Friday, May 24, 2013
Monday, May 20, 2013
Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model
There have been a number of requests for a pdf of this article that Al recently mentioned. It was posted—somewhere—on this blog, but if you would like to have a copy please send a comment with DO NOT POST at the top and giving your email.
NB A slightly updated version posted on this blog begins in May, 2012.
NB A slightly updated version posted on this blog begins in May, 2012.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
That was the word used by the BBC weather forecaster on a prime time news and weather broadcast about our 'spring' day yesterday. Torrential rain, bone-aching temperatures, and death to any small tomato plant that doesn't have a really sturdy stem. Which means I lost about five. I have enough left, if it will only dry out, but still, it's depressing, and more rain is forecast for the weekend. We have had six—count 'em—six cold, wet summers in a row. This morning we received the happy news that the jet stream is 2000 miles south of where it should be at this time of year.
Last summer even the professional gardeners on TV were happy to harvest courgettes that were only five inches long. Everything I harvested—squashes, tomatoes, beans—tasted watery. The tomatoes got blight so almost no-one had any in their gardens; I managed a few because a) I sprayed with a copper solution designed for veggies and b) I picked them green and brought them inside. I've put all the tomatoes in pots this year, because it takes a year for the blight to get out of the ground.
Amid the gloomy weather, which is all too uncomfortably reminiscent of the violent change in Juneau's weather that began about fifteen years ago, comes the catastrophic—yet somehow grimly appropriate—news that CO2 levels have now reached the 400 ppm mark. Those levels haven't occurred for 4.5 million years, and happened in a world geographically very, very different to ours—not to mention that there weren't any humans.
Someone has just woken up to the fact that the Thames Barrier will need heightening if London is not to be flooded . . . where have these people been all these years? And do they really think that they can get through the political process to raise it before the floods come? Don't they realise that with this much CO2 in the atmosphere that they can't build a barrier high enough to keep London from flooding? Not to mention New York City and dozens of other megalopolises. Haven't they been reading about whole villages in other countries that have had to be moved, or islands evacuated, because of rising seas? [www.guardian.co.uk/environment/interactive/2013/may/15/newtok-safer-ground-villagers-nervous] About vanishing Arctic sea-ice? About India of all countries, gaining observer status at the circumpolar council?
And here I worry about a few tomato plants. But I did grow them from seed, so they were lives I felt responsible for; and their loss is perhaps a harbinger that not too many years hence we won't be able to grow tomatoes outside at all [Harbinger is one of the varieties I lost]. French viticulturists are looking to the UK to grow wine grapes because some of France's premier wine terroirs will soon be too hot to grow premium varieties. But no grape can survive the soggy, frigid, gale-battered summers we have had recently. Last year's harvest was a write-off for many UK vineyards.
This is only the beginning, and the effects are beginning to cascade. If we think the weather has been weird in the last few years—snow today in parts of the UK, a midwest-style tornado in northern Italy a few days ago—just wait until the chaos really takes hold.
It is already too late to avoid some of the devastating consequences of famine and displacement. What is it going to require to wake people up?
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Sorrow and Courage
Today happens to be the Feast of Julian of Norwich, observed in some churches. There is a lot of facile rubbish in circulation about Julian. We need to remember that it is only by 'seking to the beholding' through weal and woe that we come to the knowledge that 'all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.'
In one of those strange coincidences it is also VE Day here in the UK and all over Europe. Appropriately, the BBC is broadcasting Benjamin Britten's War Requiem this afternoon. It's a work that usually engages (no other word for it; it's not something you can listen to with any detachment) me on Good Friday, but this year, for me, Good Friday took a different form.
VE Day is now overshadowed by Remembrance Sunday in November, but consciousness of geographical vulnerability and contingency, and the fragile nature of peace, are never far from the surface in the UK—two key elements, in my view, that make British culture at its best what it is.
But today I also want to focus on a battle, on victories and on beholding of a different sort. I don't think George Swanson would mind at all if I called him one of God's Holy Fools. It's been a privilege of mine to have known him since he was a curate in Menlo Park, California, back in the sixties. To try to summarize the life of this extraordinary man is simply beyond my capacity or, perhaps, anyone's. You can find out something about him at www.katrinasdream.org, but that does not begin to express the measure of this person who has spent his life in the cause of justice issues, within and without the institutional church.
In the past few years, George has suffered a number of hard blows from fate—beyond the lingering death of his first wife, who was an example of courage in her own right. First, his Significant Other (and a former schoolmate of mine) discovered that she had cancer of the jaw. Having successfully seen her through treatment and reconstructive surgery, George himself discovered he had stage 4 melanoma—even as, in his most recent burst of creative energy, he was struggling to mount an opera that describes the torture of inmates in US prisons.
Then, over this past weekend, George received the news that his son had died in a diving accident in San Francisco Bay—William was a professional diver. This is what George wrote:
"The police just notified me that my son, William Gaines Swanson. was found in the bay where he worked as a diver.
"If William had lived today he would have been feeding the poor at a shabby park in wealthy Sausalito. He and his wife Helene led simple Agape meals for the retired law-skirting sailors who live on beat up tubs —"Anchor outs" they are derisively called, because they can not afford to rent slips, Helene told me she will be there at 11 am to start the Agape.
"William and Helene went to India at Christmas and founded 'Katrina's Dream India' where Magda Kamble, a woman priest of the Church of North India will travel in a van across the country teaching in various Indian dioceses that men should not rape and kill women and girls but rather respect and treat them as Jesus wants us to treat others and be treated ourselves.
"At the last Lambeth Mother Magda Kamble was the Archbishop's chosen teacher of Biblical Prayer, if I remember correctly.
