Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Living With The Clouds

E. Herman has long been my spiritual guide.  She is the author of several books:  Creative Prayer, The Secret Garden of the Soul, The Finding of the Cross, and my favorite, The Touch of God.  Though she died many years ago, she speaks to me still through the written word.

In The Touch of God, there is a chapter titled “The Chariots of God.”   Herman begins with this line:  “Human life is as a cloudy day.”  Blue skies turn grey when the clouds come.  Grey skies turn dark when the storm clouds hide the sun. Even on bright days there are always little clouds appearing on the horizon, clouds that we sense are harbingers of trouble. Disappointment, loss, bereavement, perplexity spiritual despondency, and the emotional turmoil of our lives are as clouds.  When these  clouds come, and they come to all of us, our spirits become darkened with doubt.  When the clouds come we wonder if life is nothing more than a cruel riddle. Like Job of old, we ask why this cloud or that cloud hovers over us and diminishes the light (life).  Why do the clouds come?   Wrong question, says Herman:  “Human life is as a cloudy day.”

The clouds are as natural as the light.  They are not something foreign or intrusive. Clouds are in every sky—yours and mine. That’s life.  There is nothing we can do, we say, except wait until the clouds roll by.  Or we say, every cloud has a silver lining and we’ll be able to look back and see the meaning of it all when the clouds are gone.  But we all know that when the present cloud cover moves away, there will be more clouds to come.  That’s life.  “Human life is as a cloudy day.”

Herman says, the clouds are the chariots of God, just as the blue skies are the chariots of God.  All of life is where God is—in the clouds, in the sunlight, in the good and in the bad, in the pleasant times and in the sad times.  The Hebrews, escaping their bondage in Egypt, were led by a cloud—by day and by night. So we must accept the clouds that darken our skies, live with them and be led by them.

We must live with the clouds and let the clouds lead us and speak to us.  The Psalmist (4:1) declares, “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress”—not after I have passed through distress, but in the midst of it.   I take the liberty to paraphrase the Psalmist’s experience:  Thou has enlarged me in the midst of the clouds, not after they have passed by.  Love abides—in the sunlight, in the clouds—Love is at the heart of things.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Musings In A Desert Sojourn

One of the most striking passages in the Bible is found in Hosea 2:14:  “I will entice you into the desert and there I will speak to you in the depths of your heart.”  Does God entice us into deserts?  Deserts are not very pleasant places to live or even to pass through.  Deserts are desolate and arid wastelands.  They lack water and other necessities for human life.  The Bible refers to some desert spaces as wilderness regions—a space “uncultivated and uninhabited,” an empty and pathless region, a hostile environment.  The Bible speaks of literal deserts and wildernesses, but it also uses desert images metaphorically.  In the metaphorical sense, the desert may mean a feeling of emptiness, a catastrophic  illness, problem, disappointment, or hurt. I suspect that every one has had a desert experience of one kind or another.  The question is:  Does Love (God) entice us into the desert?  Does (God) Love really want us to experience the awfulness of the desert?  Or does Life entice (lead) us into the desert?  I suppose it depends upon one’s perception about who and what God is.  

If your god is a god who has absolute control over everything and thus is responsible for all of your blessings, miseries and sufferings, then indeed, we can say it is your god who entices or leads you into the deserts.  I’ve never been able to see God in that way.  Life tumbles in, not because God wants it to tumble in as it does, but because life is life and life just naturally includes illness, disease, suffering, hurt, grief, etc. that we often refer to as desert experiences.  Do we blame God for giving us pneumonia?  Or is pneumonia a result of viruses, bacteria, and fungi?

While God (Love) may not cause, lead, will, or entice us into our desert experiences, God (Love) is there in the midst of those experiences (as God is in all of life) and sometimes, as Fenelon says, it takes a desert experience for us to slush off our ego trappings, sense our powerlessness, and get still enough to hear God speak in the depths of our hearts.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

About God...

For thousands of years we human beings have tried to understand and to know about God.  We’ve done this through the centuries with our questions:  Does God exist?  What is God like?  How does God act?  Does God care?  

