s performances were wonderful, and thankfully, the experience in the end was a meaningful one for him.

James and John may not have fully grasped to what it was that they were agreeing. And they surely lived into it very clumsily, often missing the mark, especially in the beginning. But they did eventually get it, and gave their lives fully in love, to discipleship, James, even onto death by martyrdom. From my experience this last year I can say that the reason why one says yes to that call, keeps evolving, sometimes even every month. For us who choose to answer the call of Jesus, the act of following the path can be quite clumsy at times, and as humans, like James, and John we make mistakes and miss the mark time and time again. And following Jesus also means struggle, and pain, and suffering. It means the cross. Jesus guarantees to his disciples that suffering is inevitable. “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized”. But the glory of sitting at the right or left hand of Jesus, that’s up to God. I couldn’t guarantee to Nik that his performances after so much hard work were going to be great, and Jesus couldn’t guarantee to James and John positions in his glory.

What Jesus does do is to give us a perfect example of how to live today. He liberates us from the bonds of sin, and lifts us onto true communion with God. He came “to give his life as a ransom” for us. His life, death and resurrection transform us, and lead to our salvation. When we mediate on his teachings our consciousness is raised, and through our raised consciousness we enter into communion with God.  This is the way in which Jesus’ death raised humanity’s collective consciousness and brought humanity into communion with God.  This is salvation, the cosmic awareness that we are all one with God. Salvation is not just about what happens after we die.  It is about the here and now.  It is about how we experience God, and our relationship with God.  It is about how we are to live in the world today.  It is about service and transformation. It is not about where we will sit in heaven. Otherwise, it would simply be a commercial transaction and not spiritual transformation.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Feast of the Dedication - Oct 4, 2015

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Peter Rostron, OHC
Feast of the Dedication of St Augustine Church – Sunday, October 4, 2015

Genesis 28:10-17
1 Peter 2:1-5, 9-10
Matthew 21:12-16
The flower arrangement for the feast of the Dedication
When I entered the order as a postulant in January of 2012, my first seat in the monastic choir was over there, where Br. Joseph now sits, facing the entrance to the church. I enjoyed watching guests as they entered and picked up a breviary and a schedule, blessed themselves with holy water, reverenced the tabernacle, then minded the little bump in the floor as they rounded the corner into the guest court and took their seats. I would wonder how they had found their way to the monastery and this church, and I would wonder what stories and burdens they were bringing with them and how they might be changed before they would leave. I also enjoyed my view of those graceful arches in the wall, and of a small sliver of the great old white oak tree in the small cloister, which I could see through that window up there at the far east end. And yet another thing that drew my attention was a small splash of brilliant, colored light on the south wall there, created by the sun shining through the Mary Queen of Heaven window, just above the statue of Our Lady in that corner. This glowing little rainbow would slowly slide across the white wall, as the sun moved. I found it to be a very mesmerizing and prayerful point of focus, one of many displays of God’s beauty in this church.

A while later, my seat moved down to the west, closer to the guest court, and from that spot, if the door was open, I could see directly into the small cloister. The brick columns were lined up perfectly, one slightly offset and behind the next, creating a beautiful, geometric pattern. My eye was drawn along this sequence of columns to a vanishing point on the far wall of the cloister, right to the spot where Jesus hangs on a small, wooden cross. Like the rainbow of light, this was a very prayerful image - a form of visio divina, if you will - that contributed much to my worship experience. Also at this seat - and this is a little bit of an aside - sitting on my left was Brother Andrew, from whom I felt a strong, comforting, and reverent presence, and who also occasionally let slip some witty, under-the-breath remark, that I think no one else could hear, and that had me biting my lip sometimes not to start laughing right out loud during the office. I miss him.