"May I request that somewhere in the public intention . . . William's journey home may be commemorated?
"With much love and vast gratitude to the giver of life while tears continue to come, George."
Sunday, May 05, 2013
Monday, April 29, 2013
Don't Know Whether to Laugh or Cry
A friend, who happens to be ordained, and had an emergency visit to the dentist during Holy Week, sent the following:
I spent Maundy Thursday through Easter Sunday feverish, miserable, and mad about not being listened to. I kept thinking I would get up and dressed and go to church, but it didn't happen. About 3 or 4 on Easter morning, I gave up the idea of trying, and instead read St John Chrysostom's Easter sermon, and then listened to a couple different versions of the Exultet on YouTube.
It turned out to be just what I needed. Moreover, I was spared the indignities of the service at church, where the interim decided to make Easter "fun" by changing the service into a stand up comedy routine starring himself. Part of the sermon was a decription of how Mary Magdalen must have reacted to reacted to seeing a walking breathing Jesus when she'd gone to anoint his corpse: by saying "JESUS CHRIST!" He said this not as Rabboni, but as an obscenity.
Then, when it came time to celebrate the Eucharist, he pulled put a bottle of champagne and uncorked it with a flourish (hitting a choir member in the head, which necessitated another joke), because "it's a party, folks." Have you ever heard of such insanity? Such ego, to have to make himself the center of the Eucharist. Such arrogance, to have to curse like a teenager when he could have illuminated the first encounter with the risen Lord!
When I heard about his shenanigans, I was so grateful for my YouTube Easter, and for the understanding of the contemplative Eucharist ... But it makes me fear for the future.... Interim priests [have become] a cottage industry that has gotten way out of control here. Parishes end up spending two or three years in "the process" of all these artificial tasks of self study, and visiting and interviewing. And most of the time, the person they call ends up being an unintentional interim anyhow.
It's a crock.
Saturday, April 27, 2013
Please Write to Fight Genocide in America
My dear Readers,
A long-time friend of mine, the Rev'd Margaret Watson, has left a wealthy urban parish in Virginia to serve the poorest of the poor on the Cheyenne River reservation in South Dakota. She writes the blog I mentioned earlier, which can be found at leaveitlay.blotspot.com—surely one of the most powerful and compassionate ongoing accounts of the slow, agonizing genocide being visited on the Lakota that has ever been written. Yet it is also luminous with grace. Read it and be blessed.
The Lakota have been particularly hard hit by the Sequestration cuts. Whoever you are, wherever you are, please write to a senator or two or, best of all, to all of them, as I will, and forward Margaret's letter, which I will post below. The list of senators can be found at www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm. That such conditions exist in a supposedly civilised country is a nightmare beyond belief—and they are conditions of the government's own making and perpetuation, which have visited death on The People for more than a hundred and fifty years.
Forget what you read about wealthy Indian casinos: this is the reality.
May you be richly blessed, as I have been blessed, by you, this blogging community, and by the blessings, enrichment and wisdom our culture has been given by indigenous peoples everywhere.
My name is Margaret. I am the Episcopal priest serving the Cheyenne River Reservation. It is a difficult job, at best, but I have never felt more fully alive than when serving the good people of South Dakota.
Here is my concern: The "Sequester" cuts have cut to the bone here on the Reservation. Our Social Services workers will be working without a direct office supervisor, and will be expected to absorb the work load of their supervisor when she is laid off beginning May 1. They already each have over 150 clients. I have heard one serves more than 260 clients --adding more is going to make a difficult job impossible.
But more importantly, the clients themselves have been cut off --they have received no monies since the beginning of March. They are coming to my door asking for heating fuel, food, clothes, diapers. Children are at risk. There are no Tribal programs that can assist these folks, they are mostly disabled, elderly with grandchildren in the home, or are desperate for work. Last night, after a funeral, I delivered left over food to people's homes. Funeral food to a family of six of baloney sandwiches, biscuits, two apples, two oranges and some chocolate cake.
I cannot afford to feed all the people who come to my door asking for help. I have emptied my own freezer, my own cupboard in order to help these desperate folks.
I would like to invite you and any one else who is interested to come and stay here for ten days. Just ten days. I would like you to open my door and hear the stories, see the faces, see the desperation and despair. I would like you to feed the people from my freezer --and when it is empty explain to them why it is they have to go hungry and cold.
I would like you to attend the funeral I would probably do sometime in that 10 days and see the faithfulness, the generosity, the generational grief. I would like you to come with me on home visits and see the extreme poverty out of which that faithfulness and generosity and grief springs.
In the last six months, I have done 40 funerals --six infants, two teen suicides, and many, many folks under the age 40.
And food, shelter and heat are not the only problems here --the Indian Health Services were also part of the Sequester cuts. And the cuts are affecting the Head Start programs.
Have you all become so twisted up in your political lives that you have forgotten the people you have been called to serve?
I think so.
Look, it's really easy --have no cap on Social Security payments --everyone pays, all the way up. Including you. Don't make me pay 25% and more on taxes while the ultra-rich pay 15%. Don't give yourself healthcare benefits and raises and then deny them to others.
Don't punish the children and the elderly and the poor and the disabled by cutting the programs that at least keep them alive at poverty levels.
Oh, and by the way, don't sacrifice the environment for monetary gain --that will kill us all.
I'll say it again: Don't exempt yourselves from the burden the poor must bear every day.
I can only say I am shocked and depressed by my own government. Do better than this. The people you are supposed to serve deserve better.
Shocked and depressed,
The Rev. Margaret Watson