J.B. Phillips wrote a little book, “Your God Is Too Small” suggesting that whatever we know of God, however we think God to be, our conception is far too small.  What do we think about God?  Is God for us the “Resident Policeman” of the universe, the “Managing Director” or the “Grand Old Man?”  Whatever our conception about God, Phillips writes, it is far too small.

The God of the Old Testament is quite a character.  Some of us think about God being like that—a “tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye,” kind of guy, a tough fellow who destroys our enemies—and declares “Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks” (Psalm 137:9).  

Others think about God as being “meek and mild” and always giving out warm fuzzies.  Some see God as Jesus described God. They talk about the “Christ-likeness of God.”  

Philosophers and theologians have provided all kinds of views about God.  What do we think about God?  For what we think about God makes all the difference in how we think about everything else—our life, our situation, our community, our neighbors, our world.  Does God know of the sparrow’s fall and the number of hairs on our heads?  Does God really know of our afflictions?  Is God love—love at the heart of things?

The anonymous 14th century writer of “The Cloud of Unknowing” says,  “Silence is not God, nor speaking; fasting is not God, nor feasting; solitude is not God, nor company…He lies hidden between them and no work of yours can possibly discover him save only your heart’s love.  Reason cannot fully know him for he cannot be thought, possessed or discovered by the mind.  But loved he may be and chosen by the artless, affectionate longing of your heart.  Choose him, then, and you will find that your speech is become silent, your silence eloquent, your fast as feast, your feasting a fast, and so on.  Choose God in love…For this blind thrust, this deep shaft of longing love will never miss the mark, God himself.”

We may know about all things, even about God, but without love says this writer, we may know about God, yet never know God.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

My Task—While It Is Day

“Why,” she asked, “are you so obsessed with politics?”  I’m not obsessed, but I certainly am concerned about our present political situation.  When someone is obsessed, they’ve lost control of their feelings about the subject of their obsession.  The word “obsessed,” however,  is often used to simply mean “very interested.” If that is what my questioner is saying and asking, I answer this way.  I think the most important service which I (any of us) can give to another person is to tell him or her what I am trying to do and why, how I am trying to think and what I think, how I struggle with life’s conundrums, and what I value.  That is why I’m “very interested” in politics—for political decisions and policies have an effect on everything.  So, while it is day, and I have the ability to do, to think, to speak, to write, to experience, and to value—I will do so—not to impose my way on your way—but simply to share my contribution to our common journey.  This is my task.  This is what I am called to do—while it is day.

John Askham’s (1825-1894) poem “Work While it is Day” inspires me:

Work while the day is long,
While the right arm is strong,
While the life-blood is young, Night cometh on.

Work while the sun is high,
In the bright smiling sky;
Swiftly life’s minutes fly: Night cometh on.

Strive with thy heart and soul;
Press to the distant goal;
Waste not the hours that roll: Night cometh on.

Life is a season lent;
Moments are treasures sent;
See that they’re wisely spent:  Night cometh on.

What thy hand finds to do,
That, with thy might, pursue,
With a brave heart and true:  Night cometh on.

What though we toil in pain,
Twill not be all in vain;
Haste then the good to gain:  Night cometh on.

What though grief rack the breast?
Doth there not come a rest?
Let us then do our best:  Night cometh on.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Is Jesus Justice, Truth, And Concern?

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President of Repairers of the Breach, in an interview with Chris Hayes of NBC said, “Because I had been taught by my father and mother that to say Jesus and justice is to say the same thing, to say Jesus and truth, to say Jesus and be concerned about the poor and the least is the same thing.  This is not something separate.  It’s not kind of like politics over here and your morality over here.”

Jesus and justice, Jesus and truth, Jesus and being concerned about the poor and the least of these is to say the same thing?  We like to keep Jesus isolated from real life (limited to heaven since the resurrection—one of the great conundrum of the faith) even though we say God sent him to be like us and to live as we do, and He himself said he would be with us always, never leaving us bereft.  But most of us tend to keep him out of ordinary things, out of politics, out of economics, out of our business—out of everything that we deem important to us. And it is wise that we do, because if we allowed Jesus into these aspects of life—he would turn all of them upside down!  We prefer being “bereft” rather than let Jesus get involved.