Now, I sit on the opposite side of the choir. At first, I was disappointed to be losing those perspectives that had become so familiar to me. I couldn’t watch guests enter anymore, or see the graceful arches, or follow the rainbow of light, or see Jesus in the cloister; instead, I looked at a big, plain, flat, white wall. Yet, once I got over my possessive annoyance at what I had lost, I realized that I had gained a great view of the Oberammergau Crucifix, up there. It is a strong and striking image of Christ, dark and heavy, but with the lightness of pain that has been relieved, a burden that has been lifted, a body that has been left behind. I had gazed at it at various times from different places: from a guest seat on the far wall; from directly beneath it, as John and Mary were at the crucifixion; and even while standing in the entry area over there, where it is framed by an arch, with the icon stand and candle sitting low in the foreground. Now, this great crucifix welcomes and accompanies me through every office.

This church is a powerful place. There is something simple yet compelling about it, I find. No matter where you sit, or what mood you are in, or what of your daily life is distracting you, God is here, calling to you, in light, in an archway, in a crucifix, in rain falling on the roof, in the music of chant and the words of a Psalm, or in the person sitting right next to you. This church draws you into prayer, into relationship with God. Today is the 94th anniversary of the dedication of this church, which we celebrate as a First Class Feast. But we are not celebrating grand architecture or spectacular stained glass or amazing tilework or anything that, physically, is particularly awesome. Rather, I think primarily we are celebrating what happens within this space: the marvelous work that God does in each of us and has done in so many brothers and guests over the past 94 years. 

Certainly, this church is not fancy. In fact, The Rule of James Otis Sargent Huntington, our founder, and his successors suggests that the physical space should not detract from the worship it supports. The rule states, “The adornment of altars and chapels of the Order is to be dignified and rather severe than florid. Chasubles are ordinarily to be of Gothic pattern; there is to be no lace on surplices or albs. No new decorations are to be introduced without the approval of the Superior or of the Father-in-charge.” And one of the architects, the famous Dr. Ralph Adams Cram, wrote in the October, 1921 issue of The Holy Cross Magazine that “the new Chapel...in a sense...has no architecture, that is to say, it does not adhere very closely to any historical style, while the monastic simplicity demanded by its function left...little opportunity for architectural embellishment.”

I am struck by a parallel between the simplicity of our church and the simplicity - extreme simplicity - of the place where Jacob dreamt of the ladder carrying angels between heaven and earth. His experience of God took place outside, with no walls or roof and with a stone for a pillow (a bit perhaps like our choir stalls, many of which, as you might notice, have been outfitted with cushions). Nevertheless, God’s action in that place was so wonderful that it led Jacob to declare, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Just like this place. It was what happened and not the grandeur of the place that made it holy. Also, like many of us, Jacob encountered God in the course of his ordinary life, in this case while on a journey on which his father, Isaac, sent him to find a new wife from among his own people in the land of his grandfather, Abraham. I don’t imagine Jacob was expecting anything special to happen, and the place where he laid down certainly wasn’t special, but it became so by God’s action. An encounter between Jacob and God gave the place its significance, and it is the same for us here in this church.

You and I, of course, are not Jacob. We are not the patriarchs or matriarchs of a great nation, nor are we prominent figures in the Bible. But we are perhaps Jacob in that, like him, we can be open to God’s presence, listen for God’s Word, discern God’s will for us, embrace our place in the family tree of Abraham, and respond to God’s love for us in reverence and worship. Part of that takes place when we gather in community in a space like this, in a physical building called a church. But an equal or greater part of our worship, our relationship with God, takes place outside these walls. On the road somewhere. Asleep in a dream. Wrestling with an angel. In communion with the beauty of creation. In other words, in our lives as members of the other church, that great set of people who make up the living body of Christ.

So, on this Feast of the Dedication of St. Augustine’s Chapel, let us celebrate that event on October 4, 1921 when this church, this focal point of our monastic life, was dedicated, but, even more, let us re-dedicate ourselves to being faithful members of the body of Christ, the living church, to being alert to God’s presence in the beauty of creation that surrounds us, and to being in relationship with God in any and every unexpected place. I invite you to close your eyes and listen to the words God spoke to Jacob in a dream, but now, somewhat modified, addressed to you: “And the Lord stands beside you and says, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; eternal life in Christ I will give to you and to to those who come after you; and they shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in those who come after you. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to me in the end; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’” Amen.