Why?  Because to say Jesus and justice is to say the same thing.  Justice is concerned with just behavior and treatment: equality, fairness, equity, decency, integrity, ethics, values, honesty, and principles. This kind of justice applies to the individual and to society as a whole.  The prophet Amos proclaims, “… let justice run down like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” Jesus says he has come to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the recovery of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed.  Sounds like justice to me.

To say Jesus and truth is to say the same thing.  We don’t have to ponder this very much since Jesus himself proclaimed himself as the way and the truth. “What is truth” we ask along with Pilate.  Truth is defined as “that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality,” or “a fact or belief that is accepted as true.”

To say Jesus and being concerned about the poor and “the least of these” is to say the same thing.  In Matthew’s gospel (chapter 23) there is some instruction about this, and of course, there is the oft-quoted text of Matthew 25:31-45.

To say, Jesus and justice, Jesus and truth, Jesus and concern about the poor and the least of those among us, IS TO SAY THE SAME THING.  

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Trump’s Muslim Ban Today

Today, Donald Trump lied, openly, nationally, and internationally, in writing.  He wrote the following Tweet:  

“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and  Rep. Tlaib
 to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be
 said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a
 hard time putting them back in office.  They are a disgrace!” 

It is NOT true that Omar or Tlaib hate Israel; it is NOT true that they hate all Jewish people That’s the bald-faced lie.  They have been critical of the government of Israel, but that does not mean they hate Israel and it certainly doesn’t mean they hate all Jewish people.  Donald Trump, with that kind of lie, puts their lives in jeopardy.  

Omar and Tlaib are duly elected representatives for the people of Minnesota and Michigan. They are the first Muslim women to serve in the Congress.   Mr. Trump disgraces the Office of the Presidency by saying “They are a disgrace!”  Trump is having his “Muslim Ban” after all.  Netanyahu denied entry into Israel of two Congress women of the United States of America—it is not clear whether he said this before or after Trump’s tweet.

If this little episode, so crystal clear, doesn’t awaken Americans to the peril of Trump, then I don’t know what will!  

“Under God?”

We continually want people to buy into the fact that America is “one nation under God” (that phrase “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance to the flag in 1954).  Not many of us are sure what that “under God” means—and given our religious diversity it probably means different things to different groups. Could we agree that “under God” must at least mean that a nation is subject to God’s ways?  Of course, we would then probably disagree with what we think are God’s ways.  If we use our “books” as a guide:  Torah, Koran, Bible, etc, we could probably say in unison that God cares for the outcast, the disinherited, the poor, and the captive, etc.—or those who cannot stand on their own two feet and who need help.

If we agree with what our religious books tell us about God, then how in the world can we stand by as acting Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli suggests that only immigrants who can “stand on their own two feet” are welcome in the USA!  Madeline Albright, former US Secretary of State says the suggestion is “completely un-American.”  Albright has been a refugee twice, once escaping from the Nazis to England and then escaping to the US from Czechoslovakia when the communists took over.  She goes on to say “I think the Statue of Liberty is weeping.”  

When asked if he (Cuccinelli) would agree that the words etched on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, give me your poor,” are part of the American ethos, Cuccinelli said, “They certainly are:  ‘Give me your tired and your poor’ who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”  Does that mean we want everyone now in this country and those who want to come to be able to stand on their own two feet?  

Julian Castro sees this move as Donald Trump’s intent to create “a nation in his own image.”  Whatever the case, my question is:  Can we say and do this thing, “only the tired and the poor who can stand on their own feet are welcome” while we also say we are a “nation under God?”

By the way, there are roughly 40.6 million people in the United States who cannot stand on their own two feet (that only represents those we call “poor” and does not include others who are not labeled poor, men, women, children and seniors (American citizens) who cannot stand on their own two feet).  These 40.6 million people include:  27.6% Native Americans, 26.2% Black, 23.4% Hispanic, 12.4% White, and 12.3% Asian.  What does a nation which claims it is “under God” do about this?